Soon after Gen moved into the apartment over Becky's, she began to call me with complaints about Becky's husband, Bob. I don't remember what her specific gripe was, but Bob was a practicing alcoholic, so everything Gen said no doubt stemmed from that. The thing was, we all knew he was an alcoholic and we all knew he would always behave the way an alcoholic does. So why complain about it? Anyway, what was I supposed to do about it? I listened begrudgingly.

Gen seemed to forget who it was who hauled her stuff up the long set of steps into her apartment and who it was who responded to requests to hang pictures and help put furniture in order. Bob didn't intend ill will toward anybody. Alcoholic or not, he was helpful if called upon at a sober moment.

Genevieve assumed day-care duties for Becky's daughter, Jessie. Jessie was emerging from the Terrible Two's, but she wasn't quite out into the light yet. Gen, who never dealt kindly with backtalk from kids, was confronted with the product of a different child-rearing philosophy (no intimidating beatings, whether brow or body) and had a hard time with Jessie's direct truthfulness.

Gen gave up on complaining about Bob and started in on Jessie. Gen complained to me, but when I didn't fix the problem (like I could?), she went after Becky, who saw right away that the arrangement wasn't working for either Gen or Jessie. Jessie went across the street to a neighbor, Edie, a jolly soul who actually liked kids. Gen was left on her own, where she steadily swirled down into the vortex of depression that had begun even before she left Richmond.

A word about the kind of emotional depression that Gen and I share. It is chronic and degenerative. It responds to talk therapy and drugs, but the response is always temporary and must be revisited in a couple of years. It gets harder to handle as we get older.

I don't know if the depression actually gets worse or if our coping skills just wear out, similar to the way the muscles of a post-polio patient do. What I do know is that this is a life-long affliction for us. It has a corrosive effect on memory and intellect. It doesn't get easier to handle as we go along. Each new major event in our lives seems to hit us harder than the last one. Our turmoil increases according to what would be a logarithmic scale if emotional stress could be measured that way. Each new crisis gets blown out of proportion and even trivial events seem filled with crisis. I know my mother's road is a difficult one; I travel it myself.