She

This fictional story is part one of a series of stories I started writing about mental illness, more-so, living day to day with different mental illnesses. I would love to answer any questions you have of me, and would love to talk about mental illness or experiences you have had. 

She

She wanted to wish him a good morning, but she didn’t even have to get out of bed to know that today was a roller coaster day. His barefoot pacing in the hallway echoed in dull thuds up and down the worn floorboards, the constant movement vibrating throughout the otherwise quiet home.

It was just enough to fill her with anxiety all her own. She covered her head with a pillow, blocking out the morning light. Exhaling, she let the hot air surround her face as she pushed the pillow harder around her head. She remained this way until it felt like she would pass out. Just about to remove the pillow, she realized the pattering pace in the hallway had stopped.

Rolling out of bed, she pulled a tank top out of the hamper along with some underwear and strung her ample limbs through the openings in the unwashed garments. Standing by the door, she closed her eyes and inhaled sharply through her nose. She straightened her defeated posture and opened the door. Walking down the hall, she called good morning to him as though she had no idea he’d been nervously treading up and down the hall for the last hour. But he was no where in sight. At the realization, a small, relaxed breath escaped her lungs. Seeing his disheveled gait and lost look first thing in the morning gnashed at her heart, tore apart her stomach.

She crept down the hallway as lightly as her 250 pound body would permit. Outside of the kitchen door, she stopped, listening for him. Not hearing anything, she pushed on the heavy cherrywood door into the old plantation kitchen. The formal dining room was a separate room down the hall, but with just the two of them roaming the huge house, they converted the old pantry into a breakfast nook where they ate most of their meals together. He wasn’t in the kitchen. She separated a bagel and turned the halves face down on the toaster oven rack. A noise in the hallway made her jump, filling her with anxiety again. When no one came through the door, she sighed and opened the fridge, removing the leftover rhubarb pie and homemade whip cream, and began eating the three remaining pieces out of the pie tin while waiting for her bagel to toast.

As she ate the last cluster of rhubarb pieces and licked the whip cream off the rim of the pan she heard the dull, plodding footsteps coming toward the kitchen. Having quelled some of her anxiety with the pie, she forced her spine to stand a little straighter and stretched her facial muscles into a no-longer frequently-flashed smile from over a year ago.

Entering the kitchen, his shoulders filled the doorway, his hulking, slumped posture looming for a moment before entering. He walked straight to the fridge as she asked if he’d eaten yet. He replied with only a shake of his head, not turning away from the contents of the fridge. Walking up behind him, she wrapped her arms around his chest and kissed his neck while suggesting she would make scrambled eggs.

“That sounds nice,” he answered in a detached tone after a few moments.

She gave him a tender squeeze and ran her hand up and down his back as she turned to ready a pan for eggs and hashbrowns. She tried to make small talk as she whisked the eggs and milk into a foamy froth, pouring the mixture into a ceramic pan, but he was lost in his own thoughts.

She remembered when she once told him she wished she could see and experience his mind to better understand what he was feeling. The horrified look he gave her at that moment still sends prickling chills down her spine. He choked up a little, replying that he didn’t want to be stuck in that hell, and he couldn’t understand why she would want to willingly experience it. His eyes looked scared as he said it, and in that moment, the look told her more about what he was going through than the last two years of watching him silently suffer.

Changing the subject, she began to tell him of her plans for the day and was about to invite him to go on a walk through the forest on their property, down a path she just found while searching for a good area for her gardening plot. She turned to make eye contact and realized he was walking out of the kitchen in an almost zombie-like state.

Instantly she was overcome with worry. Had she yammered too long? Said something that upset him? She ran through the scenarios in her head until she was pulled back into reality by the fire alarm. Jumping at the piercing squeal, she pulled the smoking pan of now-charred egg mixture off the stove and set it in the sink, reaching over it to force the window open.The alarm was still ringing, she realized, grabbing a towel just as the kitchen door violently swung open.

