Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead
The day dawns bright and clear. Sunday is always a relaxed day with everyone sleeping in. Even I don't get up until six.
This morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table. It's a warm, oak finished table sitting in a bay window. The kitchen faces south so it catches the morning sun. My breakfast was finished, and I was holding Maria's card. I think about what has, and especially what hasn't, happened in the past week.
It has been a week of wondering what Maria meant with her card. She wants to be there as the journey continues, but we haven’t talked all week.
There’s a strange sense of being in limbo. I’m not sure how to start a conversation, so I just hang around hoping she’ll talk to me. When she’s doing dishes, I hang around the counter to watch.
“Do you want something?”
“No. I just thought we might talk.”
And she keeps washing dishes.
When we talked about getting married, we said we wanted a partnership; to be working together and making a family. It hasn't turned out that way.
"Would you like to tell me what this card means?" I hold up the card she gave me.
She seems slightly cross as she answers, "Just what it says."
I wait for her to say more, but she doesn't.
"Okay. It says 'As the journey continues, I'm there with you.'
"To be honest, I'm trying to figure out what that means when you haven't said a single word to me all week." She keeps washing dishes, and looks rather tense.
I started talking in what I hoped would be a calm, inviting manner. "Maria, I'm trying to understand how you see 'being there with me' when we don't talk, you don't want to hear about my success, and when I come into a room, you find a reason to leave. Can you see what I'm saying?"
Her voice burst out as though she had been holding back a lot of anger. "I don't know what you expect from me! The card says what it says. What more do you want?"
I didn't know what to say. The only thing I could think of was to ask "Why are you angry at me? I'm trying to understand what's going on. You give me a card that says you're there with me, but you're doing everything you can to stay away from me. I don't get it."
She didn't answer. She just finished the dishes then went down the hall to start laundry. I watched her until she had the first load of washing in the machine, then I decided it would be best to leave her alone. It seemed like a good time for Silas and me to go for our morning walk.
It's a mile to the end of the road, and Silas and I walk down and back every morning.
Silas is a great listener. He always lets me talk, and when I ask a question he comes over to me. I know it's just the change in my voice that brings him, but it still feels good to have him near.
As my mind drifts over the last three years, I know what I want to do. Criticizing needs to be replaced by caring, nagging gets swapped for supporting, and threatening has to be dropped in favor of negotiating. The behaviors I grew up with as a kid, and that we all see being used every day, are incredibly destructive. They’re what we use to control instead of making the effort to connect.
But where is my limit? Before we got married we said we wanted a partnership. Then she asked for a prenuptial agreement that kept me from being a partner. Then it has been three years of seesawing. Maria asking for my help to build a family and urging the kids to follow my example – then sabotaging the progress we make to keep the kids close and me on the outside. Now comes silence after a card promising companionship.
There’s no question we’ve both made mistakes along the way.
Where is the point at which you say “This is as far as I go. You are free to choose any behavior you want. But if you choose to keep going in the same direction, I can’t travel with you anymore.”
That's what happened when I finally decided to leave my parents out of my life. I was 34, and it was Christmas Eve.
That summer, my father and I had gone into business together. We were both carpenters, and I had grown up watching (sometimes helping) with his business of antique furniture refinishing and reproductions. He was getting older, was in poor health, and had asked me to help with his work.
I agreed. (No matter how lousy your parents are, there's always a part of you that wants their love and acceptance.)
I found us an inexpensive location for a shop in an old, commercial building next to a train station. It was cheap, had lots of room, and no neighbors to be bothered by the smells of stripper, glue and finishes. We had all his stock moved in a couple of days.
Then the excuses started.
I took short jobs through the summer while my father made excuses to not have me working on the furniture. I demolished a couple houses, and built some decks and fences. But by the time November was approaching, I was in a tight spot.
"Dad, what's going on with the furniture? There are almost eighty pieces in the shop, and I haven't touched one all summer. When are we going to start working together?"
He answered without looking at me, "Well, we can't do too many pieces at once. That would overload the auction."
"Okay," I said skeptically. "There's more than one auction house, I can take a load to flea markets on the weekends, and there's always the option to actually advertise what we're doing."
"Hmmm... I don't think so. I'm doing okay with what I have. I don't think I want to take on all that extra work."
