An Art of Depression
SCENE: On the left, the inside of a house with two floors connected by a staircase on the left side of the house. Upper floor is a bedroom with a soft, white bed, wicker dresser, mirror, and stuffed animals. At the bottom of the staircase is a kitchen area spanning the length of the wall. In the far back right hand corner is a formal dining room set with a tablecloth and candlesticks. Along the wall behind is a nondescript wooden door. In the center forefront is a living room set with a plush couch and chairs, lamp, coffee table with phone, and toys scattered in front.
A glass wall exists between the house set and the therapist set on the right. The other walls are a drab gray with the normal assortment of framed certificates on the walls. Angled from the left corner to the right forefront of the stage is a plush red armchair, a small glass table, and a more formal-looking blue chair. The chairs face each other.
“Past” LILAH is lying amidst the sheets in the upstairs set. “Present” LILAH is sitting in the red chair, facing us. THERAPIST sits in the blue chair.
THERAPIST: Would you like to begin with why you are here?
LILAH: (after a pause) No.
LILAH stretches and gets out of bed, dressed in a nightgown. She pulls it off, clothed in street attire underneath, goes to the mirror, and begins brushing her hair.
THERAPIST: (while she is doing this) Why don’t you tell me about your life then? What your days are like.
LILAH: (slowly) OK. (As she explains the actions, her counterpart mirrors them.) I get up at 7 each morning to get ready for school. Get dressed. Then go downstairs for breakfast.
Far back door bursts open as LILAH is sitting down at the dining room table, with cereal and bowl in hand. LILI rushes in, and towards her.
LILI: (loudly) Good morning, sleepy-head!
LILAH: (dully) ‘Morning.
THERAPIST: (as LILI is rushing to the living room to play with toys and LILAH looks mournfully after her) And Lili is…
LILAH: My little sister. She’s 8.
THERAPIST: Yes, little children are often that rambunctious in the morning.
LILAH: (slightly high-pitched, with a look of pain) I envy her.
Back door opens and ERNESTINE strides in, goes straight to LILAH.
ERNESTINE: (scolding) Oh, look at this! (Points to table) You forgot to get a napkin again!
LILAH: (dully) Sorry.
ERNESTINE: I just don’t understand you, Lilah. You have a brain in your head; why don’t you use it?
LILI: (twisting around) Good morning, Mommy!
ERNESTINE: Good morning, sweetheart. (Turning back to LILAH) Get a napkin and clean up this mess. Then go brush your hair; it looks like a rat’s nest!
THERAPIST: (As ERNESTINE exits through back door and LILAH goes to kitchen to carry out her commands) So your mother is difficult to please.
LILAH: (bitterly) Oh yes. She can’t go an hour without pointing out something wrong. (Hastily) But it’s not like she doesn’t have a point; I often screw up.
THERAPIST: You feel the need to defend her actions?
Back door swings open and OLIVER enters.
OLIVER: (jovially hugging LILAH) Good morning!
LILAH: (dully) LILI: (brightly) Good morning!
OLIVER: (Grabs a mug of coffee and walks back with LILAH to the table) Feel ready for your math test? Lili, come sit with us!
LILAH: (As LILI bounds up) Yeah, I guess so.
OLIVER: Have your tutoring session last night?
OLIVER: Whatever gets you through the course. (Gently taking her shoulders) You don’t have to be good at math, honey. You’re good at English; that’s enough.
LILAH: (softly) I know.
OLIVER: (concerned) Are you OK, Lilah? Lately you seem a little…
LILAH: (sharply) I’m fine!
OLIVER: OK, OK, calm down! Lili, why don’t you get yourself a bowl of cereal?
LILI goes to kitchen as back door opens and ERNESTINE enters and comes to LILAH, hands on hips.
ERNESTINE: Still mulling over your breakfast I see. When will you ever learn to speed up and get your act together?
OLIVER: (rising) For G-d’s sake, Ernestine, she’s just enjoying a meal; she’s not on a racetrack! Why can’t you leave her alone?
ERNESTINE: Oliver, if we just ignore her, she’ll slip into a self-indulgent funk! She needs to snap out of it, be normal!
