If she could have lifted the weight off her chest she would have, but it was inside her and she couldn’t reach it. It was heavy. Sometimes she wished she could claw her flesh right open to wrestle it out and throw it aside. It suffocated her, and it spread like black ooze through every part of her. Her mind was thick with thoughts like so many voices talking at once, and she couldn’t quiet them. They weren’t kind to her, and though she tried to defend herself against their criticism, they always won. Even if she didn’t want to agree with them, she did.
Her body ached. Some days it was so bad she thought she had physically injured herself, but it was just the ooze. She couldn’t fall asleep or, if she did, she couldn’t stay asleep. Her dreams disturbed her. She was tired all the time. Her throat was tight, her head pounded. She was fat. She’d always been fat. She was as outwardly out of control and ugly as she felt inside. She deserved it. Or maybe she didn’t, but who cared? It was just how she was – out of control. She couldn’t even control the food she put into her own mouth. She hated to look in mirrors because it pained her to see herself, and it felt like someone was forcing her to look. Sometimes she would turbidly stare as long as she could before she looked away in disgust. It was almost as if to tell herself, “I know who you are. Maybe you think I don’t, but I do.” She hated photographs even more. They embarrassed her, and she despised how they revealed her.
Some days were much worse than others. Her heart would beat so fast and hard, and she would cry. Sadness, hopelessness, purposelessness swirled around her like wispy ghosts, and she felt both envious of and annoyed with everyone who couldn’t see or feel them. How could she be the crazy one when everything was so crisp and clear to her? So real?
She never dared miss work, even on the bad days. She couldn’t because it was her one constant, the one thing she held onto. She managed to go and she would navigate her day like any other, but she wasn’t really there. Those voices would badger her all day, reminding her constantly what she was and who she was burdening and who she was letting down. She didn’t produce very much on those days. Mostly she worked really hard at appearing normal. She would swallow down tears at her desk until they spilled over, and she’d have to escape to the bathroom. She’d soak her face with water and gasp for control. Sometimes she’d lean her head against the wall in the dark with her hands over her face just trying to get a hold of herself. She felt frightened. She’d return to her desk, the voices still at it, and she’d hope her eyes would clear up fast before anyone saw her and asked questions. She knew she’d never survive questions. The lump remaining in the throat told her so, and she could feel a whole pool of tears waiting to burst forth. She was afraid she’d sob. She didn’t dare sob and show that kind of weakness. She would shake, and she’d have to sit on her hands to keep them still. She was exhausted. She often thought she might throw up.
Those days were endless, and she’d hurry to her bedroom as soon as she could once she got home. She’d strip her clothes off, close the window blinds, and crawl into bed. Alone in the darkness, she could hear sounds of her family moving around from time to time, and she would think maybe those normal, happy sounds would be the end of her. She was coldly alone, a stranger in the very place, the only place, she should feel warmth and belonging. With no sensory competition, her thoughts were deafening and rapid fire. Sometimes she would literally put her hands over her ears to quiet them, but it didn’t work. Sleep would come and even if fitful, she welcomed it. She drifted away trying out loud to talk over her own thoughts saying that none of them were real, all of this would pass, and maybe tomorrow would be normal again. Sometimes it was; sometimes it was days before any sense of normalcy returned.
Normalcy. That wasn’t so normal either. There was the foreboding, the anxiety, the self loathing. She was failing, and she knew it. Any minute she’d pay some sort of price for it, and her carefully crafted persona would crumble to unveil her. Everyone would know. She didn’t have any greater fear than that. She fought so hard to be good enough or at least to keep up the façade that she was good enough, and she knew that she would never recover if everyone found out how crazy, how worthless, how phony and dysfunctional she really was. She gave other people a lot bigger benefit of the doubt than she gave herself. She could see their disadvantages, their setbacks. She could see her own too, but she couldn’t accept them as of anyone’s making but hers. She relied on the approval of other people for her own value. It was in other people’s contentment with her that she found her own. The discomfort was always with her, and she wondered how she’d faked her way through this far. She worked very hard every day to do all the things required of her. She could do a lot of things. She just couldn’t be anything. Sometimes she could manage the simmering stress. Sometimes it boiled over, and everyone suffered. Even when it didn’t affect everyone, it affected her. Sometimes the hysteria would flow from her like blood from a gash, and she couldn’t stop it until there wasn’t any more to bleed.
