Trigger warning: depictions of self-harm and attempted suicide
There was about to be a rocket launch inside the living room of my tiny apartment.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Be a good wife. No regrets.
“Answer the question. Why. Are. You. Going?” I licked my teeth to keep from spewing out anything else that might throw gasoline on the fire.
I am a good wife. I am not a wife-zilla. Don’t slip up.
Brandon swung his keys around on their chain. His lips twitched for a moment, an indicator that he was holding back some deep emotion. What was it? Confusion? Irritation? His emerald green eyes flickered to the door like it was his portal to safety.
Like it was his portal away from me, the woman that he probably regretted saying “I do” to.
Maybe that was what emotion had almost betrayed him. Regret.
“I don’t understand.” He swung the keys in another loop. Around and around and around—I broke my gaze away and squelched down another less-than-perfect emotion. “The UK game is on tonight and I’m going to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch it. You’ve known about this for two days.”
He enunciated every word as if to make sure that my feeble, childlike mind would grasp this thought.
I gritted my teeth, but that wasn’t enough to keep the words from slithering out of my mouth, like the hiss of a rocket before takeoff. “Don’t you dare take that tone with me, Brandon.”
His eyebrows—auburn and thick—furrowed closer to each other, inching nearer on their quest to be a unibrow. I probably should have plucked them for him days ago. No man would notice such a thing. It was up to me to take care of him, and here I had let him turn into Bigfoot. “I’m not taking any tone with you, Gracie.”
The keys looped around his fingers until I felt like I might hurl; his tone looped into my head until I could have sworn there was a countdown. 5...4...be a good wife...3...take a deep breath...2.
One. “There it is!” I flung my hand at him and pitched my voice up so I could mimic him. “Gracie. You say it so—so condescendingly! As if I’m the most...most stupid, ignorant person in the whole world! Gracie, Gracie, Gracie!”
There was a silence so pregnant that the earth felt like it might implode within the very room. Like Brandon and I might have been hurled to opposite ends of the universe if one of us didn’t say something right then.
Brandon took the first step into the dark recesses of space. “What’s wrong with you lately?”
Warning signals went off inside my rocket. Losing oxygen. Losing safety. Asteroids were coming. He knew. Mayday. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?” I balled my fists up and wished that I had something to hurl at him—like a hairbrush or a throw pillow. “You’re so—so selfish! All you care about is whether or not you can go watch the stupid basketball game—”
Calm down! Calm down! I wished I could heed the flashing lights inside my brain. I gripped my red hair and tugged, like I could somehow make them go off if I was bald—or something. Abort mission.
But if I wanted to abort, what was driving me on this crash collision?
“Me? I’m the selfish one? You’re the one who’s flipping out because I want to go do something with my friends!” Brandon raked his fingers through his hair and stared at me like he wasn’t sure who he married. Like maybe I was some alien that had hijacked the body of the person he thought he married. “A healthy relationship is built on people who can have their own lives both apart and with each other!”
Or maybe he hasn’t wanted to marry that person to begin with. “So now we don’t have a healthy relationship?”
I clenched my teeth so hard that my eyes burned. Everything burned. I was a star, and I was about to go supernova on my husband. Nothing would be left. I would turn into a black hole, and everything we knew and loved would be crushed under the force of my gravity.
Brandon opened his mouth. Closed it. Like an astronaut at a loss for oxygen in the cold cosmos. “I didn’t mean that, but just that—that this is unhealthy—I’m allowed to have friends—I’m allowed to go do things! You knew about this! You didn’t say anything about it!”
“Of course I didn’t say anything about it! You were supposed to—to know!”
Or not know. Because if he knew, if he had any inkling…
My rocket was disintegrating. Fire was loose in my brain, in my stomach, in my mouth. “Fine! Go! I don’t care anymore. I don’t! Just—get—out—of—my—house!”
I let out a rogue scream and stomped away, though I only made it halfway down the hallway of our small apartment before I crumpled onto the carpet. My knees hit the floor while my head bumped into the wall. The sudden spark of pain drew the tears from my eyes, and I curled up into the fetal position.