OLIVER: If Lilah’s having a problem, we shouldn’t berate it!
LILI: (as her parents are arguing, comes up from taking out dishes and dances around in front of them) Mommy, Daddy, don’t fight. Look at me; I’m a ballerina!
ERNESTINE and OLIVER switch their yelling to very loud babble and LILI sings a nonsense tune.
LILAH: (rises, watching stony faced for awhile. Softly) I’m going. (a little louder) I’m going! (croaking) I’m going! (Getting no response, she heaves a sigh, strides to staircase, picks up her backpack, and exits stage.
Lights in house go black. ERNESTINE, OLIVER and LILI exit through back door.
THERAPIST: So your parents weren’t responsive to your needs.
LILAH: They wanted to be. Dad wanted to help me… he just didn’t know how. Mom thought if I acted normal, I’d be normal. (Hastily) She isn’t as bad as I make her out to be. She’s just cranky in the mornings.
THERAPIST: Tell me about your school.
LILAH shudders. Over the speakers, voices start to play, overlapping each other. As they whisper, a growling voice keeps repeating phrases like “Kill yourself; you’re such a failure,” “kill yourself; it’s not worth the pain” over and over again with growing intensity.
VOICE 1: You’ve got to pick up this grade; you’re such a failure…
VOICE 2: Why don’t you get your license, Lilah? You’re 16; you don’t want to get left behind…
VOICE 3: Why don’t you get a job, Lilah? You’re such a lazy piece of shit!
VOICE 4: (giggling) Oooh… getting a little round along the edges, fatso!
VOICE 5: What a loser! You don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you don’t screw… who the hell are you?
GROWLING VOICE: (screaming in the silence) KILL YOURSELF!!!!
LILAH: (eerily) That’s when the voices started.
LILAH: (detached, staring off into space) They kept… telling me things. Things I haven’t done, things I should have done… but funny thing is, the more they yelled and screamed, the less I did. It’s like they drained me of energy, voices in my G-d damned head! (softly) I used to dream… they were my mother yelling at me. I used to wish… I were young again.
THERAPIST: (as light illuminates the living room set, LILI enters and starts playing with her toys.) That’s when you started to envy your sister.
LILAH: (slowly, a haunting melody playing in the background) Sometimes… after a bad day… I’d sneak into her room at night… after Mother and Daddy went to bed… I’d caress her hair… and I’d smell her, as though something in her smell could take me back… (energetically, desperately, as the music stops, the lights go out and LILI exits through back door) I used to be a vibrant child, doctor. I imagined all the time; I created worlds… (mood fades) then… everything changed. Different things… were expected of me.
THERAPIST: And then the voices came. (Silence for a moment) So, things went on like this for awhile?
LILAH: (laughing dully) I think I realize it now; my father was the key. As long as he was willing to help me- not give up, not change me- then I could struggle to survive. Every time they sent me home from school, I called him. But after awhile, I must have worn him down.
THERAPIST: And that was the day you-
Lights over house come up abruptly. Sound of a slamming door and LILAH storms in from the staircase, breathing hard. She looks around frantically, then heads to the telephone, quickly picks it up and dials a number.
LILAH: (desperately, after a pause) Daddy? Daddy, are you there?
OLIVER: (recorded voice, scratchy on the speakers) I’m here, honey. What’s wrong?
LILAH: (as if gasping for breath) I- I flunked the math test. I know it. I stared at half the problems; I couldn’t understand them! I studied so hard and- and-
OLIVER: It’s OK, honey. There’ll be other tests.
LILAH: So I ran outside and I couldn’t breathe- I-
GROWLING VOICE: (at a whisper) You’re such a failure. Kill yourself. Spare yourself the pain…
LILAH looks around frantically.
OLIVER: Lilah? Lilah, are you there?
LILAH: These girls- they were outside- and they were staring at me- staring at me as though I were crazy. And I began to wonder- am I crazy? I keep hearing things-
OLIVER: It’s all right, Lilah, everything will be all right! Go calm yourself down; I’ll be home at 8.
