This story is by Kelly Marie Sullivan and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It is Saturday night, and the truck slows as it enters our garage. We’ve just returned from having dinner and drinks, but I’ve been distracted all night. I’ve been more concerned about the monster that I sensed would be waiting for me at home. Home is supposed to be your safe-haven. Most of the time, it is my safe-haven, but it’s also the place where my monster seeks me out most often. It knows I allow myself to be most vulnerable behind closed doors.
Mark puts the truck in park and turns off the engine. I grab my things from the console, open the truck door, and slide down from the passenger seat. I walk towards the house door, turn the knob, and cross the threshold to the place I am most vulnerable.
It’s 10:30 on a Saturday night. I’ve had a long week at work, being at school by 5:30am each morning and getting home no earlier than 6pm each night with a backpack full of work still to complete. I should just crash. Instead, I bustle around the house. I put my wallet and keys in their exact spot on the countertop next to the stove. I pick up Mark’s shoes from the floor and take them to the shoe rack in our bedroom closet. They were set neatly out of the way against the wall, but they weren’t in their spot. I need them in their spot. On my way back down the hallway to the kitchen, I realize my backpack isn’t in its nook next to the buffet, so I go to put that in its place, too. Then, I remember I haven’t cleaned it out since I got home from our tournament today, so I take the bag to the kitchen table with me, drop down on the kitchen chair and scavenge to remove every unnecessary piece of paper and make sure each remaining item is in its designated pocket. I stand from the table, turn and drop the bag where it belongs.
As I turn back around to search for anything else that might be out of place, I notice Mark sitting back on the living room sectional, both hands holding onto his left leg, left ankle up on this right knee in a “4”. He’s chewing the beard hair closest to his lower lip – like he does when he’s distracted – and staring at me. Mark knows what I’m doing isn’t healthy: it’s avoidance. It’s me trying to pretend my monster isn’t in the house tonight. When Mark catches my eye, he waves me over, and I know I have to stop avoiding my monster.
I say “What?” as I hesitantly walk over to the couch, knowing well what he wants. He wants to share this battle with me. He wants to help me face my monster head on.
My mind is chaotic right now: much more so than normal. Thoughts race through my head like landscapes passing by a combination of trains running in every direction. As a passenger, I mystically jump from one car to the next, from one train to the next, without ever settling long enough to understand where I am, where I am going or what’s going on around me.
I pretend I don’t know that Mark wants me to talk to him about this struggle with my monster, because I can’t do it. What’s going on in my head isn’t clear to me right now, and it won’t be for a while. Initially, it took years for me to be able to communicate what my monster does to me. Then, I could do it in months or maybe even weeks. Recently, with much work, I have been able to communicate it in hours or sometimes minutes. Rarely am I able to communicate it this soon.
I can feel my monster start to take control of my physiological responses. My chest tightens, and the panic sets in. My whole body becomes tense. Breathing becomes difficult, and a knot wells in my esophagus. It hurts. I know only tears will make the knot go away, but I don’t want to show that kind of weakness. It’s embarrassing, especially when it’s over something as silly as this.
I want to shut down my body, but the monster’s presence won’t let that happen. Instead, my eyeballs apprehensively bounce around the room. I know, before long, the monster will take complete control, and I feel scared and guilty. I’m scared because I know I’m not going to be able to fend it off this time. I’m scared because I know that, this time, I’ll have to suffer through it. I’m scared of the unknown: how long will it be around this time and how persistent will it be?
I also feel guilty. I feel guilty because I know I shouldn’t get caught up in the monster’s power struggle: I’ve been here before, and I’ve survived, realizing that it’s never nearly as bad as it seems. I feel guilty because life’s too short to carry this imperfect being around on my shoulder, weighing me down and holding me back from so many positive things I could be experiencing instead.
Most prominently, I feel guilty because the hazel-eyed, softly bearded embodiment of gentleness that is my husband is sitting on the couch next to me with his arm around me and knows my monster is here, too. He wants nothing more than to fix the problem and cast the monster away for me. The pleading confusion on his face tells me this. But he has even less control over the being than I do.
I feel guilty for dragging the monster so close to him and making him feel helpless. I feel guilty because this is my monster – my battle – and yet he suffers as much as I do. He knows from experience that the monster takes over my thoughts. It takes over all of me so that I’m no longer me. My monster turns me into a monster. It is a parasite breeding on my mind and reproducing into others’ minds. I want to protect my husband from the monster’s influence, because I don’t want him to see what I see or go through what I go through, but I have already failed so many times. I am responsible for stopping it, yet I feel helpless right in this moment. That helplessness causes more fear.
My heart continues to race faster until I’ve reached the tipping point. My monster has taken full control. I struggle for each breath and curl up in a ball on the couch. The tears well and I begin to hyperventilate.
“Breathe,” says Mark. “Just breathe.” I try to breath. I really do. I focus on it. I get one good, deep breath, and I think I’m on my way to control again when my monster is back with a powerful punch of confusion and fear and my voluntary breathing is gone. I will have to try again.
Mark stands up, grabs my hands, and pulls me up with him. I don’t want to move from my cocoon on the couch, and I resist. “Come on,” he says gently. After more resistance, he repeats himself. I murmur unintelligible objections, but eventually, I do what he says because I trust him. He leads me to the bedroom and lays face up on the bed. When I lay down next to him, he draws me in close. He positions my head directly above his heart and holds it there.
“What do you hear?” He asks.
I hear his heartbeat: my consistent safeguard. My breathing begins to sink up with the beat of his heart, and my muscles slowly relax into his hold. My monster is slinking away.
“Tell me everything’s going to be okay,” he softly requests.
Exhaustion replaces the monster’s presence. The exhaustion is both mental and physical. My body relaxes, and I want to sleep. Mark kisses me on the forehead.
Eyes half closed and relieved the monster has waved the white flag in this battle, I whisper, “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Each of us lives with a monster. Anxiety is mine. I’m blessed that I don’t have to face this monster alone.