I had never been a noisy crier. Noisy cries always garner attention, whether positive or negative, and both were almost equally as abhorrent. And I certainly didn’t want Brandon’s pity at the moment, so I took extra care to disguise my whimpers, the depths of my soul spilling out of my eyes. So there was no way that Brandon could have heard my noiseless sobs, although he may have heard the thunk of my hard head smacking the wall.
But I heard his keys rattle. I thought he’d decided to up and leave, like that was him giving them one last swing before he put them in the door, but then I heard them crash against the wood of our table. I heard his heavy footfalls next, because Brandon was the type of person who sounded like a one-man elephant herd. We were lucky that our neighbors hadn’t called animal control on his gigantic feet yet.
“If you don’t want me to go watch the UK game, I don’t have to.” His voice was dull, like I had sucked all the light from him.
Like I was the black hole of his life.
Like I was the regret that was burning him alive.
“Go watch the game. I don’t care,” I mumbled. I swatted at my side but missed him completely. Wherever he was, he was out of my reach, and I didn’t have enough energy to lift my head and check. What energy could I muster? I was no longer the good wife. I was the monster.
“You obviously do care,” Brandon muttered. “Or else you wouldn’t have thrown such a hissy fit.”
A hissy fit. An apt description, of course. No sane person would lose control like that. No good wife would have disobeyed the warning signals inside her brain. “Go. Please.” I flung my arm out behind me and ended up slapping something—probably his shoulder—that time around. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I just want you out of my hair.”
He must have taken that as an invitation, because he reached for my hair and raked his fingers through it. “Tell me what’s wrong, Gracie.”
A hundred thoughts flittered through my head, but I couldn’t articulate any of them. Not until Brandon tugged me backwards and I landed on his chest. I buried my wet face into him until his shirt was soaked, until I could feel the skin on the other side.
And still I clawed my fingers into him, curled my nails into the fabric around his shoulders, as the argument buried itself deeper and deeper into my brain. It wiggled around the thoughts there, like a worm burrowing itself inside my psyche, warmly greeted by the thousands of other disgusting creatures there.
“Tell me why we’re fighting.” Brandon pressed his cracked lips against my scalp. I could feel some of my hairs getting tangled in the dry skin there.
There was part of me that wanted to spit out: because you want to go watch a UK game to get away from me. Isn’t it obvious?
“I’m scared, Brandon.”
My voice was clogged with tears. I wiped at my eyes with his shirt but resisted the urge to blow my nose in it like some kind of toddler, even if I had thrown a tantrum and even if Brandon was coddling me like one.
“Scared of what?”
My own mind.
But I didn’t manage to vocalize any of this. I only croaked and tried to deepen my hold on him. Maybe even sink into him if I could, find my peace inside his warm body.
“Tell me what you’re scared of, Gracie. Why do you not want me to go away?”
This time, there was no condescension in his voice...if there had even been some before.
I took a deep breath. “You—”
“I don’t know, Brandon.” My voice cracked. “I’m terrified to be alone right now.”
“Why? You’ve always been independent. You love going off and doing your own little thing, reading books...you usually try and get rid of me so you can be alone.”
“I…” The words ate at me. I could feel them, just like the worm, wiggling on my tongue. They would be so easy to voice, and yet, so hard.
Because I could keep it together.
No, I could. Really. This was just a minor freak-out, a tiny loss of control. I could recover and Brandon would never be the wiser. I could apologize for becoming a wife-zilla, tell him to go on to Buffalo Wild Wings, that I would stay and entertain myself.
I could be alone because I was a big girl. I was a sane girl.
Brandon tightened his grip on me, and that brought me back to reality. Brought me back to the fact that he couldn’t go anywhere without changing a shirt, thanks to me. That he couldn’t go anywhere without being late, again, thanks to me.
Why had I admitted anything? Now he would be relentless.
He held his breath. I shook my head.
“Gracie, please. It will only get worse if you don’t talk about it.”
No. If I talked about it, then he would know. He would know, and I would give the words more power than they already have. Acknowledging them would be the end of me.
The end of us.
“Gracie.” How could his voice be so soft when I’d just left him to die in space?