She focused most on how she was disappointing her family because it was through that she most disappointed herself. She loved them madly. Why wasn’t that enough to show her how to mother the kids, keep the household going, be a good wife? Love wasn’t enough. She knew she let them all down over and over. It seems like she only had enough room for one at a time, so if she was trying her best to be there for one of them, the other two were ignored. She couldn’t manage it all at once. Just the activities and the obligations alone were overwhelming, and the anxiety threatened to strangle her some days. She forgot things. She became irritable. She felt inadequate and unappreciated and resentful all at the same time. She was angry with herself, but she made them feel it. She yelled. And the guilt was bigger than she was. She could never possibly accomplish or provide enough to allay the guilt. She didn’t have enough to offer. It felt like she was caught in quicksand. She wanted to save everyone around her, but she couldn’t because she was being pulled under herself. She worried what her craziness was doing to her children.
On the best of the bad days, she would once again vow to overcome the obstacles. She would be a better person. She would pay more attention, get organized, take care of herself, live a purposeful life, be everything she was supposed to be like everyone else was doing. She would set about the work of it, the planning, and do it with a new hope for control. She would try not to discourage herself with the reality of it all, sure that this time she would fix herself and life would be what it should. She would forge ahead with a manic energy and determination, and she would live and breathe the new her. But there was never really a new her. There’s only the old her. The her her. Eventually she reappeared and it all began again. She’d once again be plagued with those thoughts, those voices that all sounded exactly like hers, until she was certain that she’d never be any more or any better than she was right then.
There were days when she was free from it, when the sun felt good on her skin and she’d lift her face to it and close her eyes trying to soak up as much of that peace and happiness as she could. She felt a fleeting contentment, a sense of value and accomplishment, competency and worth. She saw her children in the yard and they seemed to be thriving, and she thought maybe she was doing okay. She glimpsed happiness in her husband and for a moment she thought maybe he wasn’t still here just because he was stuck with her after all. She felt a part of this life; she felt a purpose in it. She was free for a moment from the sensation that she was only a hanger on or, worse, a weight around her family’s neck without which they would flourish. She wanted that all the time, but those were exceptional days. On those days, all her anxiety and distorted sense of being seemed so far away that she almost couldn’t remember it or feel it at all.
Soon the world darkened, her breath shortened, and her mind was once again chaotic, her heart heavy. The good days vanished like smoke from her memory on her bad days. She couldn’t conjure the feelings they gave her, the security of them, at all. Where a hug from her husband or hearing her child say, “I love you” could bring her such happiness on a good day, those very things would feel so ill deserved and elicit heart pain and tears on a bad day. They would remind her what she wasn’t. Each time the lows were lower and harder to climb out of. Each time the voices were more insistent. Each time it became harder to recover. She wondered why no one could fix it. Why there were therapies, treatments, medication, interventions for every known physical ailment; why medical miracles happened all the time and people survived things that surely should have killed them, or body parts could be transplanted or even grown in a laboratory; why doctors and scientists were doing new, amazing things every day; but no one could cure her mind or the illnesses that plagued it. There was no therapy, no medication. No one could help her.
She knew what they would say. She knew people would call her a coward, but a coward doesn’t battle a demon for all her life. A coward doesn’t fight every day, beg for help again and again, and fight some more in spite of the overwhelming odds against her or the injuries she inflicts upon herself and others. She knew people would say she was selfish, but she thought it was selfish for other people to feel entitled to keep a suffering person with them for their own happiness and because they don’t want to suffer themselves. They don’t understand that the very thing they think they’re entitled to is something the suffering person has never enjoyed. She knew people would wonder how she could leave her kids and her husband, but she wondered how she could stay and continue to do to them what she was doing. She knew she didn’t fit in this place, and she knew this place would go on without her, and the people left in it would go on too.
She cried for the sacrifice. She cried for all that she’d miss. She cried for not being a person worthy of enjoying what she tried so hard to create, knowing that it would be a greater achievement if she left it to someone else. She cried because deep down she always knew this is how her life would end, and she cried out of gratitude for the times that gave her hope that maybe it wouldn’t. She cried for all the moments of happiness she’d been given in spite of her being so undeserving of them and unable to give them in return. She cried because she knew this last act would truly reveal her and that she’d never be anything more to those she loved than what she really was. She knew that they wouldn’t understand and because of that they’d be angry, and they’d carry that throughout the rest of their lives. She also knew that there’s dignity in knowing when to let go of an impossible dream.
She looked around her again at this place. It seemed like a nice place, but it wasn’t her place even if she’d had such a hand in making it. In the calmness she imagined life returning to it after she was gone. She imagined the dogs running, the kids dancing or singing, her husband cooking dinner. She imagined laughter and energy and peace. She imagined another woman in her place who could give all that she couldn’t. She imagined it, and she smiled one more time at the hope for them. But then it began to tear her heart to pieces. The anguish of it was greater than she had expected.
And when she couldn’t bear even one more second of it, she put her hand to her mouth, pressed her eyes shut tight, and squeezed the trigger.