The Unmade Bed

The Unmade Bed

She… bid farewell to her family with one ecstatic wave

Out the window as the car rolled away

She just vanished into a thick mist

Of change

Bright Eyes, “Hot Knives”


I don’t get depressed.


I have people in my life who do. Very badly. People I love. People I used to love. I try, and have tried, to understand them. And they’ve wanted to be understood, I think, even when the language to describe it disappears into a lampless fog. So I’ve watched the paralysis creeping, the self-loathing growing spines, and have still been struck with surprised fright when the words that finally break the silence are: “I just want everything to stop.


Even witnessing this with your own eyes in someone so close, in your bed or your house or your heart, depression seems so mysterious.


Equally mysterious is whether there is anything possible you might do to help.


I don’t get depressed.


People ask me in passing, “How are you?” My replies alternate between, “Very well!” and “Excellent!” You just wouldn’t believe how very well I am. Especially if you knew what had come before. You, not knowing, might think I’m just walking my dog, here on this ordinary day on this regular old planet, and you would be astonished at how absolutely excellent I am. 


This must be true. So many people have told me so.


I’ve been building my own careful structure since the divorce. I’m held together by a tight weave of schedule and habit that basically includes me and an 18-pound Chihuahua mix. It’s mine, no matter how brittle it is.


I’ve just gotten back from my first trip home in a year and a half; the first since the plague, since the divorce, and the million other things that have happened and been missed. I’ve gotten back, but I’m still… getting back? It feels like I left a vapor trail of my own atoms all the way from Maine back down the Eastern seaboard, and I’m still waiting for them to catch up with the rest of me. Home has a way of rearranging you…


It’s a long drive to my sister’s first: dog is my co-pilot. On the way up, we’d driven for about five hours before I noticed I hadn’t put any music on. The dog was okay with this: he really hates my singing.


My sister’s place is chaotic with life and growth. My dog was absolutely obsessed with the four chickens roaming her yard, beloved pets in their own feathered right. My sister proudly waggled a couple of eggs they’d just left for her in the open coop: she was pleased because those could go toward the deviled eggs she was making for an honored guest we’d be meeting for the first time. She laughingly warned me to watch for the chicken shit that was liable to appear on the stairs from time to time. I thought of my place, and the word that popped up, of all the options available in the lexicon of sibling rivalry, was “antiseptic.” As in, how could anything even grow there at all?


A couple of hours further northeast is where my mother grew up in a family with six siblings. She still lives close to that spot. Maybe some urge to chaos is genetic (and maybe I’m missing that gene). Mom hasn’t been feeling quite well. We’ve chalked it up to unusual levels of chaos even for her, but she had some testing done anyway, and will do some more. I’d asked to go to the cemetery, where there are a steadily increasing number of folks for me to visit. We went between rain showers, and Mom showed me her own plot, nestled in with her mother’s family graves. There’s a simple black stone there, with Mom’s name and only one date, and I took a picture of her lounging next to it, grinning and flashing the peace sign. She’s got a fantastic sourdough starter, and she portioned out a share for me to take home, and taught me how to feed and care for it, and to make the bread when you’re ready, to knead it, keep it warm and let it rise.   


Dad grew up there too, and our time we spent mostly on his motorcycle, which we rode far enough to get me half the way back to my place if that were the direction we’d headed. But we wandered around Maine instead, across farmland, up to the foot of the mountains, back and forth through the scent of pines and manure, and an assortment of dying towns, including the one I grew up in. There, I asked him to take me up to the house we’d lived in before he and Mom split. In the four years since it sold, it’s become almost entirely unrecognizable. The rides were quiet, despite the engine’s roar. This is perfect for Dad, a notably quiet man, at least on the outside. He told me something funny after our last ride: I’m so still on the back of the bike he hardly can tell I’m there.


While home, wherever possible, I referred to the partial Chihuahua as my life partner. Dad said, “At least he won’t ask you to share your liver,” which made me laugh. Mom’s partner said, “You can do better.” That was also a funny line, and was clearly meant to be supportive. But I thought to myself: “Can I, though?” And then I couldn’t tell who should be more offended. The population of potential partners? Or me?


