A Sugar Coated Suicide, Part Five: A Secret Ingredient
Trigger warning: suicide
When we got home, Johnny told me he was taking the rest of the day off. He didn’t stay away from the band room unless it was an emergency and his idea of an emergency was loss of limb. Potential loss of wife must have counted too. “Beth, I want you to sit here while I get a spot made for you on the couch.” He pointed to a chair. As soon as I sat down, our barking dogs, Felix and Luca, mauled me with puppy kisses, whines, and nuzzles.
Johnny went to gather blankets and pillows from our bed which was tucked behind the bookcases in the great room. Last week’s cough wracked through me accompanied by a sharp pain in my chest. “It’s alright,” Johnny called out to me. “We’ll get you medicated and settled. I’ll call the doctor after I check in with Tasha’s mom about the girls. Oh, you have to take your morning meds too.”
Ah, my morning meds. A litany of mental disorders festered inside me, but I never wanted them to equal the sum total of my parts. Three times a day, pills in yellow, blue, green, and white worked their way through my body. I whispered the secret recipe that helped make me who I was. “Mix bipolar disorder II rapid cycling with general anxiety disorder. Gently fold in attention deficit disorder. Beat on medium-high for twenty years. Add post-traumatic stress disorder all at once. Cut in clinical depression. Thin the batter with suicidal ideation.” What made my Crazies taste so dark and rich was a secret ingredient, so secret I could only guess what it was. Part of me didn’t want to know, like when I found out Grandmom Amison sometimes put chicken gizzards in her spaghetti sauce.
Johnny acted like he didn’t hear me, as he made a little nest with comfy pillows and our old down comforter. I settled on my side, just as the doctor said I should. Luca laid atop my hip like a cat. Felix curled up at my feet. “I’ll be right back with everything you need.”
I doubted it. I already had everything I needed- a loving husband and three smart kids. A fun, weird, beautiful family. I was still screwed. Why couldn’t I be the sweet mother, devoted wife, and overall fabulous being who had a bad day every now and again? Instead, I was a recipe for disaster who’d just been elbow dropped by a Slim Jim peddling wrestler. Johnny held out his hand and I sat up to take the medicine that was supposed to make me mentally and physically well. First, came a shot of cough syrup. Then, he handed me a glass of leftover apple cider. “It’s like I’m drinking a boilermaker,” I said as I counted ten pills and washed them down in a single gulp.
I was hoping he’d play his video game. If Johnny stayed out there with me, maybe I’d figure out how to tell him. I grabbed his hand before he walked away and asked, “You wanna build a dynasty in career mode while I watch?”
He smiled. “I love it when you talk xBox to me, baby.”
“I know you do,” I smiled back.
The stress of this absurdly complicated, oatmeal pie heavy life had worn me out. I didn’t remember laying back down, but a coughing fit woke me up about an hour later. Whatever medication they’d given me for pain was doing its job. Johnny was playing his video game, curled up with the dogs at the end of the couch where I lay. He didn’t look away from the football players on the screen in front of him as he frowned and said, “Poor baby. I can give you more medicine for that cough in two hours, but you need to eat something first.”
“Well, about that… you know… eating something…” This was the lamest segue in the history of four forevers. I was gonna run with it though. I was high on pain meds and crazy pills. He was playing video games. I wasn’t even gonna think about what I said next. I was going to tell him everything.
He tapped away on the controller in his hand, making the little football players kick and run and do other sportsingball moves. “If you want me to get you something special I can do that when I get the girls from the high school, but there’s leftovers from the party.”
The Halloween party seemed like a long time ago. Even though the moms who’d stayed behind last night had cleaned up, I saw evidence of it in the living room. An empty goodie bag was crumpled on the top of the television. The table I’d set up in front of our house yesterday was broken down and leaned against the wall by the door. No trace of the urn of hot apple cider, the candelabra of cupcakes, and the cauldron of candy remained, just some tape stuck to the side where I’d secured a tablecloth. “I don’t want anything special. I want to tell you something about eating.” I was on my side, propped up on pillows, and staring at him.
“Okay.” He wasn’t really listening. He could pay attention when it suited him.
“You know how I eat all the time? Like I can’t stop eating and I won’t stop eating and nobody says anything about it, ‘cause I guess I’m fat, so why bother?”
“Beth, that doesn’t make any sense.” He was still looking at the football players on the screen. The volume was turned down low. I could just hear the grunts of electronic tackles and the play by plays I didn’t understand.
Of course it didn’t make any sense to him. None of it did. I was just going to have to come out and say it. “I wanted to have a heart attack last night. I wanted to die.”
Luca burrowed closer under the covers. Felix put his head on my foot. Johnny didn’t stop playing his game. “That doesn’t make sense either, baby. Go back to sleep.”