LILAH: (breathing heavily) OK. I’ll calm down, Daddy.
THERAPIST: (as house lights go black and LILAH goes upstairs to sit on her bed) But everything didn’t turn out all right.
LILAH: (dully) I wore him out. I see that now. So long as he was on my side, I could survive. (bitterly) Mother never had the patience. And Lili was too young.
THERAPIST: But you did survive.
LILAH stares at her incredulously.
Lights resume. LILAH is rocking backwards and forwards on her bed, clutching a pillow. ERNESTINE and LILI enter near staircase.
ERNESTINE: (walking towards back of house) Lilah? Lilah? Lili, go play or something.
LILAH slowly stretches and gets off bed. LILI goes to living room, plays with toys.
LILAH: (hesitantly, comes halfway down the stairs) Mom?
ERNESTINE: (coming towards stairs) Lilah, what the hell is wrong with you? Last night you were productive, studying for your math test. Then you were sulking this morning and now you’ve flunked that math test. Not only that, but they sent you home again! When are you ever going to shape up?
LILAH: (grasping the railing, swaying back and forth) Mother, I… I… I DIDN’T WANT TO DUSCUSS THIS WITH YOU!
Silence. ERNESTINE and LILI stare.
ERNESTINE: (angrily) How dare you take that tone with me! You’ve been falling; I’ve been trying to help you!
LILAH: Help me? Help me? What, by berating me every time I cry? With stupid phrases like (shrilly) “act normal, be normal!”
LILI: Don’t talk to my mommy like that!
LILAH: (pointing a finger at her) You just wait; she’ll screw up your life too!
ERNESTINE: (while LILI begins to cry) How dare you talk like that to me! I put my sweat and blood into raising you-
Sound of a door unlocking, opening, and OLIVER enters by the stairs. He looks at his frozen wife, LILI crying, and LILAH perched on the stair.
OLIVER: (bewildered) What’s all this?
LILAH: You told her! I can’t believe you told her!
THERAPIST: You didn’t want your mother to know about the voices. Why?
LILAH: (fidgeting, as though telling something she shouldn’t) I always feel like such a failure in her eyes. She’s so determined to see me normal!
THERAPIST: And what is normal, Lilah? What would it cost you to be this “normal?”
OLIVER: Honey, I was worried about you, so I called your mother. I thought maybe the three of us could talk. Lili- will you-
LILAH: (while LILI runs to the back door and exits, clutching a toy) Talk? You want me to talk? What do you think she’ll say when I tell (takes a deep breath) when I tell her about the voices?
ERNESTINE: Voices? What are you talking about?
OLIVER: I think we should all move down to the couch.
OLIVER sits down. ERNESTINE and LILAH remain where they are.
LILAH: I tried to tell you. Both of you. But every time I came near you, you yelled at me. (shrilly) “Why do you have to look so sad? Act normal, be normal!”
ERNESTINE: I will not have you patronize me!
OLIVER: If you could both move over to the couch-
LILAH: WILL YOU SHUT UP ABOUT YOUR G-D DAMN COUCH?! I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!
OLIVER and ERNESTINE simultaneously.
OLIVER: Lilah! If you must talk, do so civilly.
ERNESTINE: That’s it! You’re grounded for a month!
LILAH: (dully, just loud enough to be heard) That’s all you were then, wasn’t it, Daddy? A peacemaker. I thought you were on my side. But no, you just tried to placate me- for the sake of the family. (She sobs, holding onto the barrister for support)
OLIVER: (deeply concerned, stepping up to ERNESTINE) Ernestine… this sounds serious. It’s been bad for a long time; maybe we’d better call a therapist.
ERNESTINE: (sharply) I’ll not bring a shrink into this! We can handle it on our own!
LILAH: (simultaneously, uncomprehending) A therapist?
OLIVER: (in a desperate whisper) Well, I don’t know how to deal with this! I tried so hard to smooth things over. (Gestures to LILAH.) Why can’t she just be normal?
LILAH stops crying, and goes absolutely still, a look of horror on her face.