I was angry at this point (anger has been a common response in my life). I could see the betrayal for what it was. I managed to keep my voice level as I made the situation completely clear for both of us.
"Okay. You asked me to come help you because you couldn't keep up. I've managed to keep up through the summer while you made excuses. Now we're headed into winter. There aren't a whole lot of decks and fences going in this time of year.
"I'm telling you flat out: If we aren't going to work together..." I took a deep breath. "If you aren't going to let me earn some money by doing some furniture, then I'm not sure I'll have enough money for November's rent on the shop."
His answer closed the last door.
"Alright. I'll make sure I have my stuff out before the rent is up."
I didn't answer. I didn't argue. I just collected my stuff, got in my van, and left.
With my mother in full support, my parents proceeded to take (or sell) everything I owned. As it worked out, it was Christmas Eve when I left the keys to the shop in the mailbox. I haven't seen my parents since.
That memory was strong in my mind as I walked with Silas. Maria's card seemed a lot like a lie I had heard before.
Our walk takes about forty-five minutes. By the time Silas and I got home, I had made my decision. I give Maria her card back.
She is back in bed when Silas and I got back. She is awake and enjoying the opportunity to just lie in. I hand her the card and start talking.
"Maria, I'm not understanding this card.
"We've had our share of troubles, but I was expecting more reaction when I got home. I mean, having clients lined up means there's lots of money coming in and we can do some of the things we talked about. The deck out back, Brian Jr.'s bed, and time for us. But it seems like you don't even want to talk to me."
She put the card on her bedside table while I was talking, and watched me while I spoke. Then she got out from under the covers, stood, and walked around the bed to the bathroom.
"Maria, are we going to talk about this?"
She answers from the bathroom, "I don't know what you want me to do. If you don't believe me, then you don't believe me. I don't know what else to say."
I sit at the side of the bed wondering what to do. Experience has shown that trying to pursue the conversation is going to have bad results. Maria just clams up, and says she's too upset to talk. How do you negotiate, support or even care when the other person shuts you out. This is what we were trying to avoid when we talked about getting counseling and support in the beginning. Now that's a forbidden topic that only results in Maria saying there's no one local who accepts her insurance coverage.
Looking back, I think I could have hugged her, said something caring, done something to change our pattern. Instead, I gave up and went downstairs to my office. The place I retreated to like a rabbit diving into its den.
That night, Maria picked a fight in front of the kids over the dog being hers and she can do as she pleases.
Silas and I go for several walks every day. It’s a great break for me, and Silas always enjoys being outside. This time, I was getting ready to take Silas for an after dark walk. I put a reflective vest on Silas, and then got my coat and a vest for me.
At the same time, Maria put on her coat and she and Skyler headed for the garage. Then Maria called Silas to her. I knew what was coming next.
When I got out to the garage, Maria had let Silas out to run free.
In a loud, accusing voice I asked, "Maria, what are you doing?" We had talked about this several times, and each time Maria had agreed to stop letting Silas run without a leash.
Quite nonchalantly, Maria answered, "I'm letting Silas run before we go for a ride."
"Yes, I can see that," I said evenly; clearly unhappy. "And I'm thinking of all the times we've talked about this, and you've agreed to stop doing this. So why are you doing it now?"
"He's my dog, and I'll do as I please."
"No, Maria, he isn't your dog. He's ours. I care for him, train him, feed him, and look after him, too."
"No he isn't. He's mine, just like the cars, the house, and the kids are mine. You don't tell me what to do in my own house."
I feel powerless, humiliated and betrayed. I toss the leash at her saying, "Here. You'll need this when he finally comes back." My voice is angry, bitter, and quiet as I walk back into the house.
The most frightening thing about suicide is that it, too, is a form of failure. It is the last line of a failing defense; an Alamo. The world has you outgunned and isolated. You can't win, and there's only one direction left to run.
You don’t choose suicide because you want to die. You choose suicide because it’s your last remaining hope for stopping the pain.
I remember walking along King Street in Welland planning how to die. There are a lot of options when you take the time to look around and think it through. Then I think about the times I’ve attempted suicide without succeeding. There have been close calls, trips to emergency, and even time in the hospital to heal, but I’m still here. More than anything, that’s a testament to the power of our instinct for self-preservation.
It was never death I wanted. I simply wanted - want - people to stop being mean and cruel.