“What’s going on? Are you ok?” He implored, not waiting for a response. “It’s just burned? What were you doing, spacing out again? You need to be more careful.”

“Sorry,” she replied, “I was just thinking, I guess.”

“Are you alright?” He more accused than asked. “You’ve been rather distant lately, is something wrong with you?”

It isn’t my problems that are bothering me, she thought, though she’d never say as much. He had as much control over his problems as she did, about zero. It wasn’t his fault he had a mood disorder, anxiety, depression, the whole works. It wasn’t his fault that his brother called her every other week to accuse her of sending him on a “downward depression spiral.” Telling him that she occasionally was stressed out by his constant anxiety and mood swings, something he could not control in the slightest, would kill him.

She knew he’d considered suicide in the past. She didnt ever want to be a potential cause for him to consider it again. She couldn’t handle the pain of losing him.

So when he wrongly saw her stress as absent-mindedness, she didn’t correct him, but would instead say she was tired, or had a tough day at work. It wasn’t ideal, and she felt like she was lying, but until his new medications began to work, she saw that being supportive and trying to create a positive environment were the only weapons she could use against the dark thoughts harbored in his mind.

Instead, she apologized for startling him and creating such a ruckus, and said she would clean up and open the windows, and suggested they head to town and get breakfast at the diner while the kitchen aired out. His gaze was fixed on the burnt eggs in the sink and he didn’t answer. She waited, and after a full minute, asked, “sound good?”

“Ugh, sure. I mean yes, lets go.”

She opened the four other windows in the sunny kitchen, got dressed and grabbed her purse, her long forgotten bagel still in the toaster oven.

He seemed like a completely different person at the diner. He chatted with the waitress and twittered on about different things he had been reading up on lately. He smiled. They chatted lightheartedly over coffee for almost an hour.

When they returned home, they walked through the woods on the trail, holding hands and planning out where to build treehouses and forts with their future children.

They returned to the house and helped pick wood ticks off each others clothes and he playfully poked fun and how squeamish she was about them.

They made love, sweetly, then passionately, in the sunroom and lay together in each others arms until the sun grew too warm and they had to retreat into the cool recesses of the house. She told him she was going to shower, then do some chores around her house, spending her last day off work doing laundry, dishes and cleaning the floors. It would only take an hour or two, then they could spend the evening together.

As she spoke, she could see his demeanor change. His eyes went from a bright, happy blue to a clouded storm as his shoulders began to slump forward.

She should have known better, but before she could stop herself, she asked,

“What’s wrong, sweets? Did I say something wrong?”

A regretful look flickered through his eyes, then he was lost again.

She made a move to hug him. He sat, stone-still, looking at something, or nothing, she wasn’t sure. She released the hug and stood there for a moment. He still hadn’t moved.

“Umm, I’m…I’ll let you be for a little while. I’m gonna clean up my mess in the kitchen.” She said as she began to walk away.

Just before she got out of arm’s reach, his hand shot out and gently grasped hers. He pulled her back in front of him and hugged her waist, burying his face in her plump midsection. He held her, not moving. After a full three minutes, he pulled his head back to look up at her face.

“Sorry.”

She smiled at him, said he had nothing to be sorry for, and said she really should get on the dishes.

“You just do something that’ll help you relax, I’ll be back as soon as I finish.”

As she walked out of the room, she looked back. He was lost again-where, she didn’t know, but the pained expression infecting his face told her that the thoughts or memories that were torturing him were not friendly, and he would probably spend the rest of the day paralysed by his own mind.

She found herself in the kitchen now, but instead of cleaning, she flipped the dial on the toaster oven, reheating this morning’s bagel. She layered as much whipped cream cheese on in as she could and absentmindedly ate her stress away. It wouldn’t solve her problems, but it made her feel better for now. Though, her heart still ached for him as she thought about his uncontrollable struggle.

Would he ever feel better? Would his new medications and therapist release him from the prison of his disease? She often worried she would come home one day and find him taken by the disease that tormented him.

One day at a time, she told herself, licking a bit of cream cheese off of her finger.

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