After a year and a half of her wondering and worrying, there he stood. Black eyes, no coat, belligerent and manic. He was crossing the street at the junction she passed everyday, talking quickly. He had that familiar unstable smile he’d wear when replying to the voice in his head. What was it telling him this time? Are those yesterday’s black eyes? Where is he going? Her mind was racing.
Before turning her car around, she thought, Is this a test? As if giving into the impulse to help him was failing all the work she had done so far. No, she told herself, he needs help. She turned her car around and headed towards the street he was walking down. She saw his shoulders first, perfectly parallel with the ground, then those same old jeans, and dress shoes. Not proper footwear for snow.
It felt all too natural. Her car pulled up beside him, but his gaze was locked ahead. She lightly pressed the car horn to grab his attention, and as his eyes met hers. They didn’t change like eyes do when you see someone you know. Bewildered, she rolled down her window and called his name once, and then again. He turned his head sharply and his face was suddenly very different. It wasn’t him at all. The stranger she now saw continued on his way and she sat there in disbelief, heart pounding.
Despite it being a year and a half since she had seen him, she still carried the pain of seeing his black eyes and how he got them. She still feared for his well-being. The boiling panic in her chest would still happen once in a while, and she would spiral and pray he was safe. Unknown Callers and Private Numbers triggered that familiar co-dependent fear that he needed her, or that he disappeared and was gone for good. It was real, but it isn’t real anymore, she thought. Even though it feels like it is. It’s a story now. It’s a chapter, but just a chapter.
Two years earlier she woke up to sobbing. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. She wrapped herself around his broad shoulders, his chest damp as he inhaled gasps of air. He was a big man, but when he was like this she felt like a rip tide tucking him into her chest.
“My head hurts, baby.” That’s what he would say when she would ask what was wrong. He wasn’t referring to the many times his fist had turned his face purple. He was having intrusive thoughts. He was very private about them. Most nights he left her in their room to get high, so he could pass out and get an hour or two free of consciousness.
At first, they were nightmares. He couldn’t sleep because of these painful, invasive dreams. She knew very little about them. Eventually the nightmares weren’t contained by the night. They invaded his waking thoughts and eventually completely clouded his vision. She would place ice in his hands and tell him to repeat after her.
“What are 5 things right in front of you?” she would ask, trying to alert his senses and distract him from his recurring red herring.
This continued for months, until he was depleted of the urge to keep fighting and she begged him to get help. It all happened very quickly. As she was saying goodbye to him she realized he wouldn’t remember their farewell, but she took a picture of him, so she could. He was unrecognizable.
She spent the first night without him dressed in his clothes, with swollen eyes and an aching chest. Only hours ago she had said goodbye. She kissed him and held him one last time, but the Xanax and alcohol prevented him from being in the reality of that moment.
She didn’t know if she slept, but she opened her eyes to her phone ringing. It was 6 a.m., her phone read Private Caller. That familiar boiling panic pierced her chest.
“Hello?” she answered quickly.
“He’s gone,” the voice said.
She knew this day would come. She had played it through her head many times. His baby picture was in her wallet, she would pray for him every single morning. She wasn’t close to any religion, but prayer was all she had left.
“He ran away. We don’t know where he is. The RCMP are looking for him.” The voice kept talking. It was -25° Celsius. She imagined him waking up in an unfamiliar place, not remembering the hours leading up to then. Panicking. Running.
She thought he was finally safe. “Please find him,” she begged to the voice, heart and hope sinking. Please be safe, she thought, please. She held his picture tightly between her pressed hands. All she could do now was wait.
Jessica Jones is a teacher living in the Manitoba prairies. For the past year she has been actively writing and sharing her experiences with co-dependency, alcoholism, and the impact it’s had on her and her relationships. Her interests include psychology, photography, and her brand-new podcast called Mulch. For more stories and articles by Jessica follow her on Instagram @from.mulch, listen to her podcast Mulch or visit her website frommulch.com