When I hear your footsteps approaching me in the dark, what you don’t know is that I’m quietly muttering under my breath, “Please, please don’t be angry.”
I hide the bite marks on my hand. I keep my face hidden under the hood of my coat. I try to will myself into disappearance.
I fucked everything up.
I’m bracing myself for impact.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
You don’t remind me what I should or shouldn’t have done. You don’t remark on the inconvenience of it all. You don’t tell me, through clenched teeth, that I should know better by now.
You both sit down next to me – someone asks me if I’m okay, someone else puts an arm around me. And while I don’t move or respond to that touch, it takes everything in me not to.
In that moment, I am afraid for you to know how much I need you.
When I was young, I tried to do it all by myself. I didn’t know who to talk to – so I talked to no one.
For the first two years, I sobbed into my pillow so no one could hear me at night. I left cuts and bruises where no one would see them. I ran off into cold, Michigan winters and laid in the snow until I couldn’t feel my body.
No one looked for me then.
There came a day when the weeping stopped. When it took so much energy to scream that I ceased making noise altogether.
I hid in my closet and pondered how many minutes I could cut off my own breathing without dying.
No one asked about me then.
I thought that I was protecting people. I thought that if they knew about the darkness, the darkness would trap them, too. I thought that I would rather endure the pain alone than inflict it on someone else.
I thought I was being benevolent.
I didn’t yet call it “dying.”
The first time I ever loved someone, ever trusted someone with the darkness, it swallowed him whole.
I still remember late at night, curled in a blanket on his couch, when suddenly shadows were falling out of the ceiling and crawling across the room.
In my paranoia, I was convinced that the shadows had come for me.
I was screaming, and seizing, and I couldn’t form words – and the next thing I know, my head is hitting the fireplace, someone is holding me down against my will, and I hear him yelling the numbers, “911.”
Those numbers will always be burned into my mind, a looming threat, a weapon to be wielded.
Six months later, dialed in, the phone waving in front of my face as I stutter, as I weep, standing in a cookie-cutter Midwestern suburb, begging, “Please, please don’t be angry.”
He says, “You shouldn’t have run away.”
I say, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
He says, “If you don’t come with me, they’re going to take you away.”
In my desperation, I lunge at him, grabbing the phone and breaking it on the ground.
And I run.
Because all I knew to do back then was run.
You tell me that we’re going back to your apartment. I keep my eyes closed for the entire drive because if we’re going to the hospital, I don’t want to know until we’re there.
It wouldn’t be the first time that I woke up in a hospital parking lot.
The first time was after a film – a film which spoke candidly about suicide, which I later realized must have set me off – when I have a panic attack so bad that I think I am dying.
In the chaos of his screaming and mine, I start hitting my head on the car window.
I black out.
I wake up to someone shaking my shoulder. I try to make sense of where I am when I see the words “EMERGENCY ROOM” in bright lights. I start to scream again. He tells me he had no choice.
I don’t know what is happening, but I know that I’m not safe here.
I run out of the car and towards the street. He catches me, grabbing me by the shirt, telling me that I either go willingly or the police will find me.
I tell him he doesn’t love me. I tell him he wants to ruin my life. I tell him that he’s not helping. I tell him that no one will believe him. His grip loosens on my shirt, his eyes softening.
He begins to cry.
I see my opportunity.
I don’t console him – I break free from his grasp, running into a lane of oncoming traffic, the sound of car horns and screeching tires piercing my eardrums.
We don’t go to the hospital.
Like you promised, we are back at the apartment.
When I step out of the car, I am stunned that no one has grabbed me or is forcing me in. No one is fighting me.
And I’m not running.
I was not tricked into an emergency room. I was not carried away in handcuffs. I was not screaming and neither were you.
No one is angry.
I am still hiding inside a jacket that is two sizes too big (maybe more). Someone asks me if I have everything I need to stay the night. And someone else puts an arm around me again, and an unexpected emotion overtakes me.
