Backbreaking Straws: Living in a State of Perpetual Fragility


Last night, my husband asked me if he could make a particular purchase.


I spent the rest of the night crying in the bathroom.


I won't go into what the purchase was, or the myriad reasons why it sent me over the edge. I won't go into the history of tension that has been building between us of late, or the ways in which I feel more and more alone. I won't talk about how losing our child has left two people grappling to find themselves, and each other, again. To build a marriage from the ashes of our family when we're not even whole ourselves. To find ways to connect with each other when we're still relearning how to connect to life at all.


None of that is the point of this post. The point of this post is being the woman on the bathroom floor, whose heart is shattered in ways she can't find words for, whose husband probably never knows when the slightest wrong word or gesture will send her toppling, who hears a voice inside begging her to just slam her head into the tile because maybe that will be less painful. And who, despite the crumpled scene she presents, is strong enough—somehow—to tell that voice to fuck off.


On any given day, at any given moment, I am maybe three steps away from swan diving over the edge of the nearest cliff. A cliff I carry inside me wherever I go. I have gotten very good at convincing myself the cliff isn't there. At not making eye contact with the void. At balancing on a hair and telling myself, "This is normal." Because that's what it takes to live your life on a fault line. If you spent every waking second reminding yourself that you were that close to utter annihilation, you would never take a step. So instead, you learn the magic of compartmentalizing. Here is the home and the people I love and keep breathing for. Here is the work that I do to give the appearance of functioning when really I'm just distracting myself. Here is the thing I am distracting myself from. We don't talk about that. That is a black vacuum of soul-sucking sorrow that has no end. Throw an area rug over it. We'll call it negative space. Sounds better, doesn't it?


After a while, I'm pretty convinced. It's all smoothed over now. I can do this. I can stand here with the wind tugging on my right half where the bottom dropped out when my child died while my left half balances this precariously stacked tower of fine china on one hand. Want to throw national turmoil and a global crisis on top? Go for it. I can take it. Want to toss on a few unexpectedly exorbitant medical bills? Absolutely. Don't worry about me. I like this. It's practice. Want to add whatever-other-powerless-to-change-stressors-you-can-think-of? Why not? What the fuck else am I doing really? Let's make it count.


Call it grief. Call it PTSD. Call it depression or melancholy or anxiety or emotional unrest. Mental instability. The labels serve me very little anymore. What it is, as best I can tell, is living as an egg shell with the yolk all blown out. There's nothing here, folks, to hold up these walls. I keep trying to put shit in there to fill up that space, and it just keeps leaking out. So there it is. A smooth, alabaster casing that holds precisely dick. Go ahead. Chip away. The fuck do I care anymore. These are the pieces I was able to find and reassemble after my life blew up and took me with it. But, if I'm being perfectly honest, I'm not particularly attached to them.


If I sound angry or bitter or resentful... I don't know. I feel tired. I don't want to hold the walls up anymore. It's exhausting, fruitless work. I just want to lay down, right here, on this knife-edge into oblivion and close my eyes. Take a nap. Rest my ragged, fucking heart. Maybe, just maybe, something or someone will take my place for a bit. Toe the line. Hold the dark at bay. Or maybe I'll descend into madness. But I doubt it. What I think—no, what I know will happen, is I'll wake up. And I'll still be right here. On the brink. Kissing skyfall. An empty shell poised between two opposing forces. That somehow keeps defying both. And I'll turn my back to the abyss, smooth out the wrinkles in that godforsaken rug, and go on acting like I've got this. Because really...what else is there?


And I think that's the thing that wears at me the most. Not the grief. Or the inane requests from my husband. Or the planet's headlong rush into destruction. It's the knowing that I will crack again and again and again, but I just won't break.

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