I was finally out of tears. They would replenish eventually and flow freely once more, but for now, I had sobbed and shaken and pounded my head into the sparse cot mattress as much as I could. My self-loathing and my fear and my grief had exhausted themselves and me right along with. There was nothing left, just a hollow shell of Matthew, dead inside and with no clue what came next.
I sat up stiffly, robotically as I saw in my mind’s eye a text I had received weeks earlier from my oldest sister. After I had related to her my latest breakdown and my fear of the imminent threat of another, she responded with a simple question; “Have you been doing your meditations?” I had brushed it off then, responding with something uncharacteristically flippant. But I hadn’t been, and only now, in my darkest possible hour, did I realize the importance of her inquiry.
So I stood, wrapped the stained and coarse sheet/blanket around my shoulders, sat on the cold concrete floor with my back against the cold concrete wall, and closed my eyes…
Friday, Fourteen December 2018
The date’s going to be easy to remember, as it was the birthday of a former flame, but its significance has been massively boosted to levels at the same time both nefarious and beautiful.
It started out normally enough. Better, actually, as Jacquelynn and I had both slept pretty well Thursday night. Thursday had been a great day, honestly. Jacquelynn had greatly enjoyed picking through her wardrobe and finding a 10-snap blouse which had been a perennial favorite so long ago. Being 80 or so pounds lighter now, it obviously didn’t fit quite as provocatively as it once had (she had used its snugness to great effect emphasizing her decolletage more than once, much to my thrill), but it made her feel pretty and it brought back fun feelings as I related my adventures working my way through those snaps not so long ago. She had even worn a matching pair of workout pants I had bought her last year which hadn’t been as comfy as she had hoped then, but she was embracing new that day and had enjoyed them all the day long.
But Friday was starting differently. Initially, everything was fine as we were watching a show we both quite enjoy as she was getting in her morning ride on her recumbent exercise bike. Then she began to tell me how she wanted to wear the things we found for her the previous day. Thinking she was referring to the clothes she had so enjoyed, I told her they were all over next to the chair we use to get her dressed. But she wasn’t talking about those, and she was having great difficulty expressing to me what it was she wanted. “White” was about the only point she could successfully communicate, then she reached forward and slapped her hand down on her shoe as she was peddling. White shoes? Yes, she insisted, the white things we found for her yesterday. Not wanting to upset her as there were no white shoes or white anything from yesterday; she had been in all black and loving it all day Thursday, I told her that she could show me when she was finished with her ride.
That didn’t work for her. Her difficulty getting me to understand was making her angry at herself and at me, too. She wanted to get off the bike, so I helped her up and, at her request, to the bathroom, where she grew angrier and began again to cry. When she came out, she was full-on riled, and almost instantly began ranting about where was she and what was I doing there? She charged for the door on her normal escape trajectory when these episodes hit, and I moved to block her. “You know what’s happening, Jacquelynn”, I told her firmly. “Stay calm. I’m not going to let you do this to yourself again.” Then began her calls for help. She does this when she feels lost and trapped. The time she went to the hospital for this, the visit that led to her diagnosis, culminated with me restraining her outside as she tried to run away toward the busy highway behind the house. She repeated her calls for help, and I loosened my grip, hoping to do as I usually do, and lead her around the house evoking memories around familiar (preferably shared) items and places throughout the home. By now, we were essentially shouting at one another as I seemed to descend into the same hole she was in, though I was totally unaware of that descent at the time. Then she lashed out at me with one of my old tricks; I often invoke her memories of people, and a couple of times, bringing up her reconciliation with her father before his death has helped. “Your dad!”, she shot at me, and I was instantly furious. I shouted at her and berated her for mentioning him when she never met him. “He’s been dead thirty-six god damned years”, I vividly remember shouting at her, demanding an apology. She wanted to go downstairs now, but her knees were wobbling and she was shaking furiously as she responded with maddening calm and a soft and reasoned apology. Badly as she was shaking, I wouldn’t let her take the stairs, but my fury was fading, so I very firmly guided her back to the bed, to sit safely. I didn’t realize it then, but I do now as she did then, but I was the one having a panic attack, fully realized and greater in magnitude than I ever had before. Our roles had shifted as I raged at her about my father and now she was in full control and mine was long lost in the rearview mirror.
