Posted by: shelliejelly | July 28, 2009

Bones

When I lived in Minneapolis with my brother and his girlfriend, soon to be wife, not-long-after ex-wife, I fell into a deep depression. The weather didn’t help, nor did living with a sibling I’d never fully understood or gotten along with. Add to the mix a woman who was at one time my high-school friend now nearly a sister-in-law, and times were tough for everyone. Mark and I got along well enough, I suppose, and Brenda remained a friend, though oddly so, but the mix was bound to end in disaster, the other foot almost always weighing heavy, threatening to fall.

And fall it did, after I untied the laces at a party where I drank too much and decided to let my friend, soon-to-be sister-in-law know that I didn’t think she should marry my brother. My memory is hazy, but I think the words were something along the lines of  “I don’t think you love my brother and I’m not sure you really want to marry him.”

Kaboom! Like a steel-toed boot to the face, all three of our lives took a turn that evening. Brenda almost immediately teared up and turned away; I left the party and walked home alone along some of the seedier streets of the city; my brother chalked up one more mistake to my name, seething with anger when he finally arrived home and caught me at the top of the staircase on my way to bed. “Mind your own fucking business,” he screamed to my back. My own tears, by then, were melting hot streaks into my cheeks.

Not long after this incident, I started looking for an apartment of my own. There was just no way we three could live together anymore, even with the “I’m sorry, I had too much to drink” defense. The chemistry, never truly there from the beginning, had all but vanished, leaving in its place a quiet acceptance. There was no getting around the feeling, though, that the house was two against one.

After finding an apartment, I pretended that things would get better. I trudged to work and back home; took my dog for long walks; occasionally met my brother and cousin out. But nothing was okay, and I just didn’t have the words to explain how I was feeling. Or maybe I didn’t want to admit to the desperation; the crying jags that wouldn’t end some nights; the phone calls that went unanswered even when the caller would leave a message telling me they knew I was home and I should just pick up. The isolation I felt in Minneapolis was, continues to be unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced since. Even K. dying didn’t feel as solitary because I knew that if I ever could articulate a need there would be someone who would fill it for me.

But the Twin Cities depression was singular in its feeling of complete and utter abandonment—I’d left my own self behind somewhere, like a trinket I’d set down and absentmindedly walked away from. I know I felt misunderstood by those around me, but the most frightening aspect was not even understanding myself anymore. Feeling so disconnected from your own being, at least for me, sent me spiraling further away until I just couldn’t see anything I recognized anymore and all the shades of gray blended and colored my world with muted disappointment and unhappiness.

One night, sitting on the edge of my bed unable to sleep, I could think of nothing more to do then call an acquaintance I’d met in Iowa City while visiting a friend. Tom Petty was playing in the background, “You don’t know how it feels” setting the scene for my picking up the phone and reaching out to someone I just barely knew in the middle of the night. He picked up the phone, his voice thick with sleep, and recognized me immediately when I told him my name. Brushing away my apologies for waking him, he listened, quietly, as I told him I was afraid, thought maybe I was close to letting go. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I kept telling him, and because these words weren’t directly tied to any specific crisis outside of a deep, deepening sadness, he translated, properly, the true meaning. I can’t recall his words, have no idea what he told me, only that he listened and kept listening until I became too tired to talk anymore, deciding instead to sleep.

Since O.’s diagnosis, he sometimes disappears. Not literally; he just stops showing up for visitation without calling or will tell me to expect him and then not answer my calls or texts. When I finally reach the end of my rope and let him know that he isn’t being fair to me, he’ll let me know he isn’t feeling well, which now is code for depressed. He’s always said that he doesn’t want Sabine to see him like that, and I’ve always countered with the idea that she’ll make him feel better.

Lately though, I’m beginning to recall with greater detail the battle I did those many years ago. How the thought of leaving my apartment would make my bones ache with fatigue. Sometimes, even going to the store a few feet away seemed too overwhelming, too hazardous. I didn’t want to have to make small talk, make eye contact with the store clerk, decide what to buy and what to leave on the shelves. Little decisions became huge and unmanageable, and the more I had to think the more likely it was I’d get lost in these thoughts and end up confused. Nothing made sense anymore.

I’ve always said, even in the thick of the fight where impatience, frustration, anger and dislike were all I could muster toward O., that, for my daughter’s sake, I’d never left him sink. I couldn’t be a bystander to his self-destruction. Building boundaries while remaining involved requires a finesse I don’t always have, but I have to try. I have to sometimes give O. the benefit of the doubt, offer compassion instead of callousness. Because these lines that divide us aren’t always so distinct, and that’s been the trouble all along. A great deal of genuine affection still exists right alongside a whole truckload of disillusionment and anger. Sifting through such opposing forces, looking for what will remain and what someday might grow wings is the work I have to do—for nobody else but me.

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