LILAH: I felt like I was falling, like something had torn me away from the railing. It was that damn “normal” word I suppose. Why were they so concerned about it? Why couldn’t they be more concerned about me? They gave up on me. Then Lili came in, and they left me alone. One daughter down, leaves the other to perfect, I guess.
LILI: (bursting through the back door, screaming) Mommy, Daddy, Betsy-doll broke! (points to LILAH) It’s all Lilah’s fault!
OLIVER: (sighing, composing himself) We’ll talk about this in the morning, OK? Get a good night’s sleep. (calling to LILI) I’m coming, honey! (Moves toward LILI and they exit)
ERNESTINE: (standing rigid, glaring at LILAH, whispers threateningly) You better get a hold of yourself. I won’t have a juvenile delinquent basket-case on my hands! (Storms out the back door, leaving LILAH standing motionless)
LILAH: (continuing as though she’d never stopped) Perfect Lili. She’s so young, so innocent. She could never do wrong in our eyes.
THERAPIST: Did you go to her that night?
LILAH: (after a pause) No. (her counterpart mirrors her actions as she describes them) I went upstairs. Took down my hair. Put on my nightgown… cried myself to sleep. (Lights over house go dim)
THERAPIST: When did you get up again?
LILAH: Sometime later. Early morning. (Her counterpart walks downstairs and sits amongst her sister’s toys) I think I wanted to go to Lili’s… I don’t know what I felt. It all left me when my dad said those words. It’s like I could see myself clearly for the first time in years, all my mood swings. But I couldn’t react. I didn’t want to.
THERAPIST: What did you want to do?
LILAH: (dully, as her counterpart gets up and starts wandering aimlessly, desperately) I should have told them earlier. My dad had asked me that morning- what was wrong? I blew him off.
THERAPIST: But when you came to him that afternoon, he let you down. Him and your mother.
LILAH: I asked too much I- I don’t even know what I was asking. By the end it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. He gave up on me… so I gave up on myself.
THERAPIST: So what did you do?
LILAH: (suddenly violently massaging her wrists, as her counterpart wanders to the kitchen, slowly opens a drawer) I… I…
THERAPIST: You mentioned that you needed someone to listen. Your family never could. Perhaps you felt backed into a corner, a trapped animal, with impaired judgment.
LILAH: (rubbing her wrists, her face pained, her voice high-pitched, her counterpart slowly taking out a knife, laying it on the table) I…
THERAPIST: It’s OK to feel confused, Lilah. Everyone feels confused, sad. But some people feel like that all the time. They can’t communicate with the outside world because the inside one is making so much noise. They’re truly alone, without advocates, inside their own heads. Once their external support leaves them as well, there’s really nowhere for them to go. (gently) and no one to blame for their actions.
LILAH: (her actions and voice growing more desperate, her counterpart emitting a gasp, running from the kitchen, stopping, with heaving breath, by the dining room table) I… I… I WAS A FAILURE!
THERAPIST: The voices told you so. They made you believe it. What else did they tell you, Lilah? What else did they make you believe?
LILAH: I… I…
THERAPIST: You say you’re a failure- not in control. But you were, Lilah, you were in control. For the first time in your life, you didn’t act how the voices wanted you to. Perhaps that’s why it took so long for you to go over the edge, before you’d even consider it. But maybe it was about something else. Your parents had just given up on you that night- those were your words. You were no longer the child that your sister is. You were all alone with the voices in your head, and no one to listen to you. So perhaps- in your subconscious- you did the only thing you could to make sure you were heard. To make sure you got the help you so desperately needed. So that finally, you could talk openly about the voices that have plagued you ever since you left Lili’s age. But to do that, you need to say it- you need to know I heard you say it- what it was that brought you here.
LILAH: I… I… (slowly she leans forward, places her wrists upright on the glass table. The THERAPIST leans in, and we see the gashes running along her arms.)
The therapy set blacks out. LILAH takes slow, deliberate steps toward the knife.
GROWLING VOICE: (at a whisper) You’re such a failure. Kill yourself. Spare yourself the pain…
LILAH picks up the knife.