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Dark Night

If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling. — Dr. R.W. Shepherd

By the time I turned off the faucet, something within me had shifted. It must have happened while I was washing my hands because I remember feeling normal when I entered the bathroom. I removed my glasses, set them on the granite counter beside the sink, and positioned my face an inch away from the mirror, where I could see every clogged pore, every unauthorized brow hair. Fingers that seemed to belong to someone else besieged my face, pushing here, pinching there, until my reflection appeared Picasso-esque to my mind’s eye — all nose, chin, and cheek, more an accumulation of features than a coherent image I would ever recognize as me. I switched off the light, felt my way to the towel rack, grasped it with both hands, and pressed my forehead against the wall.

I’m not sure how long I stood there in the dark, devoid of thought or motivation to move. But when I heard David’s voice in the other room asking if I was okay, it occurred to me that what I was doing might be perceived as “not okay.” I extracted myself from the bathroom and joined David in the kitchen, where he was loading the dishwasher. “Hey, there you are,” he said. “How are you doing?” I smiled blankly, said I was fine. Then I caught a glimpse of the digital clock on the microwave. It read 12:34 a.m. — A.M.! Pressure must have been building beneath my consciousness because suddenly my brain erupted with thoughts, an army of words and ideas that, like so many stars in the sky, were impossible for me to keep track of.

I grabbed a sharp plastic toothpick and absentmindedly probed and jabbed at my teeth, working out broccoli bits and black pepper as I watched David finish. Once he’d wiped down the counter, David looked up and a peculiar expression came over his face. “What’s wrong? What’s on your mind?” he said.

Speaking around the toothpick, I said, “Nothing,” and continued poking at my teeth. David waited. “I mean nothing’s wrong,” I said, still thrusting at my gums. “It’s just that I’m looking at the time and I’m trying to figure out how to plan tomorrow — I wanted to wake up early and go to the gym before that meeting I have downtown, but now that I see how late it is, I don’t think there’s enough time for me to get there and get back and shower and dress, and then I guess I’m thinking about all the other things I want to get done tomorrow, all those emails I haven’t responded to, those calls I have to return, and it’s just, well, it’s just…maybe I’m a little overwhelmed. But I feel fine; I really do.”

I mustered a smile, half of which was blocked by the toothpick. David put one arm on my shoulder, and with the other, he snatched the mangled toothpick from my fingers. He turned around to throw it away, saying, “I don’t know what you were doing to yourself there, but I think you’re done with — Hey, hey, what is it?” I broke into sobs, huge heaving sobs, flooding my face with tears. I shook my head back and forth as I wept — I had no answer for him. My day had been ideal: I’d attended a step class with my sister Jane in the morning, helped her out in the afternoon by silently reading a book while her baby daughter napped, then shared wine, snacks, and a slide show of our recent excursion with guests. There was simply no reason for my behavior.

I tried to escape David’s embrace, turning left, then right, but his arms were always there. He repeatedly asked me what was up, but I had no words to offer him. He kept trying to catch my eye, but I glared wildly away, afraid of the care and concern I might find on his face. Words bubbled inside me, and I eventually managed to get them out: “Don’t you see? That toothpick was holding everything together,” I said, braving a peek at David’s face. “And when you took it away, I fell apart.” David chuckled.

For a moment, I was irritated with myself for the unfounded melodrama, but then a surge of emotion — a cross between anxiety and agony — washed over me, and the next thing I knew I was gasping for breath. Between gulps for air I murmured, “I can’t…I can’t do it…it’s too much…there’s no time.”

David valiantly tried to keep my cheeks dry, but I was too much for his sleeves. In his naturally soothing voice, he said, “C’mon, take some long, deep breaths. Look, you don’t have any more on your plate this week than you did last week. You’ll get it all done. Everything’s going to be just fine. Now please stop scratching at your neck.” He grabbed my hand and held it. “Come on, it’s late. You don’t have to go to the gym in the morning; you don’t have to go to the party tomorrow night. There’s plenty of time for everything.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling myself calm down. “Stay right here,” said David. “I’m going to go get you something to help you sleep.”

Filled with neurotic energy, the idea of lying down horrified me. “I can’t go to sleep,” I called into the other room. “I mean, I don’t want to. I’m not tired.” David returned and handed me half of a Xanax. “I don’t need this,” I said. “I’m fine.” He smiled and then proffered a bottle of water. I took it. “I still don’t want to go to bed, though,” I said.

“Well, what do you want to do?” David asked. I looked around, frantic for a task.

“I’ll wash the dishes.”

“I already did that,” said David.

“No, you loaded the dishwasher,” I said. “I’ll wash the dishes by hand.”

David shrugged and stepped aside so I could get to the sink. For 20 minutes I fixated on the hot water as I scrubbed away the demons. When I’d finished, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I turned off the water and David appeared at my side. “Are you ready for bed now?” he asked. David led me upstairs, where I crawled beneath the comforter and pressed my face to the pillow. As the fog of sleep began to envelop me, I mumbled to David, “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?” I wasn’t awake long enough to hear his reply.

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