TW: mental health issues, physical abuse, suicide
I’m awake as the strangled sobs dance around the room. Their haunted songs fill me with dread and force me to my feet. I throw the covers from my body and the chill in the room instantly nips at my skin. I bite back a swear word as I stumble forward, searching for the owner of that cry I know all too well.
My wife is collapsed at the door frame, hand over her mouth. Her body heaves and she chokes out those awful cries that regularly leave those once kissable lips. She can’t hear me as I call out to check on her; or, rather, she won’t hear me. Even from this distance, the stench of whisky assaults me and I bite back an insult. I believe she’s been drinking. No, I know she’s been drinking.
One of her frail hands grip the door frame, knuckles turning white, shaking. I’m surprised she can even hold herself up, she’s so weak. Those wicked cries still stumble out and it makes my heart miss a beat. I don’t enjoy making her upset, but she had to know that her drinking is affecting everyone.
I’m back from deployment but I’d rather be there in those bleeding fields, bullets flying past my ears and the shrieks of dying men. The feeling of the ground swallowing me up whole as I drag my body down the hill into battle, the insects which nip at my skin and the parchedness in my mouth from where I haven’t had water in a day or two. All of that is better than watching my wife make a fool of herself.
Numbly, my body stumbles towards her and I place a hand to her cheek. She’s stone cold as she shivers and pulls away. As she falls backwards, a ghastly shriek leaves her lips, and a gasp leaves mine.
Her pain forces me back to that maternity ward where she lay on her back, legs firmly propped apart, nails sinking into my skin. The smell of bleach from the clinically clean room still tickles my brain and my wife’s cries still pull at my heart strings. I felt completely helpless in that moment. I was used to killing things, not bringing life into the world.
In that moment, it was just between her and her god as she gave birth to my child. Like a horror film, the tore in two and the baby’s head kept crowning, disappearing, and crowning again. I, myself, panted and trembled in fear, excitement, and dread. My wife was slowly losing blood, her energy, her life. She had my hand gripped in a vice and I could have sworn she broke my pinkie finger. But justice was restored as my son was laid onto her breasts. The gargled screams of agony transformed into whimpers from the afterbirth contractions. She was exhausted and slipping in and out of consciousness; this never stopped the look of adoration in her eyes as she looks between me and our son. Those large, blue orbs twinkled under the hospital lighting; they were a sea I used to swim in for hours at a time. At that time, we were a team through thick and thin.
As I watch her in the present, drunk and miserable, clutching her only source of joy in the form of a bottle of whisky, that moment is all but a faint whisper.
“It’s going to be okay.” My strained voice tries to console her. I etch closer but she won’t have it, staring straight into my soul, and shuffling backwards. A drunk hiccup leaves her lips and for a moment I imagine she’s going to be sick. It’s not unlike her to drink herself into oblivion.
In the next room, our child cries. He can feel his mother’s distress and responds to her by mirroring the sobs. I follow the noise to find my child, half dressed and holding his empty bottle. He looks up at me with those sorry eyes and a wobbly bottom lip. I take him in my arms, but he cannot be soothed. It’s like my touch upsets him further. Eyes watery and jaw clenched, I put him back down.
“I-It’s going t-to be okay, Joey.” My wife sobs as she falls into the room. The bottle of whisky drops to the floor and smashes. The shards fly everywhere like a bomb. This time, I lose my temper. The swear words fly from my lips like fatal bullets and my wife winces. She hurries towards our son who screams. Luckily, no shard bit his skin. She’s fortunate he’s safe, I won’t have her causing misery to my child.
The sickly smell of spilt alcohol fills me, and I choke. I have always hated this room but now it’s unbearable. Darkness seeps in around us and the cracks in the wall wind their way up, like silent snakes slithering through the sea. Only the dim lamp on the floor in the corner gives me enough lamination to see my tear stained, snot dribbling wife who desperately tries to coo my son.
Yet again, we had fought. As usual, things were thrown, words became ugly, and the dying love shrivelled in front of our eyes.
“For fucks sake, give me him.”
I can’t allow her to console my son this awfully. But as I start to walk towards her, she lurches for the phone. Head tilted, I watch her with almost an amused expression on my lips. Who was she going to call?
She slurs on her words and it’s barely decipherable. I take another step forward, but my eyes catch something on the floor. Amongst the mess, our photograph lies crumpled. My heart constricts instantly, and the memory slaps me hard around the face.
It was a warm summer’s day in mid-June before we had Joey. Love was an understatement for the feelings I felt for my Amy. We lay on the pink picnic blanket she had picked out from the little farmhouse on the corner. A gentle breeze caressed her, blowing strands of hair across her smiling face. She radiated warmth and happiness as she shuffled closer towards me. My heart flipped in my stomach as my shaky fingers reached out to remove the beautiful strands from her face. I had been so nervous around her then. As if I could break her if I pressed too hard. Everything I did was slow, gentle, and soft.
