Nothing will change it. The drugs before, the booze and the grass and the Benzedrine didn’t change it. The new drugs in safe brown bottles don’t change it anymore even though I’m told they should. The drugs in brown bottles keep it contained until it gets out then it’s out; out, where it roars through the room and the house, echoing off the glass; out, taking everything that connects me with it, so I’m just a loose collection of bones and shuffled memory.
And all I can tell her is I’m sorry and I am but that doesn’t mean anything anymore.
And she cries; or she doesn’t, being brave and understanding instead, she tries to hold me or stand close to me but any contact is just that much more shame and guilt. She’s the one who’s gotta decide. It shouldn’t be that way but it is. I got too much hope invested in her skin and her breath and the sweat at the base of her neck.
Sometimes, when I lie beside her everything can seem alright. That’s the sharp teeth of the trap. Other times I lie still, I appear to lie still, someone else, peering into the room, might think that I was still. Except her. She would know; she knows I am spinning. At a high frequency. She knows I am gone, even lying warm beside her I am gone.
I watch myself drain away from her, wanting so much to reach out and flex my fingers in her hair. I watch the distance grow between us like I’m on a train moving too fast to leap from and I can’t leap anyway cause I can’t move cause the dark has opened up all around me.
The undersides of the leaves are gray in the porch light, the step is damp beneath me and there’s a whisper of a breeze; she is crying in the house behind me because I am who I am and she loves me.
It’s not that I didn’t tell her, it’s just that she didn’t know, didn’t know what it meant when I tried to tell her, either using the big important words or reducing it down to darkness and light, movement and imprisonment, breathing and suffocation. And it’s not that she didn’t want to understand, she maintained eye contact, nodded her head and asked questions, wanting to know, building up banks of information like books waiting to be read, until she did know something. It’s just that there’s a gap between knowing and living. There’s a gap between best wishes and not getting out of bed for the third day.
Leafing through the magazines in the waiting room she discovers smiling people on the proper doses of the proper medications in tasteful before-and-after pictures; they all have families, boats and jobs and long expanses of open beach to traverse together. The hope rests in soft colors upon the page. I don’t look at the magazines, but I notice when she does and I notice the soft slip of expression on her face. I sit, hunched forward slightly, hands between my knees, one leg bouncing rhythmically from the floor, unable to still the motion in my limbs.
Listening to the doctor talk on the other side of his wide desk, they can agree on signs of improvement and the possibility that a new treatment, simply awaiting approval, might make all the difference and no matter how I interject or which rational and perceptive comments I make or how involved I might be in my own treatment, I cannot escape the feeling that they are my parents, discussing my report card in grade school and making a plan for my improvement and I can never fully abandon that rage.
And it’s only a matter of time before I am burning out of control, angry and yelling, heating the house to a glow, and I hate her for understanding and I hate her for being there and I hate her for loving me because I see clearly, with crystal precision, that there is nothing left here to love, nothing left of who I was or who I could be but an image like a faded movie poster for a film which will never arrive and I hate her because every day she is standing in line to buy a new ticket.
And then, when our life has cooled from molten to blue, she will take me by surprise, touching my fingers in the grocery store, or looking up to me, smiling from her morning coffee, and something in me will become human again, as if every part of me which had drained off was now spilling back in, bubbling from my toes, filling into my body warm and vibrant and for one moment, there at the kitchen table or standing in front of the cornflakes, I believe I am alive.
But nothing helps enough. Not enough to keep the darkness at a distance long enough to build anything resembling a life. It shouldn’t be that way but it is; she’s the one who’ll have to leave and her guilt will be a shard of me she’ll never remove from her flesh.
It’s late or early and no-one in the neighborhood is awake. The lawns are quiet and the streets are empty. All of the windows are dark except for a grey nightlight two houses down. I don’t want to go back into the house but, later, I will.
Later, I’ll drag myself into the living room and collapse into the blueglow of the TV, watching nothing, masturbating to some tune I hardly remember, filled to bursting with a sadness I can’t get out of me, while she sleeps quietly in the other room. And, in the morning, she will wake up, still believing something about me that I cannot understand.
Steve Mitchell has published fiction in The Southeast Review, Contrary, The North Carolina Literary Review and The Adirondack Review, among others. His short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is available from Press 53. He is currently completing on a novel, Body of Trust. Steve has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He is open 24 hours a day at www.thisisstevemitchell.com