The world still careens off at its own indifferent speed, and no matter how long the trip is, eventually it’s time to leave. 


So many people have told me how very well I am doing. But so few people can really guess. 


Guess the cost.


That includes me. I headed south, and sailed with my electronic chip through the toll plazas without stopping, without counting.


After a full day of driving, and reconsidering more than one life choice while on the George Washington Bridge at 5 p.m. on a weekday, I finally got back to my place. I unpacked the car into the house, and unpacked every item in every bag and case into its proper place (the tight weave). 


Then, with the house holding on to that strange shut-up smell (does it always smell like this and I just don’t notice?), I went to my bedroom, pulled back the bedspread, blanket and sheet, climbed in, and had nightmares all night.


I haven’t made the bed since.


I don’t get depressed.


I’m just crumbling.


While the bed’s unmade, the blinds are drawn too. I’m telling myself it’s because it’s too hot out. I look endlessly through music to listen to, and then listen to nothing. Things hurt that always hurt, and some other things have started to hurt that don’t usually, and I’ve started looking at the things on my walls and wondering why they’re there. 


(The picture in my bathroom hangs on the wall behind the toilet. It caught my eye as I went to flush. I hung it there, and all I could think is: Why? You never face this way. You massive idiot. Who is this for? Who is any of this for?)


The mirror looks different, wrong, all the hard lines and pleasing curves I usually see in myself are slipping and loosening, is it that the lighting’s bad, because holy shit, my thighs look like pillowcases full of large-curd cottage cheese. Clothes chafe, and even something as simple and stupid as my favorite rings I put on but can’t endure for more than a few minutes. They feel like little nooses, my fingers pulsing and angry underneath them like they’re rejecting a goddamn organ. 


It’s like a cellular rebellion against everything.


Something’s breaking and I can’t even tell what it is.


You think it’s armor: routine and structure. You built a new house with it, and that tight weave turns out to be not even as strong as surgical gauze and tape. It’s not even as strong as a soap bubble, perfect and beautiful, slick and shining, until it pops utterly out of existence at the least shift of breeze, and all your pieces fall apart.


The unmade bed, with its mussed sheets, is a universal visual code for intimacy. But in my bedroom, the tangle just comes from me kicking my feet out, trying to control the night sweats inherent to oncoming menopause.


It’s like I’m leaving it there as a reminder.


I don’t get depressed.


Depressed or crumbling or not sure – if you can relate and you could use some friends who truly understand, please consider joining us in Echoes of Recovery.

Echoes of Recovery

The Loneliness of Loving an Alcoholic
May 6, 2020
Patience: Not just a Skill, a Destination
January 13, 2021
Take a Closer Look: What could this Mean to Your Relationship?
January 17, 2020
  • Reply
    July 21, 2021 at 6:04 am

    I feel all of this deeply. The way you put the feelings into words….I look forward to reading your blog posts because your words explain some of my feelings too. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us.

    • Reply
      July 21, 2021 at 7:23 pm

      Wow, Justine, thank you so much for this note. It’s hard to feel alone when you’re going through this. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but it feels so validating to have you say, “Me, too.” It makes me feel less alone. Thank you. ❤

  • Reply
    Anne Scott
    July 21, 2021 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for sharing Barbara. You have a beautiful gift of writing, sharing the deep experiences of being human. Crumbling seems so much more scary than depression, an unravelling, a rolling down a ravine – that uncertainty triggers my anxiety and yet there is so much power in seeing the truth of the illusion. There is no certainty, just spirit, beautiful spirit. Much love to you on your journey. illusion

    • Reply
      July 21, 2021 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks for your lovely note, Anne! I appreciate your reminder that there is power in feeling these experiences fully. That is easy to forget when so much of recovery is trying to “get through” it rather than “be in” it. I’m so glad to get these chance to connect with you! ❤

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