* Within my budget

Yesterday I took R to the actual mall to buy new shoes for school. Pro tip: if the mall parking lot is so crowded that multiple cars are illegally parked on grassy verges and over curbs, you’re not going to like the lines or the crowds.

But we persevered, because he leaves on Saturday (!!!) and eventually wound up with two pairs of Vans shoes, one a subdued gray and the other black with a blue pattern. They’re very nice and quite R-appropriate. I did decide, however, that since I was surviving a situation which is pretty high on my personal list of nightmares, I deserved a present for myself. A cheap present. Something fun. And/or something useful, but if useful, still cheap.

As we wandered the mall, I considered my options. No, no, no, no. Too expensive, not fun enough, too unnecessary, too wasteful, not fun enough. I considered some soft t-shirts for a while. I could use a few new t-shirts. But I could tell that they were the kind that would wear really quickly–worn for a summer and then good-bye, and even at $15 for 2, I didn’t think they were worth it.

On the way out of the mall, I felt sad. Sadder, I guess. Robin Williams’ death hit me hard. To have someone so successful, so gifted, so loved, lose the fight to depression is heartbreaking. But it’s also frightening. If, with everything he had, he couldn’t make it out of the black hole, will my hole someday be that deep? (My psychiatrist, incidentally, promises me no, and I take her at her word. Well, to the best of my ability, I take her at her word.)

Addicts probably felt the same way about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. And I know, #depressionlies. Also depression hurts, also depression comes back, also depression kills. People diagnosed with bi-polar disorder get 9 years knocked off their life expectancy and not just because of the risk of suicide, but also because of higher rates of every kind of health misery. (I remind myself of this every time I worry about the fact that I’m using up my retirement savings trying to be a writer. It matters less for me because I’m likely to have a short retirement at best, ha.)

Although lord, I really hate the people who say, “he’s in a better place.” Talk about making suicide tempting! Seriously, what’s up with that? During my earliest suicidal periods, the risk of burning in hell for eternity was a thread that tied me here. I’m not going to say it kept me alive, but if I’d thought suicide was a shortcut to heaven… well, that wouldn’t have been good for me.

But I have now seriously digressed from my story. I was sad. So I started thinking about what single object–within my extremely limited budget–could possibly make me happy? Store after store after store in the mall, all of them filled with stuff, and what object would make me happy?

I was almost out of the mall when I thought of the answer.

Zelda's best-beloved toy

Zelda’s best-beloved toy

Zelda has owned this duck for at least eight years. When a visitor comes over, she brings the duck out to the living room and offers it to them. At night-time, she searches for it. When we were on vacation, the first night she tried very intently, repeatedly, to tell me something and I finally figured out that I’d forgotten to bring her duck. Two nights ago, it was shut in the wrong room at bedtime and I had to disturb R after he’d gone to bed to retrieve it in order to get Zelda to relax. She always sleeps with it, generally after licking it for a while.

And it’s wearing out in a big way. I’ve sewed it up several times. One wing is half-chewed and both wings are held on by replacement thread. The beak’s missing, the head wobbles. It is as well-loved as any kid’s teddy or blankie. There is no way it can ever be replaced. But! The most fun object in my universe, within my budget, is definitely another duck for Zelda. So I came home and splurged and bought this plump duck. It arrives tomorrow (with some squeaky chipmunks for Bartleby and Macie, because I can’t buy one dog a toy and not give the others something) and I am so, so, so glad that the universe contains dogs and dog toys and dog love.