A short accompaniment to This Darkness is Mine
By Mackenzie Littledale
Michelle downed the last of her Chianti and paced Joe’s living room. “It’s time for me to apologize to your friend and his wife,” she said, racked with guilt.
Joe put down his highball of whiskey on the wood and glass coffee table. “I was wondering when you’d come around to that,” he said, rolling his ‘R’ in his heavy Cuban accent.
She let out a heavy breath, wishing for more alcohol, but it was almost bedtime, time to take her medication. “I couldn’t help it. I was uncomfortable when she said she cut herself. I feel so ashamed now. I had no idea...no idea you were close to her and her husband.”
“No shame necessary, mi amor. You couldn’t have known. It’s just ironic that you’d be at a support group and not be able to offer support, no?”
“Yeah, I needed more support than I could offer then,” said Michelle. “I’ve come a long way.”
“I’d like to start going back to the support group, but I can’t with this hanging over my head.” Michelle took her glass to the kitchen to put it in the dishwasher.
“No, it wouldn’t be good. The support group has to be a safe environment for all the members. With that kind of tension? It’s not a good idea for you to go back unless you take care of this and clear the air. It would be awful for this to blow up into tira y jala.”
She returned to him. “A what?”
“Tira y jala is a back and forth argument.”
“Ah, no, I don’t want that. It’s still hard to stomach what I don’t understand, but at least I’ve gained some empathy along the way,” Michelle took Joe’s hand and tugged on him to follow her upstairs to his bedroom. “I think the best way for me to go about it is to write down what I want to say. I don’t know if it’ll go as planned, but I think having some kind of guideline will help.”
“I like this idea.”
“This is so fucking hard,” she said. “I feel bad about bailing on the meeting.”
“Write it out.” He tossed a T-shirt to her to wear for the night.
“How long has she been in intensive care?”
“Charity was in intensive care for three weeks,” said Joe, removing his shirt.
“Jesus.” Michelle slipped out of her clothes and put on the T-shirt.
“The last time I saw Ron, he told me she’s in a regular room now, but they’re keeping a close eye on her.”
She sat in his bed with her laptop, and froze. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Start with ‘Dear Charity,’” Joe suggested.
She smiled. “Yeah. Okay, I can do this.” With a lot of stopping and staring, typing and backspacing, Michelle wrote out a heartfelt apology. “Can I read it to you?”
Sprawled out like a cat on its back, Joe was fast asleep. Michelle glanced at the clock. She’d been working on her one-page letter for three hours.
“I think it’s perfect,” she said to herself, tucking the laptop away and cuddling up to Joe’s warm body.
Thursday after Joe got off work, Michelle asked him to take her to Aventura hospital so she could give her letter to Charity in person. “It’ll be a nice lay-up to the weekend. We can go dancing or something guilt-free.”
“Let’s see how this goes,” said Joe, as they walked through the visitor parking lot.
“You don’t think I can pull off an apology?” Michelle play-smacked his arm.
“I believe you can. Let’s see if you will.”
Once they arrived at Charity’s room, Joe took Michelle’s hand and they entered together. Ron sat at Charity’s side, holding her hand to his cheek.
“Hola Ron,” said Joe. “How is she?”
“She’s--” Ron glared at Michelle. “What the hell is she doing here?”
Michelle stammered, not expecting such strong revulsion at her presence. “Good pitching the other night, Ron. You did a great job.”
“What the hell?”
Michelle cleared her throat and glanced around the room. “I’m sorry, forget the game, forget I brought it up.” Michelle rubbed her brows. “I-I came to apologize to her. And to you. To both of you.”
“You shouldn’t be here while she’s recovering,” said Ron. “It’s not like you’re any kind of friend.”
“Ron,” said Joe. “Michelle isn’t responsible for Charity hurting herself. She wants to apologize.”
“Hey, it’s not like I even knew her. Please just hear me out,” said Michelle, scrambling for her note, but she couldn’t find it. She cursed to herself, realizing she’d have to speak from her heart on the fly. “Please.”
Ron crossed his arms. “Go ahead. What do you have to say for yourself.”
Michelle noticed a solitary small bouquet of fuchsia and yellow flowers and two greeting cards on the bedside table. “I showed up to the bipolar support group in need of support, but I had preconceived notions about what it would be like. It wasn’t like what I expected, and I was starting to feel comfortable. But Charity’s...challenges...with depression went beyond what I could handle. I shouldn’t have bolted out of the room when she was sharing her weekly challenge.”
“That’s your apology?” Ron asked, snorting. “You’re ‘sorry, but?’”
“I am sorry,” said Michelle, taking two steps closer to the edge of Charity’s bed. The hospital disinfectant smell overwhelmed her. She hated the about-to-die smell of hospitals. “There shouldn’t be a ‘but’. I wasn’t capable of being supportive then. I was needier than I wanted to admit and stubborn. I’m stronger now, and I feel terrible about bailing on the group. It’s hard to process what demons she’s dealing with that talk her into hurting herself.” She looked to Joe, who moved to lean against the wall, observing. He gestured for her to carry on. She stared into his green eyes long enough to draw the strength she needed to withstand the jellyfish sensation in her gut from contrition.
After a nod to Joe, she looked back to Ron. The ball was in his court.
Ron remained seated. He laid Charity’s hand at her side. “I love you, baby.” Then he stood, his glare shooting missiles at Michelle. His face swelled, turning red, and his eyes bulged, an attempt to hold back tears. “She thinks she’s broken.” His sobs broke through his barriers. “How...how do I convince her she’s perfect?”
“You don’t need to convince her of that,” said Michelle, taking another step closer. “Nobody is perfect. You just need to love her through it and help her find ways to combat the demons. Demons are sneaky. They’ll say anything to destroy us.”
“How can she escape the voices that tell her she’s not good enough to be alive?”
“There’s no escaping voices inside our own heads. We have to amplify the other voices cheering us on.”
Ron continued heaving and sobbing. “I think she’s perfect. She’s the most amazing woman I’ve ever known.”
“That’s all that matters,” said Michelle, moving closer still. She put her hand on Ron’s shoulder and squeezed. “I wish I could promise that she’ll be okay, but I can’t even guarantee that for myself. Don’t give up the fight for her.”
“When she gets out and you’re both ready, I’d like to invite you both for dinner at my house,” said Joe.
“That’s a great idea,” said Michelle. “That’s just what she needs, support and friends, social activities with people who want her to make it.”
“I can’t commit to that,” said Ron, looking at Charity’s face. “It sounds nice, but I don’t know.”
“You don’t need to commit right now,” said Michelle. “You’ll both know when you’re ready. But I’m all for it. It’ll be a quiet dinner.”
Joe came up to stand behind Michelle. “Do you forgive her?”
“Yeah,” said Ron. “We’re good.”
Michelle’s stomach unknotted and her shoulders loosened. “Thank you, Ron. I appreciate the second chance.”