She knows her grip is too desperate, too needy, but she doesn’t loosen her hold on his hand.
They are going out to dinner, and he has reassured her she looks fine, twice at home, again in the car. His tone had been more exasperated than appreciative that last time, and she winces at the demands her insecurities place on him.
He always says she looks beautiful. He always holds her hand.
Even so, she can’t quite believe him when he says, “I love you.” It might have been true when his infatuation was new, before she’d worn him down, tugging at him like a dingy being tossed by the ocean. He is not the first person to serve as her anchor. Others have tried and failed. Surrendered to it. She knows that one day the moorings will snap and his safe harbor will vanish, too, as she is drawn back into the maelstrom. This is the only truth she knows.
There are reasons he’s still at her side. He’s an optimist, but in a relaxed sort of way that allows time to slip by without bothering him. Her children have his eyes and curiosity. His children have her hair and love of drawing. They are blended together in their small, socially awkward, imaginative, living creations.
On the other hand, he is impatient, frustrated when he is held back from something he wants to do. She holds him back a lot. Some days, he goes on without her rather than work to bring her along with him. One day he won’t come back. This is what she tells herself on the black days.
But today is one of her better days, so she tightens her fingers around his palm and marches into the restaurant. The whispers of thought that brush against her become less of an overwhelming chaotic storm, like the one she’d fought against outside. Walking down busy pavement through swarms of teenagers and judgmental suburban professionals is never pleasant. Restaurants, at least the more dignified ones, are easier. Diners tend to focus on their meals and companions. A thought or two might be sent her way when she walks behind the hostess, winding her way down the path between tables. She can handle that. It’s nice to have a reprieve from the opinions and disdain that pour from other people’s eyes.
Sometimes she forgets how to talk to him, but this is a good day. They talk about world events, friends, and nonsense that makes them both laugh around their forkfuls of pasta. Together they entertain their server with the sort of patter-talk that used to trip off the tongues of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. The server loves them, their wit, the welcome into their little bubble of irreverent amusement. It’s one of those moments when she knows they’ve been labeled a “happy couple” in someone’s head forever. She wishes she could bottle that feeling and carry it with them back out into the world. She would open the bottle on the bad days, when she can’t breathe from the pain of her helplessness, when he can’t quite find the patience this time to react with understanding rather than irritation.
Her illness has become a third wheel in this relationship, and she doesn’t know how much more they can withstand. How much more she can fight it. How much longer he can stay. But he still calls her “beautiful”, so she clings to hope, and to him.
She thinks that her biggest burden is knowing she’s not quite sane. Her mental vision is forever impaired, tinted nonexistent shades, and she can’t see clearly. This illness has wrapped her in chains that lay so heavily on her, she cannot lift her body from the bed. But she can still see all her potential, all her wasted opportunities, and all the losses of friendships and dreams that have come and gone while she’s carried on surviving.
One day she may not win the battle. She knows that, too. It’s strange that it frightens her enough to make her feel safer, wearing her terror like armor around her heart to protect her from herself. Using fear to survive at the same time that it keeps her from living.
Most times when he attempts to drag her out of the dim room of her inner sanctum, she tries to let him. Some days she hates him for it. On the worst days, she hates herself too much to do more than keep breathing for him.
She has never been a crier, and when she breaks down, it scares him. He brings her ice cream. He tells her why she is worthy of love. He tells her he believes in her. He tells her he’s never going to leave. He tells her about all the wonderful things that are worth living for. He tells her he loves her.
Depression lies. It’s not her fault. She’s not a failure. She’s not unloved. She’s not weak for not conquering this awful mountain of Can’t. She matters to people. She matters to him. Depression lies.
She holds his hand.