A Short Story For Saturday

A long excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s “The Depressed Person” (pdf), which first appeared in the January 1998 issue of Harper‘s:

The feelings of shame and inadequacy the depressed person experienced about calling members of her Support System long-distance late at night and burdening them with her clumsy attempts to describe at least the contextual texture of her emotional agony were an issue on which she and her therapist were currently doing a great deal of work in their time together.

The depressed person confessed that when whatever supportive friend she was sharing with finally confessed that she (i.e., the friend) was dreadfully sorry but there was no helping it she absolutely had to get off the telephone, and had verbally detached the depressed person’s needy fingers from her pantcuff and returned to the demands of her full, vibrant long-distance life, the depressed person always sat there listening to the empty apian drone of the dial tone feeling even more isolated and inadequate and unempathized–with than she had before she’d called. The depressed person confessed to her therapist that when she reached out long-distance to a member of her Support System she almost always imagined that she could detect, in the friend’s increasingly long silences and/or repetitions of encouraging cliches, the boredom and abstract guilt people always feel when someone is clinging to them and being a joyless burden. The depressed person confessed that she could well imagine each “friend” wincing now when the telephone rang late at night, or during the conversation looking impatiently at the clock or directing silent gestures and facial expressions communicating her boredom and frustration and helpless entrapment to all the other people in the room with her, the expressive gestures becoming more desperate and extreme as the depressed person went on and on and on.

The depressed person’s therapist’s most noticeable unconscious personal habit or tic consisted of placing the tips of all her fingers together in her lap and manipulating them idly as she listened supportively, so that her mated hands formed various enclosing shapes – e.g., cube, sphere, cone, right cylinder – and then seeming to study or contemplate them. The depressed person disliked the habit, though she was quick to admit that this was chiefly because it drew her attention to the therapist’s fingers and fingernails and caused her to compare them with her own.

The story also can be found in DFW’s collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. The Dish recently featured other short stories here, here, here, and here.