cw: foul language
I close my eyes to sleep, but the bright, flickering light of a Liberty Mutual commercial passes through my eyelids. Suddenly, I’m awake. My heart jumps to my throat, and my face flushes hot. Still half-asleep, I take a moment to collect myself, to gather what has happened.
It turns out, my husband has done it again—turned on our bedroom TV after I’ve already gone to bed.
I consider turning it off point blank, or at least changing the channel to something more palatable. It’s 1:06 in the morning, and he’s chosen Friends of all things to watch. The One with the East German Laundry Detergent. We used to watch this show back when our marriage was actually a marriage. I have to change the channel because it hurts too much to remember the way things used to be—before he stopped being present in our marriage.
My thumb hovers over the remote. Harvey’s greasy, potato-chip thumbprints cover almost every button, except for the DVD button, which who actually uses these days anyway? I have my reasons for not wiping them off—one of those reasons being that I’ve been too depressed to go get a paper towel from the kitchen and spritz it with a 50-50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water. That’s simply too considerable a feat for the clinically depressed to handle. I can barely even wash my own hair before losing all energy and staring at the wall.
Speaking of walls, talking to Harvey is the equivalent of talking to a wall. Not even like talking to a wall. It is talking to a wall. That’s how absent he is these days—so absent I’ve had to amp up my similes to undiluted metaphors.
Of course, there’s always the emotionally mature option of confronting Harvey directly—telling him that I do not appreciate it when he turns on the television while I am sleeping. There’s also the emotionally immature (though more cathartic) route of calling him the usuals—selfish, inconsiderate . . . rude ass bitch—but, like I said, what would be the point? I’d be talking to the wall.
Besides, I have already gotten past my anger about the whole situation (for the most part). I do not resort to calling him such names anymore. At this stage, I speak only with love to him. That is, if he’s even listening to me at all. If I’m being honest, I don’t even know if Harvey sees me anymore. Like, really sees me and all that I am, you know. Many of my married friends feel the same way with their husbands, but it’s never to the same extent that I feel this way with Harvey.
I decide to turn down the volume instead of changing the channel. I cannot bring myself to press the off button either. Harvey likes this show, after all, and plus—there’s something comforting about the background noise of a lighthearted sitcom when your heart is filled with all things heavy.
When I go to work the next morning, my coworker Barbara, who still wears shoulder pads in the year 2017, looks me up and down. Not judgmentally but sympathetically. I didn’t know it was possible to look someone up and down sympathetically until now.
“You need sleep,” says Barbara softly, putting her hand on my back. “I can tell. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Barbara’s always been sympathetic—a shoulder to cry on—and I wonder if that’s why she always wears shoulder pads. I want to bury my face in one at this moment and cry until my tears soak through the foam and she has to wring it out like a wet sponge.
“It’s going to be okay,” she says when my face contorts. “Do you want to talk about anything?”
We go into an empty breakroom and lean against the counter with mugs of tea as hot as freshly printed paper. We stop talking whenever someone comes in and continue once they leave.
“You’re acting different,” says Barbara. “Everyone’s concerned about you.”
I blow on my tea. “I’m okay. It’s just my marriage. I want it back.” I consider telling her the specifics you normally wouldn't tell people you work with—that I don't wash my hair anymore and that Harvey’s been turning on the TV in our shared bedroom while I’m sleeping. I don’t even know if she’d believe me about the TV part. She met him at our holiday party last year—the polite, reserved man everyone had momentarily gotten to know over snowflake-shaped cookies and champagne. Like everyone else I've told, Barbara would probably say, “Who? Harvey? He did not.” That would only make me more upset, especially if she laughed at the possibility of Harvey doing such a thing. It’d take me right back to the anger I’ve worked so hard to overcome. I didn’t come this far to start at the very beginning again.
“Have you thought about meeting new men?” she proposes. “I have this friend in LA who—”
I stop her. I am disgusted she'd even mention it. “Let me be clear," I say. "I still love him, and I would never do something like that to him.”
She nods, reluctant now. “Maybe a therapist would help. Someone who specializes in this kind of stuff.”
If it were up to me, I’d see a couple’s therapist—but it’s out of my means. For one, I read that couple’s therapists cost twice as much as regular therapists on account of the extra body in the room. Besides, I’d never be able to drag Harvey’s two-hundred-something pound deadweight into what he’d call an expensive crying room. That’d be physically impossible.
I settle on a regular therapist whose name is Lindsay. She smells like vanilla and uses words like enabler and nonlinear.
“Let’s start from the beginning,” says Lindsay. “So your husband . . . Harvey . . . turns on the TV in your shared bedroom while you’re sleeping.”
I rub my eyes under my glasses, exhausted. “That’s right.”
“That’s so frustrating. But how does that make you feel?”
“Well, I’m past the anger part. I’m sort of just depressed now. Problem is, I don’t get any sleep these days. The TV is on almost every night, until I finally bring myself to grab the remote and turn it off myself.”
“What stops you from turning it off sooner?”
“I carry guilt about calling him a rude ass bitch two years ago. So I try to be extra nice to him these days. Plus, I don’t want to upset him.”
“Does he physically hurt you?”
“No, he’s never done anything like that.”
“Okay. And do you feel comfortable talking to him about it?”
I shrug. “I honestly don’t even know how to communicate with him anymore.”
“It can be simple,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be complicated or some long-winded discussion. It can just be something like, hey babe, or whatever you two call each other—hey babe, do you mind not turning on the TV while I’m asleep? It’s really bothersome.”
“Sure,” I say. I have her repeat what she said and type out her exact words on my phone. “I guess I’ll try that.”
I close my eyes to sleep, but as always, Harvey does it again. This time, the flickering red light of CNN passes through my eyelids, and I wake up in a cold sweat.
“Hey babe,” I say. “Do you mind not turning on the TV while I’m asleep? It’s really bothersome.”
As usual, he does not acknowledge me, and I want to cry. Sleep-deprived, I settle on watching the news with him.
The Opioid Epidemic.
Martin Shkreli Convicted.
I have to change the channel when I hear three dead, two badly injured, because anything related to blood reminds me of five months ago when Harvey fell off the ladder in our backyard.
I've stopped talking to people about my TV issue because they always tell me it's just a case of faulty wiring. Ghosts and paranormal activity are nothing more than tricks of the mind, they say. They offer to buy me a new TV, as if, just because you lose your husband, you lose your money, too. This only takes me back to the anger stage, when I have worked so hard to progress to somewhere between the depression and bargaining stages.
No matter what anyone says, though, I know it's Harvey turning on the TV. I feel him in the room with me, although I never know if he can see me or hear me when I tell him I love him.
Again, I politely tell Harvey that I wish to sleep, but it doesn’t make a difference—I’m talking to my wall. I look down at the remote and hesitate to press the off button, hesitate to wipe off the greasy potato chip thumbprints that create the illusion he's still alive.
In the end though, I decide to leave it on. Harvey always did like late-night television, and I don’t mind staying up all night with him if it makes him happy.