A woman loses what's dearest to her.
| I sat up in bed and stretched quietly, adjusting to the sights and sounds of the waking world. Bright light strewn through the curtains gave insight into the beautiful day ahead. I drew a deep breath; back then, most days were beautiful to me. So, I woke myself up and began my routine like any other beautiful day.
As I started my coffee, I recited to myself the things I was grateful for; life, my loving husband, our home, a working coffee maker. Every morning I took our dog out on a short walk while the coffee brewed. I believed that a morning walk was essential to my wellness, the vitamin D release, the soothing sounds of the waking birds. I always took the same path, down a block and a right turn to admire my neighbor’s flowers. I’d talk to the woman many mornings. She was up in her years, a retired teacher who took so much pride in her garden. The common poppies along the road were my favorite, accented with booms of lemongrass that when stroked left my hands with a pleasant smell all the way home. Some days it felt like the poppies were a special gift from God to me, there to lift my spirits a little higher each day. As I turned the corner I was stricken by the sight of the once lively, red petals, churned into the mud by the tire of some drunk or tired driver who had misjudged the curb. Damn, I thought, nearing the carnage. Some of the flowers were hanging on by only threads of xylem and phloem. Pieces of lemongrass were dragged into the street with green fleshy streaks. I turned back towards home with a heavy heart.
I went about the rest of my morning as usual, drinking my coffee at my desk while I checked the news. I wrote out my todo list and spent the rest of the day tidying up the house. Around five my husband arrived home. We had a sort of ritual when it came to greeting each other every day. With the same enthusiasm and love as the day before, we smothered each other with affection. Our love was like a honeymoon phase that had never ended. We always took a moment to cuddle on the couch and recap our days before starting dinner. That evening we were having Shepherd’s pie, his favorite, my favorite.
After spending the day with no appetite I was very eager to dig in while streaming our favorite show, lights off, feet up, the dream. After starting the potatoes, I realized we were out of cheddar; it was so critical to the flavor, we couldn’t go without it. So he offered to run down to the store quickly to grab a bag, in and out, then back home before the dish was ready to go in the oven. As he walked out the door I kissed him and handed him my card. When the headlights turned away, I saw the crushed poppies. I imagined that if the neighbors wouldn't frown from their porch steps, that I would have dug my fingers into the mud and plucked the soft petals free from the earth. I'd carry them home and rinse them off, then dry them for my own safekeeping. I quietly cursed the one who snuffed them out while stirring the beef in the skillet.
I was startled when the timer rang for the potatoes. I didn’t realize I had zoned out for so long and I had forgotten to turn the heat down when the water started to boil. The steam reddened my arms as I drained the water from the pot, and as I mashed the potatoes with spices and cream I looked towards the clock. Thirty minutes had passed. The store was only five minutes down the road so he'd be back soon, I thought, just in time for the oven to finish preheating. I finished up the prep, layering the sections into the pan, and waited. When ten minutes had passed I called him, no answer. I called again, no answer. He always had his phone on silent; I groaned.
Now an hour had passed since he had left. He loved to bring me home little gifts, maybe he had stopped by the gas station to grab me chocolate- no, an hour is too long for just a stop, especially when grabbing supplies for dinner. I checked the oven, preheated, and the dish was starting to get cold. I started to call him again, as the phone rang I saw highlights pull in. My heart leapt, I felt so relieved. I rushed to greet him at the door, lips primed for a bombardment of kisses. I stepped on the porch to see, not my husband, but two officers. A man and a woman, in a spark of intuition, crushed poppies flashed through my mind. The petals became flesh and blood in my eyes as I tumbled forward off the porch and onto the walkway below.
I came to in a hospital bed, my husband, where is he, where is he? The nurse called for the officers and more nurses. I could barely hear myself, but I could feel it in my throat that I was screaming. They released a syringe into the tube in my arm. Several nurses stood by me, one stroking my hair and another holding my hand with smooth, cold fingers. I sank into the pillow. I hadn't eaten and had nothing to throw up. I gagged sporadically as the snot and tears blinded me, stinging my chin and cheeks. Minutes felt like seconds. They told me that he had died on impact when a drunk driver dozed off and crossed the median, hitting him head-on. I passed out.