But he squeezed my arm. He was not lost in some vortex. I may have been, but he was not.
I squeaked and hiccuped at the same time. “I’m—my mind. I’m scared of my own mind. I’m scared of the thoughts inside...of the feelings.”
Brandon pressed another kiss against my forehead, like his love might be pesticide to the creepy crawlies within.
“And they go around and around and around...Brandon, I’m so scared. I’m so scared to be alone right now. I feel so disconnected from everything, everyone, myself...I’m not me. I don’t know who I am, but I’m not enjoying her right now.”
I half-expected Brandon to make some dumb joke like: “hey, I’m not, either,” considering all that I’d put him through.
But he didn’t.
“Is it…” He paused.
I knew what he was going to say.
I preemptively winced.
“Is it like...before? Back in college, when…”
“When the basket-case you eventually married tried to commit suicide?” My voice sounded hoarse. “Is it like that? I don’t know. Similar. But not...not really at all. I don’t want to die. Not now.”
Brandon’s fingers somehow found the scars on my wrist and held it up against his heart. I could feel the gentle thumps there, the only thing that was keeping me alive. My only lifeline. And—
If he left—
Even just for the night—
Even just to watch some game—
I wouldn’t have it.
I wouldn’t have him to lean against, to keep me anchored in reality, to fight the worms, to bring me back into the spaceship. Whatever wormhole my swirling thoughts decided to dive down, I would be lost. Completely. Utterly.
Just like that day.
Just like when Brandon found me after I skipped one of our group project meetings, and somehow, if only by a miracle of God, managed to call the ambulance in time to save me.
But how do you explain the pits inside your mind? How you can be falling, falling, for so long in a rabbit hole within your own mind without realizing it until you hit the floor and shatter. Like Alice, I had fallen, but my only reward was madness, not Wonderland.
Brandon must have asked me a question, but the Mad Hatter’s tea party was too loud for me to hear.
“We’re all mad here.”
I was mad, and Brandon didn’t deserve madness. He deserved a good wife. He deserved more than me. I was just a regret. I was just holding him back. He only married me because he felt pity for me, pity for that poor, wretched thing he found in the bathtub—
“Is that what you think?”
“I said, is that what you think?” Brandon cupped my chin and tilted it up so I was forced to make eye contact. Or at least, he tried. I averted my gaze, and there was nothing he could do to keep it on him.
“Do you think that I just married you because I pitied you?”
“Did I say that out loud?”
I really was going mad. Being alone in Wonderland and deep space had taken their toll on me.
“Do you really think that I would regret marrying you because we have an argument? Because you’re depressed or disconnected or something?”
I hiccuped again and it turned into a snort.
“I want to be normal for you. And—and the thoughts—even if they’re different—they’re not normal. I can’t...I can’t connect with you, I can’t connect with myself, I just feel...nothing. Nothing but afraid.”
“If you’re suffering, you don’t have to go through this alone, Gracie.” He brought my fingers up to his lips and kissed each individual pad slowly. “You can tell me.”
“You didn’t sign on to be a babysitter to your wife. Or a therapist.”
“That’s ridiculous. I signed on to be whatever you needed me to be. I signed on, not because I need normal or pitied you, but because I love you. And as much as your fear might try and say that’s a lie, you need to look at me and realize this.” He guided my cheek and my gaze back to his eyes. “I don’t love you because you’re perfect or even imperfect. I love you because I love you. Every part. Every flaw. Everything. And I’m staying with you tonight. I’m staying with you always. No matter if you think you’re mad or not.”
I took a deep breath, but I could still feel the creature in my mind. His words abated it some, but I just knew it was waiting for a moment to pounce again. To drag me back down to its depths, snarling as it reminded me of how mad I was.
“It’s not magically better,” I mumbled. “It’s—it’s not.”
“That’s okay.” Brandon stood up with me and held me in his arms. Tight.
He was a rope thrown into the rabbit hole.
He was Houston, summoning my rocket back down to the ground.
“We don’t need magic or perfect. We just need each other, in whatever capacity that is.” He leaned in, his scratchy lips inching towards mine.