“I’ll Say I Knew Him Once, But He was Asleep…”

Bow section of Dixie Arrow. Photo: Hoyt, NOAA

I have fallen in love with S.J. Tucker’s music lately, but today, her song, “Neptune,” especially strikes me.

Someday in my castle keep
where rumors fly and questions creep,
They’ll say to me, what of the lord of the deep?
I’ll say I knew him once, but he was asleep.

Tucker has published her notes about this song, and she says that it chronicles the painful end of a relationship. But to me, it says something quite different. It speaks of the people I’ve known who were trying to sleep through their depression. It speaks of the experience of floating nearby, trying to talk to someone who is too depressed to answer. And sometimes, of hanging out with someone who is literally trying to sleep through life rather than escape it through suicide. Someone who is literally sleeping life away.

The High Priestess of Water, and Message, from Colette Baron-Reid's Wisdom of the House of Night deck.
The High Priestess of Water, and Message, from Colette Baron-Reid’s Wisdom of the House of Night deck.

But no one, not even the depressed, really WANTS to sleep life away. Not when you ask them in a lucid moment. They send out subtle signals asking for help. Sometimes very subtle, almost imperceptible signals. And it’s hard to decipher those signals when you follow them and find the source, a sleeping though also very loving person.

The King of Cups, Queen of Cups, and Knight of Cups, from Lisa Hunt's Fantastical Creatures Tarot
The King, Queen, and Knight of Cups, from Lisa Hunt’s Fantastical Creatures Tarot.

You find, maybe, the King of Cups, Neptune (or maybe the Queen of Cups, or another member of the Cups family). Someone who can provide conditions that will sail a ship, yes, but seemingly only for other people. Someone who only occasionally wakes up to lend a hand to set things in order, here and there, in the kingdom. Someone who will ask for help with every little thing, not so much because help is needed, but because if you do it, then he (or she) can go back to sleep in an attempt to escape the weight of the water.

Years ago I came to you
down beneath your ripples
submitting to the mystery
of life beneath the waves.
Years I floated near you
swimming in your subterrain
rocking in the opium embrace
of Triton’s tomb.

Time I lost, just fussing over
every little thing you asked for
let myself keep fading,
silver fishes through my skin.
Somewhere I stopped breathing
but I missed the kiss of air

Because in Neptune’s realm, everyone sleeps. The possibility that one could break through the surface of the waves and claim a lungful of air is hardly recognized. The weight of water is too heavy, especially if you are very, very far into the deep.

Those asleep in depression, though, also miss the kiss of air. But they are trying to go through rather than up. Rather than swim for the surface, because that is far, far too far, they go deeper.

Does it work? Well, every waking is an opportunity to try breaking through the surface. Every waking poses the possibility that in sleep, you will have floated nearer to the top, where the weight is not so heavy.

Does it work? Well, I have known depressed people to wake up! I have known them to get up, do a few things, take a little air. Maybe more than a little. The kiss of water starts to sing its siren call, too, though, and, like air, it also has something to offer. Honestly, it’s a back and forth. How long do you spend in each space? Well, that varies.

How do we keep the ability to go back and forth between the elements? Ships have anchors, docks, ports of call. Divers have oxygen tanks. Some people keep pebbles in their pockets. So, a tether, and a remembering.

And too, the lovers, the ones who come looking, following the subtle signals that someone, maybe, is lost down here. That’s a dangerous mission.

Years ago I came to you
in love and doomed by what I knew
and though I miss the mystery now
of life beneath the waves
Thin air’s as sweet as water
when your body begs to breathe
and so I leave when I must leave
don’t weep for love I couldn’t save

All of us who dare to love are brave!

Selkies traditionally go back and forth between water and land. This detail is from Lisa Hunt's Seven of Cups card from the Fantastical Creatures Tarot.
Selkies, who can switch from human form to seal by putting on a sealskin, traditionally go back and forth between water and land. This detail is from Lisa Hunt’s Seven of Cups card from the Fantastical Creatures Tarot.

Lovers of the depressed could, though, perhaps take a lesson from search and rescue missions. Rescuers take care of themselves when they have to. Divers come up when they need more oxygen. It doesn’t mean they can’t go back and keep looking, and keep trying. Or take inspiration from the selkies, who go back and forth between land, air, and the deep their entire lives.

And it doesn’t mean they can’t also recognize the lure of the water, and what it also has to offer. Because the paradox here is that water, like air, is life-saving. Like air, it’s something that we critically need, at times. For more on this, and why sleep can be life-saving in depression, read Natasha Tracy’s post at Bipolar Burble: “My Bipolar Drug of Choice: Sleep.”

Bow section of Dixie Arrow. Photo: Hoyt, NOAA
Bow section of Dixie Arrow. Photo: Hoyt, NOAA

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