When the darkness takes hold, it is relentless in its grasp.
This bout of black nothingness was more intense than any Audrey had experienced in the past. Her bipolar diagnosis was a distant memory now and she thought her psychiatrist had finally struck the right balance with her meds. Three years had passed since her last episode, since her dosage had been upped. Luckily, last time, the manic portion of the process had occurred on relatively stable ground. Peter was there; he was home from the rigs for the winter months. He’s the only person who can keep her tethered to reality when she starts to drift upward.
They say the depression is at least as intense as the mania.
Peter had been gone for nine days when Audrey began to float. They changed his schedule from one week on, one week off to four weeks on, two weeks off. Before he agreed to the new contract, for considerably more money, he asked Audrey if she would be able to cope on her own for a month at a time. She said yes, that it had been so long since her brain had gone awry, she would be fine. But it was so subtle this time, like it had mutated to survive past her sharpened instincts.
Mania disguises itself as many things: creativity, inspiration, grandeur.
On the eleventh day of Peter’s first long stint away, Audrey was struck with the desire to build frames for her paintings and set up a yard gallery. Her artwork was piling up and Peter always said her pieces were good enough to sell. Like all artists, Audrey doubted her talents and was too afraid of rejection to put her work out there. Until now. With the pounding heart of sudden inspiration, she stood in her garage studio appraising her work. And finally, it became clear what Peter saw, what her friends saw. They were good enough to sell.
Once mutated, the onset of mania is almost impossible to detect.
What followed was a frenzy of hardware store shopping, wood-cutting, and painting. She was so caught up in her creative pursuit that she didn’t notice how high she was above ground. She was flying. She was on fire. Her paintings were brilliant. She was a genius. She wouldn’t bother setting up a yard gallery. No, that was so beneath her she laughed in the face of her pathetic previous self. Now was the time to send her portfolio to MoMA. To The Tate Modern. To The Reina Sofia.
If the floating ascends unchecked there’s nothing left to do but wait it out.
Audrey spent her meagre savings at the print shop on the corner of Main and Garrison. They had a Professional Portfolio Package, marketed to artists with the promise of putting together MoMA quality portfolios. There was even a list of their previous clients who went on to showcase at MoMA; Audrey visualized herself there, on that list beside the now world-famous Fiona Davenport. The calling was so clear. In her head it was the bluest, calmest day. It didn’t matter that a storm raged outside; the foreshadowing slipped by unnoticed. The bill came to twelve hundred sixty-four dollars, and she handed over her debit card happily; it was small price to pay for her impending big break.
At the highest point of mania, delusion becomes a funhouse mirror to reality.
On the sixteenth day, the day Audrey paid another small fortune to mail copies of her portfolio to New York, London and Madrid, Peter called. Until then, they’d only been exchanging texts; a subliminal tactic at play to protect Audrey’s guise of sanity. On some level she knew he would hear the mania in her voice. He thought he caught a glimpse of it in the photos she’d sent of her project. But once he heard her voice he knew the bubble was about to burst. He believed in his wife; she was a talented artist. If she had sent off her portfolio from stable ground, like he’d been encouraging her to do for years, MoMA might have even invited her to showcase. But she’d sent it from the tip of a tsunami. And it was about to come crashing down.
And the higher it rises, the harder it falls.
When she came to, she was perched precariously atop a wavering rope bridge; the wind was taunting her, beckoning her to fall. She was surrounded up there, by her artful mess, her most cherished works haphazardly framed, some, painted over and ruined. She tried to scream, but her voice was muffled. She couldn’t make sense of what was happening, she was too far gone; reason was now far out of reach. The rope bridge started to fray; the strands unraveled before her eyes; her stable ground faltered and then disappeared, sending her pitching toward the earth at terminal velocity.
When the fall inevitably comes, the ground opens up to swallow the afflicted whole.
Peter left his job site the moment he heard Audrey’s voice crackling down at him from such great heights. She was thunder and she needed his lightning. It was a fifteen-hour drive south to get to Audrey’s side, to be her glowing fork in the sky, to bring her back up from the suffocating earth he knew was burying her. All he could do on the red-eye drive was hope he wasn’t too late. Unanswered calls led to white knuckles and fingernails chewed to the bloody quick.
From beneath the ground’s surface, death is a comforting destination.
As Audrey began to drift deeper and deeper toward eternal darkness, Peter’s voice shone a ray of white light through the rubble. As if a switch had been flipped, her desire to live drove her to dig toward the light. Gasping for breath, she surfaced and fell into Peter’s glowing arms. Enveloped by the light of him, she broke into shattering sobs. I’m here, I’m here, you’re safe, you’re safe. Like a helpless infant, Audrey’s darkness melted and disappeared, for now, into the rays of Peter’s ever-shining luminescence.
One does not need to be religious to believe in heaven and hell.
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I like the way you moved step by step with the changing phases, with the single line connection. A very good story, well written.
Thanks so much Alice!