I did not want to do this, but my therapist said it would help me heal. Most importantly, apparently, was to allow myself to remember her. Her appearance, I remember. Her smile and shiny gray eyes. Her name is another story. I can’t remember it. Dr. Velasquez says my trauma isn’t letting me remember it. At this point, I don’t think I can remember how to act if I actually do heal.
I dragged my suitcase and grocery bags through the narrow doorway into the livingroom, where the walls were no longer a bright lime green but a sad, faded shade. Every step I took set off a dust storm that revealed the dark color of the hardwood floors. I set my bags on the cloth covered couch and moved into the rest of the tired house.
The kitchen looked the same, but it felt completely different. I closed my eyes and I could imagine my mother-in-law’s famous lasagna cooking in the stove as I could hear the sound of children’s laughter echoed through the room. A perfect day in the life of a perfect family. No one sadly consoling their grieving wife or realising they lost a child like I was just months ago.
I turned to leave the room and move upstairs. Walking up the stairs, I felt nonexistent hands hug my waist as I was thrust into an old memory.
“How was work today Will?” Her sweet voice questioned, making me smile.
I rested my hands above hers before I answered, my signature smirk plastered on my face. “It was great, I think my boss is going to give me a promotion soon.”
“Really?” She responded in fake excitement, “I bet it is because you love me.” And she laughed her beautiful laugh, filling me with joy.
“You don’t have to bet, I do love you, as if you couldn’t tell,” I say as I turn around and hug her.
I stumble on the stairs as I regain a sense of when and where I am. It was probably twelve years ago when my wife and I had that conversation on these very stairs. My shoulders twitched as
I realised I was crying silent tears and instead of continuing up the stairs only to be reminded of her, I decided it was best to go down into the basement studio. My therapist said I have to face the memories, but she never said I couldn’t take a break.
The first thing I saw was the large canvas that sat on an easel in the center of the room. It was blank, just like my heart and mind had been when I last saw it. She called it my magnum opus, before everything went South.
“Will!” She yelled happily from the basement, “Come see what I got you at Michael’s.”
“Alright hon, just a second!” I called back as I bounded down the stairs, a skip in my step.
In the center of the room, the first thing I saw was the large canvas on an easel. The second thing I saw was our youngest daughter playing on the floor. The third thing I saw my wife, hiding behind the canvas, smiling.
“How much do you think you can make off of it?” She questioned before I could thank her.
“No one wants to buy a blank canvas, maybe once I paint it I’ll be able to estimate,” I retort playfully. Back in reality, tears are still blurring my vision, and I blindly grab one of the many boxes of paints and brushes in the room as I begin to paint the canvas, trying to bury the memory under paint. I don’t think of what I’m painting, but instead of my family, the thing I’m trying to get my mind off of.
Before I went crazy, and before I lost my wife, we were a happy family. We had twins named Owen and Olivia, born the October before we were married. When they were seven, and my wife and I were twenty-six, she told me she was pregnant with our third child. And, of course, as any to-be parents would, we celebrated.
Mazie was born in May, and she was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of three. Our happy family dinners turned to evenings waiting in the hospital for test results, and I could tell my wife became a shell of her former self. I started taking her to therapy after she was diagnosed with depression, but she wasn’t getting any better. I wasn’t either, and I’m still not. The past became my present as I was forced from one memory to another, playing like a broken record in my mind, set off by the most mundane things.
For days I woke up from nightmares, seeing Mazie’s body as she lied in the hospital bed, waiting to die. Seeing the joy leave my wife’s eyes with every session of chemotherapy. All the little things would throw me into memories that I did not want. I did what I taught myself to do, drink. Wrist deep in paint, elbows deep in alcohol, shoulders deep in memories.
After Mazie died at the age of four, my wife couldn’t handle it any longer. Not even a year later she was gone. I fell victim to the alcohol and I asked my sister if she could raise the twins, because I sure couldn’t. Everytime I think of it I tell myself that it's for them, it's the best that I can do, I know it's not.
It has been eight months since I moved back into this old house, but it has passed by in a blur or repetitive tantrums, panic attacks, and drunken painting sessions. Today felt different though, but I couldn’t remember why. I had a horrendous headache probably caused by the empty whiskey bottle on my nightstand. Stepping away from the canvas, I took a couple of Advil to silence the banging in my head.
In the center of the room, the first thing I focused on was the paint-covered easel. The second thing I saw was the painted forest of destruction and raw emotion that now lived on the canvas. The third thing I saw was a pair of silver-gray eyes placed on the silhouette of a woman hiding behind a tree, like my wife once hid behind the canvas, smiling.
I slowly approached the painting, like I was approaching a ghost, and in some ways I was. The painting was the same as the scene of her suicide. The navy blue Ford Focus was crashed into the tree and she was hiding behind it, smiling at me with our daughter in her hands. Something in the tree branches caught my eye. When I took a step back I realized I had made them spell something out.
I walked through the door and felt the stale air leave my lungs. I glanced into the old house before I left, and I checked to see if everything looked the same as when we had left it, but it was different. We, me and her, best friends and life partners. We no longer existed. Now it was just me, and I knew the house reflected it. Once upon a time we left the house, now it was only me. Who knew the simple flip of a letter would cause so much pain? And who knew complete self-destruction would be my only salvation? I definitely didn’t, but as I left the house with the painting in hand, I called Owen and Olivia and asked them if they wanted to come back.
I peered through the door and I felt the need to remove the stale air from my lungs. I glanced around the old house as I exited, and I checked to see if anything looked the same as when we had left it, but it was all different. We, me and her, best friends and life partners. We no longer existed. Now it was just me, and I knew the house reflected it. Once upon a time we left the house. Who knew the simple flip of a letter would cause so much pain? And who knew complete self-destruction would be my only salvation? I stepped off the porch, painting in hand. Embracing the thought of her, the one women I spent so much time forgetting, I called my children, asking them to come home. As the rings came through over the phone, I shut my eyes, and I saw the branches, as if they were burned onto my retinas.
E. M. I. L. Y.