I know my wife well enough that when those soft lip’s part, she wishes to say something. But they close quickly, and she presses those red cushions against my lips. Our eyes flutter shut and a strange, intoxicating feeling pooled into my stomach. In that moment, I strongly believed we couldn’t be anything but happy.
Of course, that was my mistake. One I’m paying for every day of my life. The picture burns the skin on my trembling fingers, and I can no longer hold it. The love we had, also had an expiry date. To be precise, it ended the minute I was deployed to Vietnam.
A strangled cry leaves my own lips. I feel like I’m losing my mind. Everything is falling apart, and the woman who was supposed to be the rock in my life, is also crumbling like sand. We had no money, no loyalty and most importantly, we had no love. Instead, there were invisible ropes which burnt our skin and kept us pressed up against each other.
“Y-yes, please, h-hurry.” My wife sobs into the phone before hanging up. At least these words are clear, I think bitterly.
My son is pressed between her breasts, and she holds onto him tightly. This is about as motherly as she’s been in the entire three years of my son’s life. I repress the scoff, but the question still lingers, “Who did you call?”
She ignores me. My blood boils. My wife’s favourite game is the silent treatment after we fight. It drives me fucking insane, and she knows it. The manipulative little siren that I fell for, is also the one which would kill me.
She can’t bear the silence, so she rocks forward and clicks play on the radio. It’s on its side, on the floor. Another piece of collateral damage from our fight. My son whimpers quietly into her chest and his tiny little fingers clench and unclench around her arm. He always found comfort in the cold skin on my wife’s arms. The song ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’ by Elvis Priestly starts playing in the background. My heart stops: it had to be this song. Of all the songs, it had to be this one. The tune that reminds me of our love.
“Who did you call, Amy? Who did you call?” I try again, desperate. Her cold, dead eyes stare at the far wall but she no longer cries. Those streaming tears, tumbling down her face like rocks being kicked off a cliff, still come though.
Had our fight upset her that much?
It was a dance we knew all too well. We fight, we sulk in different rooms, we make up and then we would fight again. She was an exquisite dancer, as graceful as a swan but as deadly as a sniper. She was my real war.
“Amy, I’m sorry.” I try again. The song seemed to double in volume without her even touch it and it rubbed me the wrong way. I snap, “Can we just turn it off?”
The both of them ignore me; my son would always favour his mother. Frustrated, I move towards the wretched thing and click the off button. We shall sit in silence until she acknowledges me. Bitterly, my wife stares at the radio and then at me. Joey starts to sob again, louder this time. He’s scared but I won’t hurt him. I’d never hurt him.
The door rings.
My heartbeat pounds in my ears as I head towards it. Has she called one of her many lovers? My wife was no stranger to the touch of another. I swallow down the painful lump in my throat. Everything seemed hypersensitive. The door opens before I could even reach out and a policeman stands there. I stumble back, dumbfounded.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” The man in black and blue asks her. I frown and hold the door open wider from them, “Yes, come in. You’ll see that she’s drunk again. Maybe even high.”
From behind, my wife splutters on a sob. I look back to her in disbelief, trying to work out whichever sinister game she’s playing. Will she manipulative the police force against me? The policeman enters, looking around the room with distaste. His eyes widen as he spots all the broken glass, lack of furniture and awful living conditions.
“Where is he?” He asks with an almost sympathetic look twinkling in his eye. My heart drops, “Where’s who?”
My wife gulps and clings to our son tighter. Her long lashes flutter shut, kissing her cheeks and another tear rolls down.
“He’s in the bedroom.”
I’m back at where I awoke not too long ago, racing to find the man she is talking about. This time, the bed is made, there’s no evidence that I’d been asleep in that bed fifteen minutes ago. Everything is pristine and perfect.
Not quite everything.
Trembling, I look up. My body hangs from the curtain rails, bedsheets used as a noose to keep me dangling. I’m facing out the window so we cannot see my face. My voice is snatched from me as my wife’s sobs continue dancing around the room like sinister little ghouls prancing around to a wicked tune.
I twist around, expecting to see my devastated wife in her drunken state. Instead, my wife stands there, stone sober, clutching herself sadly. She has red, swollen eyes and a snotty nose but there’s no evidence of her having been drunk.
“He’d been drinking, you see, like usual.” She chokes out. My eyes are wide as I stumble forward. I catch my own reflection in the mirror; lazy eyes, flushed cheeks and chapped lips. The stench of whisky still whispers around the room. In the mirror, I see my soaked t-shirt, and ripped trousers.
“He’s been on a particularly nasty tour.” My wife’s lips become thin as she stares miserably towards my dead body, “We fought and I left, just to return and I found him.”
She sounded awful, with those cracks in her voice and strained expression. My lip’s part to say something but I don’t. I can’t. She’s so well put together and I’m, well, not.
I believed she was drunk, I thought she was fucking around as usual.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.