[Content warning: rape mention]
“Will you be sleeping on the couch again tonight?” I ask, not sure if I actually want to know the answer
“I think so.” His reply cuts through me like a dagger. I knew he would be but I guess I was still holding out hope that was crushed in an instant by his words.
My heart sinks into an icy pit, words caught in my throat. My tenuously good mood gives way to a gripping depression that leaves me struggling for breath. The rational part of my mind that struggles desperately to hold its own tries to reason with me. This is an overreaction. It’s not that big of a deal. I just need to pull myself together and get over it.
But I can’t. I stand still in the middle of the room unable to move myself. My mind spirals out of control. What if things never get better? I don’t expect him to get better. I’m not that foolish. I know some things won’t improve, but what if nothing ever does? Are we doomed to a life of monotony and just trying to get by? Will we ever reach a place where we can actually enjoy life rather than just making it through the day?
He tries to get me to speak. He wants to understand what’s wrong.
He tries to prompt me. I understand. From his perspective, I mysteriously went from fine to completely and totally not ok for not clear reason.
I try. I struggle to take the swirling mess in my mind and turn it into mouth words.
My sobs mix with yells. Words wrench their way out of my chest, propelled by emotions so big I can’t find their edges.
It’s my fault. It’s my fault that I can’t sleep with my husband. We tried changing the bed. We’ve moved mattress pads, added blankets, removed layers, reconfigured comfort, yet nothing has helped. It’s my fault. It’s my thrashing and twisting that drives him out of bed.
He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t get why it’s so important to me, why it matters so much that we sleep in separate rooms. He points out that I slept alone for 20 years, why is it a problem now?
Suddenly, words are forming that I don’t remember thinking. My mouth has taken on a life of its own, yelling out words I didn’t know I had.
Because I’m afraid. Because bed is a scary place. The difference now, why I can’t sleep alone now, why it didn’t matter before, is because before I hadn’t been raped in my own bed. Now, my bed is haunted by the ghosts of the two men who raped me in what should have been my safe space.
I stop. I hadn’t known. I hadn’t understood why it mattered so much to me, but now it makes sense.
When he’s not there, I wake up in the night alone and afraid, plagued by the nightmares and hallucinations and memories. His presence in the night helps keep away my demons.
I feel strange. There’s an odd emptiness left behind by the vast emotion that was expelled through yelled words. Yelling isn’t really something I do and my throat feels weird after this uncommon action.
As I calm, rational thought begins to return. I’m able to think through the whirlwind of what happened.
I realize that it’s more than just the bed.
The fears I’m too afraid to give voice to, even in my own mind, had to find a way out, and a way out they found. The hysterics over spending another night apart was just an outlet for something much bigger.
My husband and I are both disabled. We’re both in pain every day, but his is getting worse. He’s having more bad days than good days. The neuropathy is spreading. Walking has become more and more challenging for him. There is no denying that his condition is worsening. The doctors have given it a name, but even they admit that it’s just a placeholder. No one actually knows what’s happening. He’s being treated for pain, but nothing to stop the progression of whatever disease this may be.
On weekdays I go to work at a job I dislike, each passing minute one more until I’m free. Yet, I come home and he’s in pain and I’m in pain. We lounge around together watching whatever show we’re currently on. We may go to our friend’s house for a little while. Then we go to sleep in separate rooms and start the cycle over again. By the time the weekend arrives, I’m in so much pain I need rest and he’s still in so much pain. So we do nothing, or next to nothing, until the new week begins and the cycle continues.
We have a good relationship. We make each other happy. We rarely fight. Yet I fear that life will always be this monotonous cycle of pain and subdued happiness. I fear that nothing will get better. I know that with regards to health, nothing is likely to get better. I have a chronic illness that is unlikely to go away and, from what we know so far, he has a progressive illness that is likely to only get worse. But I want us to find happiness in the midst of the pain. I want to find peace in the midst of the storms.
My meltdown about sleeping apart was my brains way of dealing with a bigger issue. Emotions too big and complex to deal with became focused upon a smaller instance through which I could process them. My worries about sleeping apart indefinitely were a parallel of my fears that things will never get better. The fear and horror I feel at sleeping alone in what my brain deems an unsafe space were a way to process the anxiety I feel when I think of the possibility of him dying or getting worse and worse.
The brain is a funny thing and will find ways to deal with that which we don’t think we are able to. Sometimes it just takes us some time to catch up.