I hear Jeff come briskly down the hall, not long after he’d gotten up and left me burrowed in the bed. I tense. I know that tempo. It’s more dramatic on workdays, when he has on his boots; this morning, he’s wearing soft soles. Jeff wouldn’t march back to our bedroom with such haste and percussion just to grab a forgotten phone or remind me of some quotidian obligation or task. (I need a lot of reminders lately.) No, when he clacks across the hardwood at that particular pace, his footfalls are like Morse code telling me something’s gone catastrophically wrong while we slept. Maybe not a-twister-dropped-us-on-a-witch catastrophic, but something resulting in chaos or loss. One time a dog had raided the rabbitry, and the rabbits that weren’t slaughtered had “degloving injuries,” which is to say they were partially skinned. I sprung into action that morning. We did what we could, and on that occasion, “we” meant “me” for the most part, since I work from home. Right now, though, whatever disaster Jeff is signaling will not be dealt with by me.
It’s a brutish winter, which figures into this story in more ways than one. It turns out that the fish pond (my fish pond, Jeff often reminds me) has heaved up out of the ground and drained due to a convergence of weather-related causes. My koi are in four inches of water, but they’re all alive. We survey the damage to their habitat. Although I have no idea how to fix it, I register that it’s my problem and under normal circumstances I would put on grungy clothes and rubber boots and help out Jeff, who also does not know how to fix it but will figure it out. I can’t go along though. I love those fish—they all have names and we saved Callie twice following what we half-jokingly call suicide attempts— but if their survival depends on me activating now or anytime soon, they will die.
Callie’s jumping out of the pond twice alerted us to a water quality and ecosystem problem, which we addressed. I restored balance by continually adding and adjusting things. That’s what I’ve been attempting in the weeks and months leading up to this moment. For me, not the fish. The way I’m feeling and functioning means it’s time for adjustments—again.
I do manage to make it to the store later. My grocery list is short because I can’t process ingredient lists and recipe steps lately, so I haven’t meal planned in weeks. In fact, my shopping list has just one item but I’ve written it down to be safe. I need a jar of chicken baby food so I can sneak medicine to my sick cat. The nerves that tell his colon to do its job aren’t firing, so he is literally full of shit. The vet said Smudge was the most poo-packed cat he’d ever treated. We were not offered a medal on account of that distinction.
I linger in the aisle too long, preoccupied with the baby food and the ailing cat. Mentally, I eventually come back around to the fish, and to my indefatigable husband who’s repairing their habitat while I just stand here, overcome by choices and sensory inputs. The single jar of baby food rolls around in my hand basket as I shuffle through the store, pausing at the frozen foods. My hands can’t be trusted to grip a slick glass jar all the way to the checkout because upping my meds has made them shaky. Decisions are hard right now, so I’m a wee bit proud of myself when I choose without pause a thin crust mushroom pizza for dinner. That feeling lasts only as long as it takes me to put the pizza in my hand basket.
As a relationship fail this is highly symbolic. We don’t do frozen pizza. I’m not saying we don’t eat our share of lazy meals; we’ve been known to have Lucky Charms for dinner. But for whatever reason, we have come to regard frozen pizza as the culinary equivalent of sweatpants—it’s a sign you’ve given up on life.
But have I?
It’s wintertime. My mental dashboard is iced up. It happens most winters but sometimes even the autopilot switch, which is like that smiley face people in pharma commercials use to mask their depression and go about their business, is inoperable, too.
I try to write about it. I start this post. And it honestly takes me days and days because in my brain things aren’t where they’re supposed to be right now, including my words.
I write this in the present tense, wishing it weren’t happening still, wishing this could be past tense.