Sunday, March 27, 2011


I was sixteen years old, long blonde hair, hip hugger jeans, my absent father’s old letter jacket and hand knit red wool sweater with two deer facing each other on the front, a pair of tan suede square toed Wallabies keeping my feet warm.
My hair smelled of Clairol Herbal Essence. When the chilly winter air blew through it, I inhaled a little deeper, searching for that scent of artificial springtime. There was a single ski tacked to my bedroom wall, a reminder that every babysitting quarter I earned was getting me closer to a real pair of my own. There was a candle holder and a half spent bayberry candle beside my bed; a clock radio set to wake me to the music of John Denver, Joni Mitchell, or Three Dog Night; a well-loved well-worn Raggedy Ann, positioned like a contortionist, smashed between the wall and my pillow. I was Junior Class President at TJ High. Sang in the 10th grade choir. Shot hoops at the community center almost every day after school. I played guitar in church and sometimes in school. I knew who I was and it all seemed fine to me.

Poor girl. I look at her through the rearview mirror of memory and feel a wash of overwhelming sadness, knowing that very soon her little bubble of self would morph and twist and burst, like a blister on the heel, the watery defenses of a teenage soul seeping out over the floor.

We didn’t know what it was in those days. Now we raise our shields and draw our medicinal swords and attack depression with full force and no apology. But then, we didn’t know what it was, or that it was following me through the halls of school, on the long bus ride home, and straight to my bedroom. Didn’t see it until it snatched me in it’s steel hinged jaws.

Eventually it squeezed itself between my sister Libby and me, staring me in the eyes and flailing it’s big hairy blue arms like a defender in a full court press. Color drained out of the picture of my daily life, eventually going from black and white of full on gray. The color left, and the laughter, and the music. My grades plummeted, friendships sort of diffused into thin air. I came home from school and curled up in Mom’s old white upholstered rocker and glazed my eyes with Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street on our recently acquired second hand colored TV. Looking back, I want to stretch my arms around that girl who probably just wanted to be little again. Stretch my mothering arms around her and draw her in.

When someone is depressed people quit doing certain things around them. Probably in self defense. Or maybe because some things don’t seem fitting. They start to tiptoe in stocking feet. Speak in whispered tones. Sometimes walk down the aisles in the grocery store thinking “What would make her happy?” They shimmy around silently until something bursts from them, or until they can no longer contain the frustration. Then cluttered emotion spews like that fountain of bronze beasts in downtown Kansas City. Tensions spurt and explode into anger, then tears, until finally arms rise up to the heavens in resignation. They breathe deeply, hold their breath, bow their heads, then …once again… fall into silence.

We tend to lose the sweet slushy yumminess of terms of endearment when loved ones are depressed. Maybe because they don’t feel dear, and they make cynical faces at such terms in order to make us stop. “I am not dear. Not dear to you or me or anyone else, so quit trying to make me think I am.” That’s the logic of depression. And out of love we stop. Our self definition, once boldly dimensional and vibrant, thins to a steel blue shaft, almost unseen. We feel invisible. Nameless. It’s stunningly frightening to think of oneself without even a name. Pretty soon we just want to disappear. Pretty soon we do.

Cork MaLork. That was the nickname my mother gave me when I was little. Sometimes she called me Corinna, if she was feeling a little more nurturing. But when she was freely happy, I was Cork MaLork. My father had called me Sport. Dad took my name with him when he left. No one has ever called me that since. And mom, not knowing what to say or do with me that dreary winter of my discontent, stopped using my nickname. She may have tried once or twice, but I likely never responded. It’s a risky thing to tease someone bound in the shroud of depression.

Christmas morning that year, in the mid 1970’s, there was a gift for me under the tree. There were many gifts, I suspect, but right now I am remembering this one. A silver gift box, about the size of a loaf of bread. It was bound by a single red bow, drawn tight and tidy with my mother’s hand. Attached to the bow was a teeny little gift card, about one inch square. The card had a picture Flopsy Bunny on front; the soft gray bunny brother of Peter Rabbit. Inside the card, in the blessedly graceful handwriting of my mother, was this message:

“Merry Christmas, to Flopsy Cork”

Inside the box was a stuffed Flopsy Bunny, purchased from the Toy Shoppe in Williamsburg, VA. We had visited Williamsburg often, and at some point I must have said something admiringly about that stuffed animal. And at some point my mom must have returned to the store and purchased it for me.

I don’t know why I even think of this right now; why I even chose to write about depression triggered by the word of the day: Nickname. Don’t know why I remember that little card or that gift. I’d like to say that there was some magic that rose from the silver gift box under our tree that year; I’d like to say that the depression lifted and I got my old self back and the demons never returned again. But such things are almost never the real truth. The truth is I don’t know why that particular gift mattered to me or why I even remember it.

Maybe it was just that there was a tiny thin blue thread of hope in the ink scripted across that little gift card. Maybe I awoke for a moment, long enough to discover my old nickname written on that little card, in the handwriting of the woman who loved me more and knew me better than anyone else on earth. Perhaps I saw the shadow of that little girl that used to be me and I shifted the light to make her come into view.

Not very many people even know that was my nick name. It was sort of my mother’s alone. Maybe that’s why I cherish it so much.

My friend Susan and I play this game on our iPhones now days. A Scrabble game. I usually give it one shot at 2 am before I go to bed. I like to play it because it keeps me connected with Susan. She is very patient with me. Our friend Fran has joined us and now I feel connected to her, too. And once in a while my very busy daughter Sarah plays a game or two. We got to pick our game names when we started. Susan’s name is Mavin. I’m not sure why. Fran’s is Frannie B. Sarah is SarabellaC. And mine is Cork Malork.


  1. there were flowers on your pillow that matched the ones on mine! when cork malork and doll are the words spoken from our mothers lips they bring special, almost sacred feelings. some nick names are meant to be used only by certain people. although i must admit i love that she will call your girls "doll".

  2. I am so sorry I was so far away that year...I was removed dealing with a depression of my hard to be away from those I loved...worrying about them...and rightfully so. But somehow, because the only way out is through, we emerge often a bit stronger or at least having more understanding or empathy for others and their struggles. I just loved when Mom called you Cork Malork!! I just love you!!

  3. Mavin means expert. Maybe one day I'll be. Here's to optimism. Here's to my friend, Cork Malork who nearly always wins by a landslide! Still it is a connection I treasure. This blog is also a connection that I treasure and may I just say thanks for the words you put down in sentences to weave inspiration to my soul.

  4. My nickname was usually mud! and mostly well deserved.

  5. Kind of fits my mood just now. How sad is that? So I'll just address a couple of details. I remember my first bottle of Herbal Essence. It was actually my roommate's. We had this teeny, tiny little bathroom, and I was in there getting ready for a shower - and I guess some of the shampoo had spilled out onto the floor of the shower before I got in there. I was suddenly standing in this tiny room full of green leaves and beautiful flowers, and I couldn't figure out why. it was the most wonderful thing I had ever smelled. I wish they still made it.

    Wish my mom had had a nick name for me. other than the one I share with Susan. Mud. Got called that a lot.