I can feel Ashton’s eyes even with my face turned to the TV, pretending to watch The Office. He slowly gets up and walks toward the kitchen. I try not to watch him. He returns with oatmeal cookie flavored ice cream. He walks right up to me, right to the edge of the couch before asking, “Want any?”
I feel like saying, No I don’t want any of that healthy crap you keep around here, especially not that garbage tasting ice cream. Instead, I say, “No.”
He sits in the chair closer to me, the one facing the TV, and he just stares with the little pint of ice cream folded in his arms. He doesn’t even have a spoon!
I realize that I’m staring, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Or care. So, I don’t care.
His face has an empty expression. Illegible. Protected. Or maybe that’s just my angle. It could be hollow.
Part of me wants to hug him and fall on his chest in tears. The other part of me wants to scream at him. Part of me aches with pity, and the other part blames him for bringing this on himself. Part of me wants him to never leave me, to always love, to somehow rescue me. The other part wants him to be free, to laugh without me, to get away from the toxicity of my presence.
My shoulders naturally start to curve around themselves. They do that when the feeling creeps up inside me like a snake. I look back at the TV and try to focus on what Jim and Dwight are saying, but I can’t.
I remember the time when Ashton first taught me to take a decent picture by myself.
“That’s one of the things that drew me to you,” he’d said smiling. “Your terrible selfies.”
We were at the beach, and the sun was setting. Ashton wanted to be a photographer, but it was too big of a risk so he majors in Accounting. He just takes pictures on the side.
After I attempted suicide, he stopped going to classes.
“You want to capture all the light that you can,” he’d said, coming up behind me and holding my hands as I tried to aim the camera on my phone. While I was playing in the waves, he looked through the pictures and then started taking more.
“Mine weren’t very good, were they!” I’d shouted over the ocean sounds. He had smiled and taken a picture of me.
I don’t know where the depression came from. It didn’t hit me like a wave. Not at first. It crept up on me slowly, like how the setting sun carries off light until even the twilight fades. I don’t remember if I ever actually felt sad. It was more like emptiness. A hollow feeling. I would spend a long time, maybe hours, staring in the mirror at myself, trying to see something, but all I could see were features. Blue eyes. A nose. Brown hair. And I lost track of time.
Any time I did feel emotion, I still don’t think it was sadness. It was more like anger. Once, I sat down and tried to figure out who I was angry at. My mom? Ashton? God? And then I realized that I wasn’t angry at anyone. I was angry at myself.
But why? What had I done?
So I would stare at myself, trying to find the dark lurking secret.
There was something wrong with me. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but there was something wrong.
People picked up on this, and I tried to get away. I tried to tell them that I was fine, and when they didn’t believe me, I became angry. If there was something so evidently wrong with me, why wouldn’t they go away? So I tried to push them away. I tried small, angry remarks that grew in time to screaming and sobs.
I remember Ashton’s stare when the sobs were choking my throat. Finally, he’d said, “You’ve changed.”
I think I may have thrown up after that.
So they stared, and I could see the pain on their faces because they didn’t know how to help me, they didn’t know what to do, and I hated myself even more. I hated myself for hurting them. I didn’t want to hurt them. I just wanted to protect them. I wanted them away from all of my choking emptiness.
But if they did finally give me what I wanted, to leave me alone after all of my fits and torments towards them, I would feel the sting in the back of my stomach like a knife carefully and precisely prodding itself against my insides. And I would lose the ability to breathe. No more tears. No more words. Just pain.
But for all the pain I’ve caused I certainly deserved it.
But there was this voice at the back of my mind faintly gasping and pleading. It’s only word: help.
I close my eyes because Ashton is looking at me again, and my cheeks are wet.
When I first got out of the hospital, Ashton was there. He followed me home. He followed me back to my apartment. He was angry. He yelled. He became sad. He wept. He tried to be happy. He made jokes, smiled, and told me he loved me. And finally, he began staring at me, stupidly, silently, the same way he’s been staring at me since. I keep waiting for him to leave. I hope that he does while still wishing he won’t.
What does he see in me anymore? What did he ever see? Haven’t I caused him enough pain already?
My first night back at my apartment, I told Ashton to go home. He didn’t. I found him sleeping on my couch the next morning.
When I open my eyes, Ashton looks me over from head to toe like he used to. I wait for the pain and pity to color his face a paler shade, but it doesn’t.
“I’m not leaving.”
“No,” I whimper, like I’m a little child who is desperate and has just been denied the only thing she ever wanted.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
I wait for him to throw the ice cream aside and rush to me, grabbing my hands with tears in his eyes and begin pleading with me like he did last week. And the week before.
I can’t save you, you understand? I would if I could, but I can’t. You are the only one who can save you. You have to pull yourself out of this! Okay? Please, lovely. Please. I will be right here. Start praying. Start reading again. Read Job or Psalms or A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Eat some chocolate. Start a journal.
Instead, he looks back towards the TV, eyes glazed.
“I’ve already told you what you have to do to fix this.”
I must cling to the side that cries help. I must cling to the side that wants him to stay.
I get up and squeeze myself next to him on the little chair. I’m shaking and doing my best to keep my face from contorting into that hideous expression I make when I cry.
He doesn’t look at me, but he puts his arm around me.
(Photo: Jordan McQueen)