“No. We have to talk, Johnny. I wanted to die last night.” I could feel the beginning of something new, a spark of something muddied by the sickness in my lungs. Luca barked. Felix whimpered. They felt it too. Something else was pushing back. For once, this didn’t feel like a tug-of-war between mental illness and denial. Something was definitely shifting. Johnny hadn’t put down his controller. He didn’t look at me, but he’d paused his game.
“You told me last year, if I didn’t go back to the psychiatrist, you would leave me and take the kids with you. We’ve been pretending like I got better, but I haven’t. I know I’m not as out of control, but baby, I wanted to die, because-”
“Because I made you get back in treatment?” He finally turned to look me in the eye, the video game forgotten.
“No, baby.” Neither of us looked away now. “I’ve wanted to die for a long time. Maybe my whole life I’ve been trying to find some way to die. I shouldn’t tell you that. I shouldn’t feel this way and say this out loud. The past four years, I’ve been trying to die in a way you wouldn’t know was on purpose. Even when it’s been good, even when I was happy, I wasn’t. You don’t deserve to live like you do, always scared, always wondering when I’ll snap. This isn’t right. None of it is. I never wanted you to know, but I can’t lie about it anymore. Something is wrong with me that medicine can’t fix. My Crazies are like that thin layer of ice on the creek last winter. Remember how cold the water was? It was freezing and that’s what’s lurking underneath my Crazies, that freezing water. I tip toe on thin ice day after day. Sometimes, I hear a crack and scooch away just in time. Every now and again, I crash through with no warning. I could drown at any moment. I’m pulling our whole family down with me. That’s how I feel all the time.”
Johnny leaned back on the couch, rubbing his forehead. I hated it when I made him feel frustrated and hopeless. Right on cue, I apologized, moving closer to him, grabbing for his arm, his hand. I was terrified Johnny would abandon me. I always was. I was even afraid of that the whole time I plotted to kill myself.
He still had his head tilted back over the top of the couch, one hand on his forehead, the other hand wrapped around mine. He squeezed my fingers. “I know when you crash, Beth. We all do. Right now though,” he looked at me with anguish in his eyes, his whole body tense, “I don’t understand what you’re saying. Are you telling me you’re trying to eat yourself to death?”
I didn’t want to confirm it for him, but I’d already started my confession. “Yes.”
The dogs jumped off the couch as Johnny turned to face me. Years of being on a roller coaster with me, he remained steady. Tired, but steady. This was one huge drop on that ride he never expected. His hands shook. I looked down in shame, bracing myself for whatever would come next. “Beth, look at me.”
When I wouldn’t, he placed his hand underneath my chin and gently pushed up. He waited for me to open my eyes. “You’re safe. You know that, right? You don’t have to be afraid in our house. I love you. The girls love you. Your friends love you.” I shook my head. I knew that. I did, but it didn’t change the truth.
“Something’s wrong with me.”
“Okay, then, we figure out what’s wrong and we fix it. We have to get you to the right doctor.” His blue eyes were stormy and bloodshot. I hated myself even more for telling him the truth.
“You and the girls deserve better than this. Now you know I wanted out and what I was willing to do… I’m tired of trying to act normal for everyone.”
“You’re not normal!” Johnny seldom raised his voice. When he did, it was scary. “I didn’t fall in love with you because you’re normal. I fell in love with you, because you’re unique and wonderful and crazy. At the time, I didn’t know that meant clinically crazy.” He laughed a little, just a little because he meant what he said. He didn’t know what he was signing up for when we were twenty years old. “Baby, I can’t love you enough for the both of us. The girls can’t love you enough either. I don’t understand how we can accept who you are, but you can’t.”
Johnny was no saint, but he’d put up with decades of ups and downs on account of me. And here he was, ready for the most horrible part of the ride. He whispered so softly, I could barely hear him. “Don’t leave me, Beth.” Neither of us were accustomed to his tears. They slipped through the holes in my never ending apologies.
“I don’t want to leave. I… I just don’t want to be like this anymore.” As he’d done for me countless times, I gently wiped the tears which still fell on his flushed face. My touch jarred him back into his code of never showing raw, unabashed emotion. He quickly looked away, drying his face with his shirt. With a strained smile, he began, “We made vows to one another. Not promises. Vows. You said you’d never leave me. Sickness and health, richer or poorer…”
“You’re going with the wedding vows now?”
He reached over and turned off the television. “I’m going with the wedding vows. We love one another. We cherish one another. And you’re not leaving me. You’re going to see the doctor tomorrow and then, you’re going to see your psychiatrist.”
“I don’t think I need a psychiatrist. I think I need a miracle.”
Johnny smiled, love and kindness tinged with worry. “But you’re a girl who believes in miracles, right?”
Part Six: Accidents Happen