Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

When a young and impressionable high school student I read W. W. Jacobs short story The Monkey's Paw. Seldom have I been so taken by a few words, which for all of you that have not read it, is available on line to read at the link American Literature link. In short the story is about wishes that go wrong, and being very careful what you ask for.

I had at the time a very difficult life. Mom had undergone breast cancer surgery which in the early sixties was a black and brutal thing indeed. My father, who deeply loved my mother, was not coping very well at all. My brother, who was over attached to Mom, was useless. And I had a kid sister that seemed abandoned by everyone but me who was having a difficult time with me. And as if that was not enough my art teacher decided to become abusive and the school administration's only answer was to take me out of the one activity of the day that produced any sort of calm. I teetered on the edge of a total nervous breakdown.

Looking back I now know I was in the midst of my first deep depression. In those days we were told to pick ourselves up and move on. And as luck would have it (mine was not good just then) I had a few friends that were children of fundamentalist Christians. I hauled off to church and told to pray for what I wanted and all would be well if I just appealed to Jesus. Oh, an mend my ways because obviously I had done something bad to merit all this bad luck.

And then there was The Monkey's Paw which warned of wishing for things and not being precise about what you wanted. I became paralysed; unable to even form a desire. My English teacher, Mr. Mealy, recognized my emotional dilemma and set me to writing fiction stories and designing covers and art for the school literary magazine. His study hall became my refuge from the storm.

Mom lived for another thirty plus years. She and Dad stayed married until death do them part. My sister and I bonded deeply and that bond is still there. I don't attend churches that preach solutions. I have learned to deal with cyclic bouts of depression by setting myself tasks and putting one foot in front of another even on days I want to curl up and die. I will never forget Mr. Mealy and the ability of one individual to help another.

And I always remember the three wishes in The Monkey's Paw, and now only pray for guidance and strength.


  1. Hi Jacqui,

    Thank you for sharing such personal parts of your life with us bloggers.

    I will definitely be looking for The Monkey's Paw--it sounds like a must read!

  2. My heart goes out to that child you were. How difficult a time that must have been. I see where you get your motto: no answers but beginning to get a grip on the questions.

    All the best.

  3. The Monkey's Paw is on my to do list.

    This was depression indeed and the one good thing that came out of it was a teacher's ability to see beyond the surface. Of course we were told to 'snap out of it', 'what are you crying for - now?','there are people far worse of than you', 'what IS the matter with you?' and so it went on.......... depression was not talked about or recognized in adults, let alone children. If an adult was not quite all there for whatever reason, they were labelled as having a nervous break down and the whole thing was hushed up as that was not something to be discussed!

    It is as well that times are different now and people can and do talk about illnesses 'of the mind' i.e. depression, anxiety, et al.

    "...obviuously I had dome something bad to merit all this bad luck" - the talk of extremists which sadly in some places, still exists today. The cruelty inflicted by 'do gooders' is frightening and is obviously enough to make anyone, even now, fear that which should be a source of comfort.

    I do say 'be careful what you wish for' or sometimes, 'be careful what you pray for'. You may just get it and not know what to do with it when it lands on your lap. I have seen it happen in my own life.

    I hope you are feeling better today.


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