I was not released immediately. After being informed that my mother was at my house, taking care of the pup, I spent a week in the psychiatric ward. Every day felt like hours. My head was empty, my skin was numb, and my chest felt hollow- except for the dull thud, reminding me that I am alive, and he isn’t. I couldn't stop the tears; the nurses would gently wipe my face and tell me to breathe. On Tuesday I was released, one week and a day had passed.
My mother picked me up from the hospital and took me to her home, where my pup was. We didn’t talk, but she walked me to my childhood room where I slept for most of the day. Around 7 she brought me a dinner plate. I couldn't eat, I watched the steam dissipate and the surface of the untouched meal harden over. I thought about the dish on the counter, growing colder. I thought about the poppies... My mother told me his funeral was the next day at 3 pm. She told me she would be there with me, that I didn’t have to speak, but that attending might help me gain some closure. I felt every word, in a way I hadn't in the past week. I threw up stomach acid. I could feel his body in the casket, like the invisible rope that connected us was still intact. I wanted to go to him, but my legs were much too weak.
That night my mother slept on the floor beside me. I laid awake into the depths of the night. My ears rang with the tension of my clenched jaw. I slipped out of the bed, and through the cracked door, through the hallway, and into the bathroom. I stood bracing myself with my hands on the sink. In the mirror, I didn't see myself. I saw a young girl, with knotted hair, and a swollen disgusting face. She had empty, red eyes, and her shoulders were pushed up to her chin, she was hunched like a scared animal. I sat down on the floor. I bit my cheeks until they bled and looked around for a solution to my growing desperation.
I studied the shower-curtain rod; it was bolted into the wall unlike the one in my bathroom, this could hold. I gently removed the curtain from the hooks and slowly placed them on the floor, any sharp sound could ruin everything. I double knotted the curtain around the rod, pulling once more to make sure it would hold. I didn't know how to tie a noose, so I stood on the edge of the bathtub on the tips of my toes and looped the curtain around my neck, pulling it tightly and double knotting it once again. Then I stepped off. In an instant, the rod broke free from the anchors and I blacked out as my skull cracked on the tile floor.
I woke up once again in the hospital, in some sick state of deja vu, the nurses were all around me. I was told I had just come out of surgery, my skull was fractured in the attempt but they assured me I would be okay. I felt nothing. I thought about the common Poppies, just dead flowers on the side of the street. I remembered my home, I remembered my dog, I remembered my husband, whose funeral I missed. He was dead like the poppies.
After two weeks I was moved from the ICU to the psychiatric ward once again. My mother stuck beside me until the last moment. I told her I appreciated it and turned towards the empty hallway of the ward. As I was wheeled through the multiple locked doors, I watched the patterns on the walls blur, it was almost entertaining. I saw the familiar faces of the ward nurses ahead. They greeted me with pitiful eyes that told me they knew I would be back. I told them I just wanted to sleep.
Weeks passed, I colored pages and read magazines while the nurses asked me repetitive questions about how I was feeling. I gave them my honest answer, I'm not. They diagnosed me with Schizoid Personality Disorder. The doctor told me that it was likely a result of the brain injury I sustained during my attempt. He told me that the disorder is characterized as a lack of emotional response to stimuli, positive or negative. He told me I would have a hard time sustaining meaningful relationships with those around me, as well as in finding pleasure in my daily life. He said that with the proper coping skills I could one day return to a normal life on my own. After my meeting, I went back to coloring.
Eventually I was moved to the residential unit, an area designated for long-term patients. This section of the ward was a lot more homey. Unlike the acute ward that was designed to hold patients who were an immediate danger to themselves until they returned to normal, residential was for those who would likely never know normalcy again, might as well make it comfortable. A nurse showed me to my new room. She explained that It was pretty plain right now, but I could add to the decorations in any way I want, as long as there was no violent imagery. I entered the room and placed my belongings on the floor, above the bed hung a canvas print, a picture of a bright red Poppy.