This story is by Alice Neilson and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The hardest truth I learned from those three years, is that no matter what we’re told, no matter what we read in books or see on our TV screens, no matter how much we don’t want to believe it, there some feelings in this world that are just stronger than love.
The first night I saw her she completely baffled me. In amongst a group of girls with hair slicked down straight, bright red lips, boobs hanging out and jumpsuits half-way up their but-cracks, there was this happy little thing with frizzy hair and a makeup-less face, just flittering around in her own wee world. Her red head bounced over the top of all the brown and black ones, a lit match among those burnt out. And as the group got drunk and flirted, and came and went with various McDonald’s burgers, she simply smiled and giggled, and twirled around the party, chattering away to people whose names I was sure she didn’t even know.
It wasn’t long before she bounded up to me as if I was an old friend she hadn’t seen in a while. “God, I can’t stand this,” she said, suddenly still. “What do you mean?” I asked. She looked up at me, her brow scrunched up. “How loud these people are eating! It’s terrible, how can they not hear themselves?” She let out a small growl and I laughed. I couldn’t believe it; my biggest pet peeve was people chewing loudly.
And so, we began talking, and from that point forward we didn’t stop.
She was honest with me from the very beginning about her mental health. Borderline Personality Disorder was her diagnosis, she said. She explained this meant that she had trouble regulating her emotions; she felt everything to extremes. And she said sometimes she fell into horrible belts of depression that left her in a crumpled heap on her bedroom floor.
I couldn’t really comprehend it at the time. She was always so bright and bubbly. She got excited over the smallest things, and I loved the way I could make her laugh with the simplest of jokes.
I remember seeing the scars on her arms and belly and feeling my stomach drop. The thought of her getting to a point of harming herself was pretty much unbearable. And if I was being completely honest I didn’t understand it at all. But if it meant I could be with her, I was willing to try.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with her. She was completely infatuating. With her extreme excitement over getting an extra chicken nugget in her meal, her intense love for the colour orange and her eternally bare feet, I just couldn’t get enough of her.
But after a while I began to see glimpses of her “Other Self,” as she described it. Like when we would go into town and she became overwhelmed with all the noise and people, and would kind of shut down. Like someone had simply flipped a switch off in her head. Her gaze would drift towards her feet as she clutched my hand and closed in on herself. She would have to go to the bathroom, and she would emerge with reddened eyes. “I’m okay now,” she would mumble, smiling thinly. But her words came thick and slowly, and she would latch back onto my hand, breathing heavily.
Still, I absolutely loved being in her company. And as weeks turned into months, I felt that I should have her with me permanently. I thought that if I could be by her side during the toughest times then it would help her cope easier, and help me too. I couldn’t stand the times when I knew it was a bad day and I couldn’t be with her.
And so, with some persuasion I managed to convince her to move in with me.
I knew it was hard for her to work full-time, never knowing how she would feel from one day to the next, never knowing if she was going to be able to handle herself if she had a melt-down. So, I got her some part-time work at the local library down the road, where she could contribute to the income while doing what she loved best; reading and recommending books to others. It worked out well. And for a while we were incredibly happy.
One day, one of the worst days, I think, I came home from work to find her crying uncontrollably on the bedroom floor. I couldn’t understand her words, she was hysterical. So, I simply picked her up, hugged her, then put her down on the couch beside me. Between her strangled sobs, she told me she didn’t know how long she could keep feeling this way, that some mornings she wished she didn’t have to wake up. “But I love you, and you love me,” I said. “You get to wake up to us.” She looked up at me, then turned away. “This just feels stronger,” she murmured.
She stopped crying after a few minutes, and there she sat, staring blankly at the wall for two hours straight. She was awake, but she wasn’t there. As if her mind had drifted off into an alternate universe somewhere, and left a shell of her body in her place. I didn’t know where the girl I loved had gone, I didn’t know how to get her back. That was the day I began to crumble.
For the next several months I didn’t know what world I would be waking up in each day. Would I be rising to a happy bubbly girl who went about her day as usual? Or would I open my eyes to find a mute person who simply lay in bed all day and never moved?
On those bad days the house would fill up with a dimness I can’t quite describe. The air felt heavy; it suffocated me. Being in there, trying to go about my day while she silently lay in the bedroom was exhausting, and I began finding excuses to leave the house.
As soon as I left the property I would feel myself get lighter inside, like one of those old woollen blankets had been lifted off my body. But I would soon be parked in my car somewhere, crying silently over the steering wheel.
I got the phone call while out shopping one day; she had broken down at work and had been hospitalised. I felt my insides burn hot and then melt away, and I rushed to the hospital not knowing what I would do when I saw her.
I found her in her room pacing up and down, aggressively twisting her hands around each other. She looked so thin. Her eyes were just black holes in her face. The floor lurched under me and I stumbled into the door-frame.
I told her I couldn’t do it anymore, that I was too exhausted, she wasn’t the girl I fell in love with. And I turned and left her there, staring out the door.
But of course, I went back, and told her we were going to get through it together. That we would do what we should have done ages ago, and I proposed
We cried, we laughed, we reconnected.
It was decided she would go home to her parents’ place for a few nights after she was discharged, then come back to my place after she felt herself again. She would also have a counsellor come and see her every few days. It was a good plan.
I left the hospital that day feeling the lightest I had in months. I couldn’t wait to get things back on track again in a few days.
But that time never came.
I had never let myself think that she might attempt suicide. Even as I sat by her bed in the ICU I told myself it was a mistake, they had gotten it wrong, something else had caused this. I held her hand and told her I loved her, loved her so much she had to come back to me. I knew she would come back, we needed to have our wedding after all, she wouldn’t want to miss that.
Many people came to our little ceremony. They told stories of our love for each other, how we made the most beautiful couple. I cried the most I have ever cried.
I walked beside the love of my life as we left the little church, my hand on her the whole way. I carefully helped her into the car, and we all gave her the flowers we were holding. I bent down and gently kissed the lid of her beautiful, white coffin. “I love you so much my darling,” I sobbed, “I’m sorry it wasn’t enough to make you stay.”