Posted by: shelliejelly | July 27, 2009

Bi the bye

When I was younger, my family had a friend who wasn’t well. I wasn’t of an age to truly understand what might have been happening, and so for me, his change seemed to come almost overnight. I can remember one evening he was sitting at our kitchen table with my mom and dad and from the family room where I was playing, I heard him say, “I could walk out to my car right now in my skivvies and not care.”

I don’t remember being particularly alarmed, but not long after that, my father and two other friends had to have him committed. For as benign as the comment I heard was, others, like how he was God, for example, pointed toward a need for psychiatric care. He fought my dad and the others, but finally received the diagnosis—bipolar 1—and the necessary treatment to get him to a better place.

O.’s behavior never really struck me as abnormal, outside of his alcohol use, which could get, with the benefit of hindsight, downright abusive. As the years went by, I always silently thought to myself that O. was an alcoholic. From the limited view of my perspective, the problems with our relationship circled his use of liquor, taunting me and lashing out with spirited tongues that replayed for me all the nights that started out okay and ended in disaster. “You never know when we might show,” those memories hissed in my ear. “He’s always but a few drinks shy of totally losing control.”

Still, I batted them away, flicked them off my shoulder like so many useless pests. Inside, though, I was jelly when he walked out the door to go have drinks with his friends without me. I’d try to sleep, but nervously listen for the sound of his keys in the door. How many times would the metal circle metal before his house key finally slid into the welcoming lock? Would something come crashing to the ground as he tried to find his way to bed, or, more than not, the couch? These were my gauges, the ruler with which I measured how much I’d have to deal with the next day.

But, but, but…I always feel the need to say that these descriptions are not all of O. Words like abuse and alcoholic and mean and drunk and reckless are merely a fraction of the adjectives that comprise his character. These also the words, however, that surround the actions most likely to leave a mark (not physically) and a memory; the incidents I recall most easily, and cuddle and cajole when I really want to feel like the life I lead now is better, more peaceful and worthwhile than my marriage to O.

So when he told me, after he’d already asked for a divorce and I’d already talked to a lawyer, he’d gotten a diagnosis of bipolar and borderline personality disorder, I did what I had to do: I didn’t believe him. All I could see was anger and deceit, and all I could feel was loss and betrayal. Somehow, at that moment, letting him be sick wasn’t an option for me, as though I had any power whatsoever over the matter. I ruthlessly denied the existence of his mental illness and, for many months, shelved it alongside every other trait or illness or injury I believed O. had exaggerated. “It’s all in your head,” I thought to myself, charmed by my own inside joke and wit.

Oh, how easy these months would have been had I been right. Yet I wasn’t right, and now, a little more than one year out from the day he walked into our home to say good-bye, I’m still muddling my way through, equal parts sad, lonely, angry and sentimental.



  1. […] didn’t want to listen about his diagnosis, going so far as to pretend, on some level, that it wasn’t real. I can remember telling his friends I wasn’t sure the diagnosis was accurate, and […]

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