for my husband, with gratitude, on the eve of our fifth wedding anniversary
From our bed, under the covers, I hear the front door to our apartment open. It’s around five in the evening, and I’m in some semblance of pajamas. I have not showered. Maybe I didn’t shower yesterday, either. I have no makeup on, or else it’s remnants of mascara from days ago, transforming my bleary eyes into dark smudges reflecting the chaos I feel inside. You are home from work and I have not worked all day. I have not touched the piles of laundry scattered across the floor, sorted during a more ambitious time. I have not thought about dinner, let alone made anything for you to eat. I have not even pulled the curtains open in our bedroom.
Upon hearing the door creak open, I instantly feel relief that you are home and I have a vague idea that it is good you are here, combined with shame that I am not dressed and have not done anything productive with my day. I roll over to face the bedroom door and you appear, greeting me with a gentle smile. You come to sit on the edge of the bed next to me, reading my body language to make sure it’s okay. You brush the hair away from my face and kiss my forehead. You might say that you’re sorry it’s a “dumb day” -- our lighthearted way of referring to the monster in my head that takes over at any given moment, seemingly, at least temporarily, stopping my life in its tracks. You ask if I have eaten or what I want to eat. You ask what we can do to make me feel better. I shake my head, hovering somewhere between distressed and wildly agitated. I want to tear my hair out and scream, but instead I sink into you, hiding my face in your chest, wishing tears would come but knowing they won’t.
You kick your shoes off and crawl into bed next to me, holding me if I let you and just being there if I won’t. After a little while I might pick up my phone or my Kindle, seeking distraction, or else I might just sort of stare into space. You browse the Internet on your phone and sit quietly with me. I’m sure you’re hungry, or could be working, or maybe catching a game with the guys, but instead you sit. If I talk, you listen. If I don’t, you don’t force it. You might ask if I want to watch something on Netflix or offer to get some dinner for us. More likely I will fall asleep with my head nestled against your shoulder, and you will refuse to move because you know that I need you there. You will do everything you can to let me sleep, because you know there I will find peace. You will be quiet and still, you will pray that tomorrow is a better day, and you will be there.
In the morning, you wake up ready to see who wakes up beside you -- will it be the woman you married, who lives with joy, and loves to cook and plan meals and entertain friends and spend time with family? Or will it be this woman who fell asleep on you last night, who was broken and devastated by the voices in her mind who convince her that she is not okay? Whichever one awakes, you will love and protect her, making sure she feels safe, with no demonstrable bewilderment, confusion or frustration at how you came to be married to both of these people.
Our wedding vows were traditional ones, and I doubt either of us thought that “for better or for worse; in sickness and in health” meant days like this. I know it wasn’t in my rosy, optimistic, newly-wedded vision for our marriage. And while I’m sure neither of us would choose for me to experience this kind of sickness, you are able to tenderly remind me, when I need it, that the what-ifs won’t change the reality that is my illness or our marriage.
“I love you,” you insist when I question how you live with the uncertainty, the volatility of who my depression makes me. You almost laugh when you say it, because to you it is so obvious, how you live with it. It’s because you love me. Everything you are for me, to me -- your patience, your flexibility, your calm, safe presence next to me -- all falls in line because that is the fact that precedes all the rest.