It’s hard enough to understand that I am allowed to walk up to that house on my own. It’s even harder to understand that someone is now holding me.
Why isn’t anyone angry? Why isn’t anyone yelling?
I want to cry but I’m afraid of being vulnerable. I’m afraid, still, that you’d know that I failed to take care of my shit, that I couldn’t do this by myself.
So I sit as still as possible and I desperately hope that my stillness doesn’t make it seem like I don’t want to be touched.
I do want to be touched.
I won’t tell you that.
I don’t remember what we talked about but I remember the calmness in everyone’s voices. I remember waiting for a lecture that I never received. I remember conversations about pop culture and I would expect nothing less from you both.
I remember laughing and how good it felt to laugh.
I remember being told, gently, that we would go to the crisis center the next day – I would be picked up in the morning, and my friends would be there, and my partner would be there, and I wouldn’t be alone.
There was no trickery.
And I remember being surprised that no one was trying to trick me.
Three years ago, my therapist asks me why my eyes well up so often but I never cry.
“I can’t cry,” I tell her.
“It’s just not something that I do.”
She pauses, waiting for me to say more. In these pauses, I always tell myself that she’s doing it because she knows I’ll fill the empty space, and that I should stop obliging her.
Even when I tell myself not to, the silence between us is compelling.
I always oblige.
“I’m afraid that if I start crying, I’ll lose control.”
“Would that be so bad?”
I remember this conversation when you are both looking for food for me to eat in the kitchen.
I know that if I start crying, I won’t stop. I know that if I don’t stop, I’ll start screaming.
And I know that if I scream, you will know a part of me that only two people in this world have ever known – the part of me that is profoundly broken, the part of me that breaks hearts – and you will never see me the same way again.
One day, I will let my guard down and you will know what it’s like to hear something so painful come out of me that your heart collapses like a trapdoor.
But I am not ready to break your hearts.
You let me sleep in your bed that night. You replace your ex’s water cup with mine, which strikes me in that moment as really meaningful. We watch television and I laugh at your running commentary, which is so perfect and makes me smile, even when I don’t want to.
Sometimes you touch my arm and I don’t have the words to tell you what it means to me when you do.
Just then, I am reminded of all the nights I spent alone as a teenager.
When I was too afraid to call anyone, when I was too afraid to tell the truth, when I was too afraid to break hearts.
I am reminded of how close I came to dying because I was never brave enough to say, “I need help.”
Tonight, I will not die. I will sleep next to you. I will wake up occasionally, look over at you, and feel relieved that you’re still there.
I will remember all the nights that I rejected the people I cared about, thinking I was some sort of protector, some sort of martyr. Thinking that these walls I built were so tremendous, that I had done the world a favor.
When I hear you breathing next to me in the middle of the night, I will wonder why I ever thought I was so noble for going it alone.
I wasn’t noble.
I was just scared.
“What happens if I’m hospitalized?”
“It will be okay.”
“And what about my parents?”
“They will be okay.”
“You will be okay.”
When I leave your house in the morning, you say – in your very particular way of saying things – that today is going to be an adventure.
I stop in my tracks, looking back at you.
“An adventure?” I repeat back.
When you tell me that everything will be okay, I believe you. I’m learning to believe in you.
Everything you said yesterday was true, too – when you promised that no one was plotting against me; when you promised I could take a nap and not wake up somewhere else; when you promised that if I told you where I was, we would make things right.
I don’t know what you mean by an adventure, but I believe you when you say it.
The psychologist at the crisis center has assessed my responses.
“Rapid cycling,” he says, “Brought on by the hormone fluctuations when you ran out of testosterone. It set off your bipolar disorder.”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“You mention here,” he says, looking at the dozens of papers that I filled out, “That you were experiencing some bouts of suicidality.”
“Yes,” I say quietly.
“What kept you from acting on your impulses?”
I think about it for a moment.
He pauses, in the way I guess all therapists do, in the way that makes me feel like I need to fill in the spaces.
But this time, I don’t fill the space.