content warning: suicidal ideation
I arrive at ERUUF early for my final pre-membership classes. The sky is dull and gray like my mood. Inside the door is a stand of name tags; my eyes immediately find Kevin’s name. My lips press tightly together and I stop breathing. Holy shit, I miss him. I stand there for a moment beginning to shake, then I find my own name right above his. I pluck out my name tag, wrap my arms around myself and walk into the fellowship hall with trepidation. I retreat into myself until my heart starts racing. About to burst into tears, I walk rapidly to the bathroom, hide in a stall and sob silently into my hands.
After classes I drive to my storage unit. I remember him telling me he knew this was hard to deal with myself and he’d come help next time I needed something. My resentment of those empty words is just strong enough to clench my jaw and send me stalking down the facility hallway like someone looking for a fight. I throw up the metal door with a clang. I see the garbage bag full of my abuser’s things next to the camping gear I brought here after the misunderstanding with Kevin, and then I’m actually angry. I nearly throw my camping things down the hall moving them out of the way, and then I see a label I didn’t expect on one of the boxes; “jewelry box, big music books.” Is my choir folder in there? I climb over my bookshelf and onto my desk and kneel, ripping off the packing tape. I dig in and sure enough, there it is, the folder I’ve held performing so much beautiful music; Brahms’ Requiem and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Verdi’s Requiem. I open my jewelry box and nudge the crystal earrings I was married in with one finger. I love those earrings, but I leave them there.
After living through the terrorist attacks in New York, I was hospitalized when I got too depressed and suicidal to manage myself. I lost my job, my boyfriend left me, and life looked bleak. I couldn’t afford my apartment. I was going to need to leave the city. Shortly after being discharged from the hospital I wandered into a jewelry store. A ring drew me immediately; it reminded me of a tiny snowflake and for some reason I felt hope seeing it. Hope was in short supply for me then, too. It fit perfectly and somehow it struck me that affirming my worth with a beautiful gift would make me less likely to throw myself off a bridge. I could ill-afford jewelry but impulsively, stubbornly kept that small fragment of hope bound around my finger and forked over my credit card.
My old ring sits there in the jewelry box; I seize it and remind myself that I am worth loving as I slide it on my ring finger. I close my eyes and plead to the universe for the strength and courage to keep going, blinking away tears.
At night I dream that Kevin calls me. I seize the phone eagerly and feel myself soften hearing his voice. Will I meet him to talk? Yes, of course. I tell him I’m so grateful he called. My voice contains a particular delighted intimacy that is only for him. I feel peaceful. Then I wake up, blinking, reaching out to find the phone. When I realize I dreamed it I cry out and writhe in pain.
When the alarm goes off I roll over and groan, covering my head; I don’t want to. I’m joining the congregation as a member today. I’m performing for the first time in years. It was supposed to be joyful; we were supposed to be together. My joy is gone. Still, I get up and care for myself and make my bed. I try to do some sun salutations. I can’t jump, can’t breathe, can’t hold myself in chaturanga. I am scattered and agitated, anxious and unfocused. Roll around on the fucking floor. Again. I take my bolster and support myself with it, set a timer and lay there, remember the dream, open my eyes. I blink back more tears. I struggle to accept my sorrow and limitations. I practice loving myself as I am. Wrapped in a soft, gray blanket, I imagine I am being held.
My only suitable black bottom is a wide circle skirt I used to wear for dance rehearsals and then as a costume piece under my hijab working at West Point.
I can’t remember the last time I wore makeup; it’s been months. Kevin never saw me in it. I figure it should boost my precarious confidence to see myself beautiful. I swipe diligently at my face with my brushes. I spent years doing this every day when I was an actor, I am good at it. I shade the line of my eyelashes and apply mascara, then paint my lips a muted crimson. When I am finished I blink a few times in disbelief; I look old and sad and tired. Unsure when I turned ugly, I tear my eyes away from the face in the mirror—a face I don’t recognize.
I picked up one more thing from storage. When my abuser returned from Afghanistan he arranged an inordinately lavish surprise for our first wedding anniversary, spending a lot more money than we had to spare for such a celebration. He had me picked up from the airport after a training by a town car for dinner at an obscenely expensive restaurant. After dinner the waiter presented a replicated top tier of our wedding cake–and a blue jewelry box tied with a ribbon. It was a set of pearls of the quality an enlisted man does not buy his wife. I was moved, overwhelmed–and concerned. I think I sputtered out something like “These are so beautiful, thank you, but how…(could we possibly afford these)?”
He assured me he’d budgeted his deployment money. His. In a way that seemed dangerously not up for discussion. He took me upstairs to a hotel suite with roses, chocolate covered strawberries, champagne and morning massages for both of us. I never knew how much money he spent on all of that–like I never knew what he spent any of his money on. For the entire marriage, my income was deposited into our joint account. He never quite got around to doing the same thing although I asked him to repeatedly. Over time he became increasingly comfortable controlling that joint account with the money I’d earned which paid for our groceries and our rent, our utilities and our therapy bills. I went into debt paying for things I suddenly couldn’t cover like my sick cat’s medical care. He transferred money out of that joint account–into his own.
I open the box of pearls. I guess my misery bought me these. I’m unsure whether to keep or sell them. I don’t feel much as I open the box, hang the bracelet around my wrist and put the earrings in my ears. The necklace sits neatly against my collarbones.
I have two pairs of black shoes that aren’t buried in storage; a slinky pair of stilettos and a very modest pair of mules that I’ve worn to a funeral and to court for the weapons hearing. I decide my ankle-length skirt has me covered for modesty and step into the stilettos.
I arm myself with my choir folder and go.