Contemporary Sad Fiction

*trigger warning: mental health

He sat down across the table from me, and I wonder: this is it, isn’t it? The end?

I never saw things going this way. The first time I saw him, I nearly fainted. He was tall, sexy, young. He smiled at the customers across the counter. He laughed with the children. He smiled, and I fell.

He was everything I wanted and so much more.

“So, what’s going on?” He asked me, brows furrowed in confusion.

“We need to talk,” I said quietly. I held the menu in my hand and stared at the lines on the wooden table.

“Right.” He answered. “I guess we do.”

The waiter stopped at the table, two glasses of ice water in his hands. He placed the water on the table in front of each of us. “What can I get for you tonight?”

“A few minutes, please.” I haven’t looked at the menu, and I’m unsure if I have an appetite anyway.

“I’ll have a beer, please,” my husband says. “Tall and whatever’s on tap.”

“Sure thing.” The waiter leaves.

“A beer?” I ask.

“Yeah. A beer.” He rolls his eyes at me. “It’s been a long week.”

I sigh. “I guess it has.”

He sits silently, waiting for the beer to arrive. When the waiter drops it off, we each order a cheeseburger. We are predictable that way.

“Tell me about your week.” I prompt, hoping that he will share with me what’s had him so upset for so long.

“Just business,” he lies.

“Ah.” I wish I’d ordered an appetizer, something to stuff in my mouth and pretend I’m just too busy to talk.

“I don’t know what you want from me.”

I shrug. “I don’t know either. Some communication, maybe?”

“Jesus, Calla. I talk all day, every day. It’s all I do. When I get home, I just need a break.” He leans back and chugs half the beer in a single drink. He’ll order another one soon.

“I know, but I’m home all day with nobody to talk to. It’s excruciating. Couldn’t we meet in the middle sometimes?”

The waiter returns with another beer before the first is completely gone, and I stop him. “Could I please get some mozzarella sticks? Ranch.”

“Sure thing. Anything else?” He stares at us, wide-eyed like he’s afraid to be there.

“A diet soda, please.” I smile.

“Got it.” He leaves.

“The middle can’t be too much to ask, is it?” I wonder when compromise became such a difficult thing to ask for. We used to be partners on everything. Friends, even. Lovers especially. But now. Now it was like living with a roommate who didn’t even like me. I wasn’t sure I liked him. Tonight would determine that.

“It isn’t. No. But I’m so damn tired.” He stretched his back across the booth seat, and I noticed the dark circles under his eyes. Had I missed them before?

“Me, too,” I whisper.

The mozzarella sticks arrive. With marinara. I send it back. “Ranch, please.”

“Oh, sorry.” The waiter is now sweating. He’s probably seen this kind of tension before. It only ends one of two ways. Maybe the cheeseburgers will help. I take a bite of the mozzarella stick, and the waiter leaves again.

“I know it’s hard being away so much. This whole past year has been an absolute nightmare. The isolation, the fear, the politics. I don’t know how anyone has made it through unscathed.” I speak through the warm cheese in my mouth and reach for his hand. He doesn’t pull it away.

He wraps his pointer finger around mine, just a tiny gesture we’ve always done when we want to connect but need space at the same time.

“I don’t know what to do about it,” he says mournfully.

“I don’t either.” I pause. I think. Butterflies fill my stomach. “I think we have to figure out how to do it together, though.”

Please, God, let him agree. Let him agree.

He squeezes my finger gently and moves his hand away.


“I guess so,” he says. I’ll take it.

“What can I do? How can I help?” I wonder why it is that I’m the one offering to compromise still, but he’s just sitting there. Maybe he doesn’t know how to reach out. I’m right here, I want to say. I’m right here.

But he isn’t.

“I honestly don’t know. I think maybe I need a break.”

My heart sinks, and I feel the mozzarella sticks trying to break free from my stomach. “A break?”

“I’m thinking about taking a sabbatical.” He looks down at the table, finishes the first beer, and drinks half of the second one.

The waiter drops the ranch off and disappears before we can ask for anything else.

“A sabbatical?” I wonder. “Can you do that?”

“I don’t know. I think so.” He shrugged. “Carl did last year when his wife died.”

“But I’m not dead.”

He laughs. “No, thank God. But I think if I told them that I’m really struggling, maybe they’ll work something out.”

 “I didn’t realize things were that bad.” I wanted to say he should have talked to me more, but that was not an argument worth having right now.

“I didn’t say anything about it.” He leaned forward, allowing the table to support him. “I guess I should have.”

“It’s okay,” I lied.

The waiter returned with our cheeseburgers. He placed them on the table in front of each of us and pulled ketchup and mustard from his apron. “Anything else?”

“No, thank you,” I said.

He sighed as he walked away, probably relieved we didn’t need more.

“But I know now, right? So, what can I do?” I scheduled this dinner because I’d been worried something else was going on. I worried he was having an affair and wanted to leave me. I think that might have been less scary.

“I wish I knew.” His eyes glossed over, and I knew he was thinking about his brother. Depression had taken over his life as a teen, and he’d lost the battle.

“We can call a therapist.” I had been to one before, and while it wasn’t the best thing I ever did, it didn’t hurt. Well. Much anyway.

“If I don’t want to talk to you, what makes you think I want to talk to some stranger, let alone pay them to listen?” He snapped.

I took a bite of the burger, unexpectedly wonderful and satisfying in the midst of this terrible conversation. The salt and cheese burst onto my tongue, and I had to stifle a moan. I was always a noisy eater, and it drove my husband crazy. But maybe I shouldn’t think the word crazy about him now. Depression isn’t crazy. Depression is real and serious, and scary.

“I’m sorry.” He reached for my hand. His food was untouched, but the second beer was empty.

The waiter came with a refill for our water glasses. “Another one?”

“No, thank you.”

He took the empty beer glasses and left.

“You know I love you, right?” I realized as I said this that it was entirely true. Every single bit of me surged with love more powerful than I had ever noticed before. This man in front of me, still tall, sexy, intelligent, and kind… my husband… I loved him with everything I had.

He started to cry.

“I love you, too.” He squeezed my hand as the tears rolled down his face. “I’m scared.”

“I know.” I squeezed back.

“I don’t know how to do this.” I knew that was the hardest thing for him to say. He hated asking for help, and this was the biggest ask of all. He needed help to save his life.

“The only thing I know how to do is take things one day at a time.” I’d researched mental health as part of my job. I’d written articles for doctors’ offices and letters for patients. I knew that every little thing was so important. And every tiny step was monumental. I didn’t know if he could do it, but I hoped he could. We could. Together.

“Okay,” he whispered.

“This is the beginning, okay? The beginning.” I smiled at him. “From here on out, we check in with each other. We talk. We cry. Whatever we need. I am here for you.”

“The beginning,” he repeated. “Okay.”

July 01, 2021 04:57

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