Relative calm was eventually restored, but I was still in a very dark place. I don’t recall much vivid detail of the next while, but she wanted Joyce’s input, as our neighbor and her only real friend in the area was often a calming influence on her and myself both, though she had never really seen me incensed like this. Joyce was just out walking her dog and Jacquelynn couldn’t get her attention through the closed doors, so I turned the key roughly and flung the screen door wide so she could shout just as Joyce was getting ready to go back inside her own house. she came over at Jacquelynn’s begging, and I retreated upstairs. This wasn’t a moment I was eager to share, so I fled to the upstairs landing where I got dressed out of sight from below, then sat in the hall to sulk.
Listening to Jacquelynn struggle to explain to Joyce what had happened and why she needed her help, it was clear that Joyce wasn’t getting it. “She’s trying to tell you that she’s afraid of me, and I think she probably should be.” “Come on down here, Matthew,” Joyce plead with me. “I’d rather not.” I was in full self-loathe by this time, and as I came down, Jacquelynn was relating to Joyce how I had hurt her, making motions with her arms flailing, implying how I had flung her around forcefully.
What? I don’t remember that. Dammit, I did NOT do that! I’ve NEVER hurt her, and I said so. “Until now” was her sullen reply. No. “I’m going for a walk”. And I did. I was gone 30 or 40 minutes I think, and I had by then convinced myself that if I had hurt her, especially if I had done so and didn’t fucking remember it, then she was obviously completely unsafe around me. Something had to be done. Lots of things to do occurred to me, too. Maybe she’d be best off if I just weren’t there anymore. Of course, I could never live with myself if I just abandoned her, so the best answer would be if I…
By the time I got home, I had finished that thought and had it firmly in my mind. No actual plan for making it happen, but a determination that it was the only answer. Joyce left as soon as I returned, and I told Jacquelynn that I was going to arrange for her care then I was going away forever. She would be safer, and that was all that mattered to me. When I picked up the phone, though, I knew who I was going to call.
“9-1-1, what is the address of your emergency?”
I submitted myself for a psychiatric evaluation. She said I hurt her, and if I did, she’s not safe around me. I NEED to know if she’s safe around me. After a prolonged police interview of Jacquelynn and myself individually, we went to the hospital in an ambulance. It wasn’t until after I had answered every possible question with total honesty at least twice and traded my clothes for a hospital gown, signing receipts for them and my valuables, that I was informed that this was an involuntary 72-hour hold. I was essentially under arrest for 3 days. WTF?! Jacquelynn isn’t safe on her own for more than an hour or so! Three fucking days? NO. God. Damned. Way.
But I had signed the consent to treat, and I unless I jumped the security guard and stole her handgun, I wasn’t going anywhere. I was on suicide watch and in hospital custody for at least 72 hours.
Fortunately, Joyce answered my call and came to get Jacquelynn. She’d care for her as best she could, following the instructions I hastily jotted down on the paper provided by my nurse. worry about caring for myself, she’d take care of her “Lynnie”.
For insurance (or lack thereof) purposes, I was transferred downtown to another facility. the tenth-floor psych ward at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati. Four concrete walls, a bathroom with a fabric “door”, and a plastic bedframe under a 4″ thick “mattress”. Two sheets, two pillows, and a six-story drop should you figure a way out the triple-paned windows with quarter-inch plexiglass secured to the frame with sheet metal screws. Even the mirror in the bathroom was metal screwed into the wall. No glass to be found.
It wasn’t until the nurse came around about 30 or so minutes in that I learned the real killer news: the 72-hour hold doesn’t include the weekend. I would be in here until at least Wednesday. I couldn’t even react. Not the way my mind screamed at me to, anyway. Rage and fear at what I had done, leaving Jacquelynn for five fucking days? If things with Joyce go even a little badly, she could be catatonic or dead by the time I get out of here! I wanted to rage and run and steal a car to get home to my wife! What in the holy hell had I done to her? What the fuck was I going to do now? When the nurses were done with my vitals and physical check, they left me alone, and I collapsed onto the bed, sobs convulsing my body as my tears soaked the slightly medicinal-smelling sheets.
