She collapsed slowly onto the white hexagonal tiles of the bathroom floor, weeping uncontrollably. The last few years had been hard, and she’d finally succumbed to the blind grief that she’d been pushing away for what seemed forever. Convulsing with sobs, she curled up on the white floor, her head in her arms to muffle the sounds of her despair.
It hadn’t always been like this. The first few years had been magical – everything a girl could ever have hoped for. Despite the obstacles, they’d found a way to make a life together, and it was the life she’d always imagined but never believed she’d have. They had explored the world, explored each other, and found themselves more in love every day. A match made in heaven.
He’d forgone education in his life before her – indeed, he was a dropout – but she’d encouraged him to pursue his interests, pursue education. She’d recognized the value he placed on it, and though she didn’t agree (easy to disagree when one was sitting on three degrees, one a PhD), she knew it was important to him. He’d graduated with a double minor in English and Psychology.
Everyone told them how good she’d been for him, how she’d brought him out of whatever half sleep he’d been in for a decade and a half. He’d grown into a fine, creative man, and she had been – and still was – proud of him.
And even after the trouble had started it had been wonderful. At first they hadn’t even noticed how he’d changed, or had ignored it because of the benefits. His art – something he’d only started again in earnest since they’d been married – had blossomed, from average but interesting to compelling and thoughtful. He’d sold several pieces, and even been featured in a chic New York gallery. His writing too, always good, had become gripping, a thing almost alive. He’d always been a musician, but now he wrote music, instead of just playing it.
But doubt had stolen into her mind, dark shadows obscuring the corners of her thoughts. She felt sometimes she had seen this before, seen something like this. Sometimes she’d wake up in the middle of the night, still wrapped in his arms like they were newlyweds, and grasp at the tendrils of truth. Though she missed and they floated away into the ether, they left impressions, left footprints on her mind. She began to fear. Not for herself, not for the kids, but for him. For them.
She even talked to him about it. He was – as she was – remarkably self-aware, and often worried about the very things that were troubling her. They were so comfortable with each other, trusted one another so much, that difficult conversations like this were possible. They discussed her concerns, and his concerns, and he expressed as he always had that she was touching upon his greatest fears. One cold October evening they had finally decided they would seek psychological advice.
And so both their worst fears were confirmed. At first she refused to believe it, and sought a second opinion, but there was nothing for it. He was bipolar, and there was no way to change that. He reluctantly agreed to medication, but the chemicals blotted out whatever spark hid behind his eyes, and he became a shell of the man he was. It was a cruel reversion, back to the man he’d been before she’d met him.
His art suffered, his writing suffered. He stopped playing music. Not because he had no interest, but because he was incapable of the emotions required to create stirring pieces. None of these things bothered him, because the pills made it impossible for him to care. But she noticed, and it killed her to see him so diminished.
There were times when she begged him to go off his meds, to come back to her, and times when he’d go off them himself. But fluctuating moods and startling changes in emotion were erratic to the point of danger. The chemicals shackled his mind, but kept the kids safe. Each time she’d convinced him to go back on the pills, and he’d done so.
But now she’d seen the signs that he was skipping again. His paintings, which she’d look at when he was out, were dark and complex riots of muted, mottled colors and motion reminiscent of the Pollock that had first made clear to her the mind of her bipolar cousin years ago. It was this that had sent her to the washroom floor in a sobbing crumpled heap.
She couldn’t do it any more. She didn’t have the strength to help him any more. He was beyond her reach, lost in the darkness without a light, and she’d never get the love of her life back. It killed her, that he’d spent so much of his life in the darkness before they’d met, and that now his body had betrayed him and cast him back. It hurt so much that she couldn’t help him.
A sudden bang startled her out of her despair. It was a sound so unusual in their quiet house that she momentarily forgot where she was. The sound had come from his study, uptairs in the attic. A deep panic gripped her chest like an icy hand. Leaping from the bed, she ran down the hall and climbed the stairs. Her heart beat faster and faster as she pushed the door open and looked inside.
In the center of the room was a huge canvas, 6 feet on a side. The work itself was breathtaking, and could have easily been the most brilliant of all Pollock’s with its fans and splatters of dark reds and greys. It was the most compelling painting he’d ever created.
Sudden understanding dawned on her and she sank to her knees at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t paint, it was blood. He’d killed himself. The pain that slammed into her chest was staggering, a weight that pressed her breath from her. The image of his head tipping back as the bullet exited the back of his skull played over and over again in her head, as did the words killed himself. Again and again she saw the cream colored canvas splattered with blood. She was so overwrought by her grief she didn’t hear the creak of the stairs behind her.
“What’s wrong baby?”
Stunned, she turned around, to see him covered in red. Her confusion was complete.
“But-but…” she stammered, “you killed yourself!”
He laughed and helped her up.
“Killed myself? Why on earth would I do that? I have the best life a man could ever want. I dropped the paint can.” he laughed.
She looked at him, stunned to see the spark of the man she once knew in those eyes, not the eyes of the madman he was when off his medication, not the dull lifeless glass they were when he was taking his pills. He hugged her gently, careful not to get the red paint on her and led her back down the stairs.
“Shh baby. You just had a nightmare. Lay back down. You need to rest. We have that Hallowe’en party tonight. I know you hate them, but we promised. Besides, you know you turn into a pumpkin at midnight if you don’t get a nap. “
She laid back down in their bed and he tucked the blankets around her. Kissed her nose. Just a nightmare. She began to calm.
“And don’t forget, we have that appointment with the head doctor tomorrow that we talked about.” he called just as the door clicked shut.