“Never Let Go”
It’s my turn now, the crazy husband with ADHD, to look out for my wife who’s fighting off depression. I love her, and I owe her.
A middle-aged couple walks hand in hand along a rocky beach on a calm late afternoon. A light autumn breeze blows off the lake. You can see the ease of many shared years between them, their conversation a short-hand of few words, a smile, a gesture or two. They stop when he breaks away, runs ahead to pick up a flat piece of driftwood with a triangular shard of colored glass wedged into it, and runs back and presents it to her.
“Amazing, huh? It’s like a sailboat for big beetles and teensy ants. Who’s in charge you think?” She laughs, accepts the gift, and takes back his hand, anchoring his enthusiasms to her, giving them meaning. You can see she’s the steady one, the one in charge. Always has been. He’s fine with that.
They leave the beach as night falls. The full moon lights a path that they follow into the woods. They have flashlights now; they’re heading home. They walk closer to each other, her arm wrapped around his. The tops of the pine trees whip in the gusts of an approaching storm. Thick clouds roll in and cover the moon. But neither of them seems afraid. They’ve been through things like this, and worse before. And they’re together. So they’re OK. She stumbles, recovers, pulls closer to him. She jokes to keep him from worrying, he does the same. But her flashlight fails. No, you have to squeeze it to make it light, over and over. She always has been able to do it before, but as hard as she tries, she can’t now. Exhaustion seems to rush from her hand and arm swallowing the rest of her, and the light slips out of her fingers.
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No bother, he can light their way. And even as everything around them slowly becomes darker, colder, and more unfamiliar, they walk on. But she no longer jokes, and doesn’t respond to his. She doesn’t respond at all – every bit of her surviving energy focused on holding on to him and forcing one stumbling step forward after another as they push through the dense pine forest.
They can’t afford to stop. But he does. The path has ended at a small patch of grass just big enough for the two of them to sit huddled together. The wind has stopped, but the moon is still hidden and it’s cold and getting colder. Neither of them speaks now. His flashlight is getting dimmer, and he doesn’t have the strength to make it brighter. He has to stop trying for a minute and rest. He’ll pick it back up in a second. They wrap their arms around each other and the driftwood boat falls out of her jacket pocket. The embedded green shard of glass shines in the fading glow of his flashlight before it winks out.
“Are you OK?” Margaret asks.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say, and rub my eyes. Our house sits on a hill in Georgia; our bedroom window faces the backyard that slopes down into a small forest within and beyond our back fence. I must have been staring out there for quite a while. “I was just daydreaming,” I say and lean over to her side of the bed and kiss her. We spend a lot of time in bed. Not as much as we did a month or two ago, but usually an hour or so after breakfast, the same after lunch. We read, talk some, hold hands, breathe.
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“You looked so sad,” she says. “I worry that I’m making you miserable.”
“You’re not. You never could.”
She takes my hand. “I mean that this, my depression, fighting it, it’s taken over everything, for almost a whole freaking year. It has to be wearing you out. It’s wearing me down to the bone.”
My wife, Margaret, has been in a long, frightening, and deadening marathon struggle with a steel-cored, sticky, mean-spirited gray depression. This is the worst episode of her clinical depression she’s ever experienced. And though it has been bound and determined to exhaust and smother her with twisted intricate self-hatred that, at times, seemed impossible to untangle before she became completely unraveled and gave up.
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But she never gave up. And now, because of her determination and strength, and with the help of docs and meds, she’s pulling free of its ugly grasp. But yeah, it has been a hard year, especially for this ADHD husband who’s so used to being the crazy one in the family. She’s always been the one who looked out for me. So I not only love her, I owe her. I tell her no, I’m not worn out — I’m fine.
“Liar,” she says. “But I am getting better. And I want you to know something.” She pulls me over to her and hugs me. We’re nose to nose.
“What?” I say.
She kisses me, for a long time. It reminds me of the long romantic fevered kisses when we were first together. Then she pulls back, and looks at me.
“I never would have made it through this without you,” she says.
She woke up first. The storm had passed. It was still cold, but early morning light was sneaking in through the trees. She leaned over, picked up the driftwood boat and put it back in her pocket. When she leaned back against him, she noticed a bright red cardinal land on a branch above them, flutter its wings, fly back the way they had come, and hang a sharp left through a break in the trees. Another path. She woke him, and they were off again, hand in hand, finding their way out of the woods.