In 2004, fresh out of college, I moved down to Florida to become a contractor - I had about 15k in student loan debt and I wanted it off my back as quickly as possible. Home repair seemed like a worthwhile skill and a fast way to earn enough money. I certainly learned the skill - I built decks and patios, painted, replaced roofs, installed flooring, electrical, plumbing, etc. I bought a small, beat-up house and, in between contracts, I fixed it up. I was pretty good at the work, although I didn't particularly like doing it for a living.
At the same time, by moving, I'd effectively trashed a good relationship and distanced myself from every friend I'd ever had. I started to have difficulties making my mortgage payments and I didn't have the time or energy to work on the house. I had trapped myself. Over time, I grew extremely depressed. While I'd been dealing with depression for 10 years by that point, I hadn't veered toward the suicidal in some time. It started to gnaw at me. Those who've been through it know that it doesn't really ever go away - it just hides and waits, the first to spring up when thoughts go dark.
It's hard to muster strength in the middle of a depressive episode, but at one point, I realized that if I didn't get out of Florida, it was literally going to kill me. I began working like mad, trying to get the house ready to sell. I took on nearly 10k in credit card debt and quit working for others for several months. I focused solely on getting the house finished.
Summer in Tallahassee often means a heat index around 110 degrees, so I worked nights. During one stretch of a couple of weeks, I completely remodeled my laundry room - refinished cabinets, installed counters, replaced the sink, put in a vinyl floor, fixed the ceiling, painted everything. The laundry room was across a breezeway from the house and the air conditioning was slight, at best. Still 85 degrees at night, I'd work, covered in paint, sweat, and an almost insane commitment to completion,. I worked to exhaustion. My beard grew long, my hair wild. I'd get looks at the grocery store, but was too manic to care. This was not a good head space.
I would play music while I worked. I had no internet, no TV, and a massive music collection. During this time, I slowly created what amounts to a mix CD. To this day, I have no idea why. Perhaps it was just my playlist. It had no target, so I guess I made myself a mixtape. I really wanted to get it right. It became as much an obsession as getting the cabinets painted and the floor put down.
I love and hate the end result. It fits together beautifully, mapping the erratic flow of my depressive state. It gets dark, real dark, but not unexpectedly. It's heartbroken, but motivated. Hopeful, but withdrawn. Challenging, but strained. Townes sings his poppiest song, yet is so desperately clinging to affection. Mara Lee Miller sings boldly about being afraid. Donovan dreams of beauty, Damien Jurado dreams of death. It begins with innocence and ends with acceptance.
I've created a hundred mixes, but this one is the one that haunts me.
Summer Mix - 2006
Blind Willie McTell - "It Must Be Love"
Townes Van Zandt - "Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel"
Bosque Brown - "Still Afraid"
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Love Letter"
Al Green - "Tired of Being Alone"
Donovan - "Wear Your Love Like Heaven"
Damien Jurado - "Tonight I Will Retire"
Cory Branan - "Spoke Too Soon"
Malcolm Middleton - "Solemn Thirsty"
Mice Parade - "Focus on the Roller Coaster"
Snowglobe - "Rock Song"
The Pogues - "Living in a World without Her"
Six Parts Seven - "Now Like Photographs"
Dixie Dirt - "Appetite"
As postscript - In September, 2006, I sold the house, paid off all my debts, moved back to NC, took the next 6 months off, and shaved my beard. And yet, I could never leave this fucking thing.