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  • In Other Words
  • C. Levison McGuire (bio)

It has been forty-six days since my last face-to-face English conversation. I’ve started speaking in nonsense synonyms, onomatopoeia, even when I’m speaking to myself. I recruit both handles to the same hand (recruit: to bring together). My host’s son shows me the baby chicks he’s adopted. “They were in the garden. Outside, the dogs kept—the word—lȁjati in Serbian?”


He’s not sure. I bark for him. Ruff ruff! And he shakes his head, yes, bark is the word he meant.

It is hard to be a person with depression two thousand miles from home. It’s May, and I’m at the Balkankult writing residency in Serbia, doing research toward a novel. I worked two full-time jobs to save up for this, I went without sleep for this, I dropped out of grad school for this. I should be getting so much more out of this. But I’m not. There’s something in my head, and I can’t fix it.

I visited my psychiatrist three times in the week before leaving just [End Page 63] to get my prescriptions, which he had filled out incorrectly on the first and second try. I called my insurance four times to get a travel advance okayed. The anti-anxiety drugs went through all right, but I was only allotted one month of the drug that lets me get out of bed in the morning. I have rationed this out over the course of the trip, a prescription for emergencies only. But the line between urgent and not so urgent is hard to see after a while. Am I still in bed because I’m writing? Or am I still in bed because I can’t get out? I don’t want to risk moving; I don’t want to know if it’s the latter.

My old coping mechanisms are back in the States. The frozen yogurt place that stays open until eleven, the Whole Foods hot bar when I’m too tired to cook. Luke, my partner; Nora, our dog. To care for and to be cared for. There’s no Netflix access for Burn Notice marathons, and the Internet connection is unreliable anyway.

My mom, nine time zones away, was hospitalized at the start of my trip. Half her body lost feeling. We have only tiny windows of time to talk while she recovers, maybe a few minutes before I go to bed, if she isn’t sleeping, if she has the energy. My brother’s home with her, but he’s angry at her for being sick, as if it were something she could have avoided if she tried hard enough, though the doctors don’t know what’s wrong, and his frustration with her makes her cry as much as the sickness itself. My mom is my best friend; I should be home taking care of her, but I’m not.

Night is the hardest time for me, but across the time zones it’s Luke’s afternoon writing time, and although he tries to hide it, he’s annoyed with me for stepping in the middle of his novel. I stay up late sometimes, to catch his night, and I am more miserable with sleep deprivation the next day than I had been before. I go to sleep on time and miss talking to him altogether, a different kind of misery.

Communication, above all things. I crave human contact, yes, Luke’s hands on demand and dinner with friends and all the other [End Page 64] puzzle pieces that make up a human life. But what I really want is one conversation in which I understand every word.

It is easier to be friends with dogs than with people. At least with dogs, I know I don’t speak the same language. Within four days of my arrival in Novi Sad, I have somehow adopted the neighbor’s dogs: the pregnant bitch who loves the yolks I hate, the hyper-territorial sire, currently lying on a mat at the foot of the bed in front of the...


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pp. 63-78
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