…Unsurprisingly, nothing earth-shattering or paradigm-shifting happened in the first few minutes of my meditation. I breathed deeply, shifted my posture a few times, and simply observed the shifting patterns of color behind my eyelids as my imagination played with the minimal light finding its way through my closed eyes. Eventually, patterns developed. The lights led me deeper. Shapes of eyes, unblinking and all-seeing, pulled my awareness inward. I have no more recollection than that of anything I may have seen or perceived, and I’m sure I dozed at some point, but hours passed unnoticed. I think I even got up and walked around the sparse room, maybe even up and down the uncrowded halls, never making eye contact with anyone, but vaguely noting appearances and minor details. There is now a dinner tray in my room, a few green beans eaten and one bite taken from a disgusting “double chocolate bundt cake”, per the slip on the tray. The fish is of unknown origin and I won’t touch it, the “rice pilaf” so golden yellow it appears to have been spray painted. Since I’m pretty sure this place isn’t using real saffron in it’s “nutritionally balanced” fare, I seem to have decided to leave that alone as well. Honestly, I don’t recall much of anything during that time with any clarity.
Friday night. I’ve spoken briefly to a couple of people, and I managed to speak to Joyce and Jacquelynn briefly. That didn’t help, as Jacquelynn had refused to stay with Joyce and insisted on staying home alone. At least she wouldn’t be upstairs, but would be sleeping in her recliner instead. I stayed up until they turned the television off at midnight (Central Intelligence with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart was better than I would have expected), then I returned to my room, where I discovered that the clock was also a radio. Killing the interminable silence did help a bit, at least. Moving the cot to a more “comfortable” spot in the room (cell?) did not make the cot itself comfortable in any way, though, but sleep wasn’t really on my agenda anyway.
More meditation was. From midnight until about 2 a.m. More eye shapes. Gently, I begin to allow myself to relax. “Let go, and let God…” repeats on a loop through my subconscious. I feel my breathing deepen, and stabilize. My pulse, which has been pounding in my throat for the last 15 hours or so, slows and finds its normal rhythm. The colors coalesce once more and lead me deeper. No longer either conscious or asleep, understanding begins to grow.
I’ve skirted the facts a bit recently; admitting them on the surface but never truly embracing them. I have held onto hope and let it cloud my decision making. I have delayed and denied the need to seek the help we need. It is also true that I have failed to care for the caregiver, and in that failure, I have failed the patient, who is also my wife. I failed to stay in touch with my center, with my true self and with the divinity that lives within us all. My sister was right, and in failing to listen to her, I had failed on every level. But this failure was NOT permanent, was not irreversible, was most definitely NOT fatal, to me or to Jacquelynn.
My gentle mutterings, my “mantra” shifted in mid-sentence. “Let go and let God” became my tried and true “Life happens FOR us, not to us…” With that shift, it was made clear to me that this, too, was happening FOR us, showing me the way forward. My eyes jolted open, my thoughts clear and focused. I know now why I am where I am. Without this wretched experience, this closed environment shut off from all distractions, I would never have retreated within, never sought my answers in the only place they could truly be found.
Saturday morning came very, very early. My interview with the psychiatrist netted me the best evaluation I could hope for. He was impressed with my retreat into meditation and concurred that having gotten away from that habit had indeed been costly. No, he would not consider discharging me today, but tomorrow was a real possibility. Certainly, he assured me, I would NOT be here for five days. I should participate in group therapies and continue to meditate and look within. I should take full advantage of the situation I am presented with, and my discharge would be considered based upon my progress and the input of my nurses, therapists, and the opinion of the psychiatrist going forward.
Saturday was about 3 weeks long, but I was able to talk to Jacquelynn a couple of times. No, things were not all peach blossoms and fairy dust at home, and poor Joyce was stressed to her limits and beyond. But I convinced Jacquelynn to stay with her overnight, so I knew she would at least be safe, if very stressed. But I got through and even had a very positive experience in one group. sunday began with a quick wink and nod from my nurse, a smile preceding a remark that I would probably be going home today. My suicide threat status had been downgraded from imminent to moderate, which is low as it could possibly be given my statements at the hospital. By noon, I was wearing my own clothes again and awaiting the return of my valuables. At one, I was in an Uber and on the way home.
Life changes. I managed to save myself, to walk myself back from the ledge and to survive to care for the most important person in my life, the way I promised to do on April 7th of last year, when I stood on our cul-de-sac among friends and family and put the rings on her hand that no longer fit because she’s still losing weight. I will never lose track of what’s truly important again. I will never skip a single day of meditation again.
Sunday was spent in the arms of my beloved. Nothing else mattered. I fed her, I bathed her, and I basked in her presence as she did in mine. I’m so glad I got sent home on Sunday, as there are no calls I can make to accomplish a single damned thing today. There is zero guilt in spending the day celebrating our reunion. Tomorrow will begin an onslaught of calls and inquiries which will undoubtedly last the week, but today is ours, and it is the greatest day of my life.
Until tomorrow, anyway.