I didn’t know this would be our last picture together. It was a hot June day. He had been helping me load the moving truck. We were having a beer on the back deck like everything was fine. Everything WAS fine, except for the fact that he had asked me to move out the month before. He said it in a moment of anger and frustration and regretted it. I agreed in a moment of despair and confusion and regretted it. But we were playing the worst game of chicken and neither of us seemed capable of swerving away from the inevitable destruction. Meanwhile, we drank beer on the back deck like everything was okay.
I asked him how he liked his new place. He said “It’s small.”
He asked me what I had lined up in Texas. I said “I don’t know.”
I confessed that I had been applying for jobs in Fort Wayne in a desperate effort to at least stay in the same town. He seemed confused, but hopeful. We both were. We were still insulated with inside jokes and familiar touches; like pirouetting through a minefield we danced around the issues we couldn’t address.
Later, in the shade of the front garden, I rested my head on his shoulder.
“You’re going to miss me,” he said.
“Every single day.”
There are some things that a marriage cannot handle; some things a partner shouldn’t have to endure year after year; some limits to shared suffering. We survived a lot in our marriage, but the one thing it seemed we couldn’t survive was my depression.
I had sent him back to his new apartment with all the gluten-free flour. He had connected my car to the dolly behind the moving truck. Allie was pissed at me for crying so much; she was eager to get to Texas to see her dad and was blinded to everything else. I walked through the front garden again, picking one of each flower for a vase. I went on the back deck to say goodbye to so much more than I knew. The sun was setting. I gave him those flowers before we left town. I didn’t know.
The first few days back in Texas, I didn’t want to unload the truck. I kept trying to figure how I could get back to Indiana without everyone hating me. I didn’t want to alienate anyone else but I felt a panicky compulsion to return. I was lost and scared and hot and sweaty. My mom and sisters nudged me through life those first days. They helped me unload the truck, reminded me to eat and shower, let me sleep when I couldn’t do anything else. Allie was still pissed at me every I talked to him, even if I was just texting him goofy pictures. Our extended stay hotel smelled like pickles and we watched Friends every night while the neon Cavender’s Boot City sign flickered through the curtains. I couldn’t see the stars at night like I had in Indiana. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I couldn’t live. That living was an insult.
I talked to him every night.
“I didn’t want you to leave,” he said.
“I didn’t want to go,” I said.
I found an apartment. I picked one with the shortest possible lease term, certain this would just be an extended vacation. I picked up freelance work and bought groceries and showered without prompting. The girls drifted in and out of okayness. They missed their brothers and were confused about why they suddenly weren’t allowed to text them. Allie busied herself with volleyball and her social life. Avery wondered if she would still get birthday cards from Pop-pop addressed to “Hollywood”, his nickname for her.
“That’s a month away sweetie so don’t even think about it. You are always loved, even by those who don’t tell you, so don’t worry about it if it doesn’t come. Promise?”
Moving day was a hurricane. Frenzied activity in the morning: picking up keys, confirming movers, upacking the first essentials. The eye of that hurricane found me on my new balcony, naively believing my blind optimism and hopeful for the future. Soon I found myself facing nightmares that had come to life as the last bit of breath was knocked from me. Then came the other side of the storm — the dirty side.
I was lost and scared and hot and sweaty. I wanted to give up. I wanted to curl in a ball and sleep. I was drowning and every time I got my head above water, he found a way to push me back under. I talked to my friends, who encouraged me. Normally, my friends love me with a scarily blind devotion. I could go kick a puppy in the face and my friends would tell me that the puppy was a total asshole. But this time they knew I needed real support. They didn’t let me excuse anything away. They didn’t let me bullshit. They kept me honest. They kept me grounded. They kept me out of the fetal position. My friends, my mom, my sisters. They saved my life.
Because here’s the thing. Depression? You can’t just make it go away. Anxiety? Doesn’t respond to reason. Luckily, most people understand that now, but not everyone does. Some people still think it’s a choice. Some people think if I just ate more salmon and went for a run, I’d feel much better. Some people think that if I just wrote more or got a hobby, I’d feel much better. Some people position themselves as champions of mental health, but when shit gets real, their money is nowhere near their mouths, but their mouths are quite close to their asses.
Depression isn’t just cartoon sad people who mostly look like they just smelled a fart. Depression is not laziness or willfully ignoring life for something more fun. Depression isn’t a choice. Depression takes away the luxury of choice. If I had a choice, I would spring out of bed every morning, keep an immaculate house, never eat a Hot Pocket, feel confident and secure and present in every moment. I want that more than anything and because I am strong, I fight towards those goals every day. I fight against the constant doubt, fear, futility and lethargy. And it’s exhausting. There are times that holding my shit together for the week takes everything out of me and I crash. Hard. I know it sounds ridiculous. But truly, making small talk with coworkers, paying bills, helping with homework and attending volleyball practice — pretty much just behaving like most adult humans I know — it makes me feel like I ran an ultra-marathon. With the bulls. Underwater. Backwards and in heels. While eating Hot Pockets.
I’m proud that I can do that now. There have been times I couldn’t. When I didn’t really want to kill myself, but I wouldn’t be sad to stop living. I asked for help. I needed someone to have my back, to help me fight that inner voice. The one in my head that tells me I’m worthless, I’m a failure, I’m letting everyone down, I don’t deserve to be happy, I will continue to fail even when I try, I’m terrible at everything I do, I can’t get anything right. Instead, the voice in my head was given a voice outside of my head, which is something I never expected. Asking for help is hard. Being rejected is harder. But at least I know I made the right choice. And I guarantee it was much more difficult than canceling a magazine subscription.
From among the shattered pieces of my life, I unpacked my hurt and placed it on a shelf. Beneath that I found anger and wasn’t quite sure where it should go. I never know what to do with anger, so I try to paint it with shades of kindness and will it away. Most of the shards are of my own making and I know that. I came to Texas so I could learn how to put those pieces back together and become whole for him. But we were both armed with sledgehammers at the end. Some of the pieces have been bashed so many times, they are just dust now. I’ll never have a whole piece of trust. I think it’ safe to say the marriage piece is pulverized at this point. But I’ve put down my hammer and promised to quit beating myself up. I found family, and sisters, and friends I didn’t know I had. I found strength, and help, and faith, and patience, and kittens. I haven’t found joy yet, but I still fight for it every day. And for all I know, this whole mosaic is joy. I just need to finish picking up all of the pieces.
I never wanted this. I wanted the happily ever after, the growing old together, the feel of his arms around me and the sound of our laughter. I miss the boys. I miss his family. I miss the life I thought we were working towards. I’ll never stop loving him, or the boys, or his family, or the life we built together. But he asked me to stop using his last name; banned the girls from staying in touch with their brothers; made very clear that I am no longer a part of his story. And finally, he sent the divorce papers. I’m going to go sign them now. It means the end of our story together, but I’m learning to be hopeful about the story that is just beginning.