“Tenley Michelle Grace, get your lazy bum out of bed this instant. It’s a new day, already mid-afternoon and you’re wasting it away. Again,” my mother, Maria, says as she tosses open the heavy-light concealing drapes I’d had installed when moving back in. Up until two seconds ago, said drapes were doing their job, helping to keep the sun at bay. The most enjoyable thing about them? They shroud my bedroom into complete and utter darkness.
“Mama…” I let out on a long-overdrawn sigh. “I was sleeping. To me that’s considered being productive. Some of my best plot lines come from my dreams. Besides, I wasn’t ready to wake up yet. It’s barely noon and I haven’t been asleep for long. The sun was rising as I was finally, blissfully, drifting into sleep. Please, let me have a few minutes longer,” I beg. Trust me, I know begging is not becoming. Especially coming from a fully grown adult woman. But I’m depressed and if begging wins me some more sleeping hours, I’ll beg.
“Baby girl, it’s not ‘barely noon’, as you’ve said. It’s nearly three. Which means your father will be on his way home in a few minutes from playing a round of golf with the guys. We wouldn’t want him to find out you’ve slept the whole day away again. Would we?”
She does have a valid point.
Moving back into my parents’ house has been an adjustment for all of us. Proving way more difficult for my father than the rest of us. He enjoyed the lifestyle of an empty nester far more than my mother ever has. He went as far as getting falling down drunk the day he learned I was leaving my home empty to move back in with them. My homecoming was less than cordial.
Since moving into my parents’ home, a mere month ago, I haven’t risen before noon once. On the other hand, I haven’t been able to fall asleep before dawn once either.
It’s hard to sleep without Michael’s arms around me. In fact, it’s nearly unbearable. The nights I do find relief, I’m plagued by nightmares. The kind where I’m in the plane with Michael when he loses all control and plunges into the ocean’s unforgiving depths. On those nights, I wake wrapped up in sheets, covered in sweat, and crumbled into a ball—eventually crying my tear ducts dry. Ambien helps, but I hate taking a pill to sleep. I’m stubborn and I believe it makes me feel somehow, less. As if depending on a drug to sleep makes me less of a person. The nights I do take it, sleep comes for a few hours—six if I’m lucky—before it starts all over again the next day. The only positive thing about taking the pill? The nightmares happen less.
My aversion to taking pills doesn’t stop with my sleeping aide. No. Not me. Why be normal when you’re already slightly insane. My depressed state causes me to have to rely on several medications to get through a ‘normal’ day for me. Whatever normal is.
Depression, to put it mildly, sucks major balls.
And costs a mint. Yes, even with insurance co-pays I’m slowly depleting my bank account. My deadline for my newest novel has come and gone. It’s so overextended that I fear my publisher is going to drop me. Who wants a romance novelist that writes about a broken heart with no happy ending in sight?
Sighing again, I utter the words I know will make mama happy.
“Okay, Mama, I’ll get up. I’ll go take a shower before daddy’s home; he won’t have to know I was still sleeping. I know it upsets him to see me still depressed and not getting my life back together. Don’t worry, we won’t have another fight today. I’m sorry. I’ll try harder to be better, I promise.”
It seems like I’m making this promise more and more lately. Not only to myself but to everyone around me. Honestly, it’s a promise I vow to keep. I’m thirty-five, I don’t want to be this shell of a person forever. The Tenley I was once is still there. She’s hiding, I only have to find her. If the road is rocky, I’ll climb over the rocks. Filled with cracks, I’ll bring along some crack filler. The point is, I want to be the old Tenley, I need to be the old me.
“He only has your best interests at heart, baby girl. We both do. Our intentions are only meant to help you, Tenley. We all miss Michael, but we miss you much more,” Mama says from where she stands staring wistfully out my bedroom window.
Missing him is my favorite pastime. I miss him every single second of every single day. With every inhale and every exhale of every breath I take. With every lone solitary beat of my heart. Every day I wake without him feels like winter. My heart has completely frozen over. I'd hoped moving in here would help aide the thawing process, but thus far, no such luck. My veins still feel like they're filled with ice. Each breath I take, I feel the ice crackling but never fully breaking. My heart is enclosed in an ice case, waiting for someone to take a pickax to it. I’m ready for the thawing process to begin.
“Have you given another second thought to seeing Dr. Beesley?” Mama asks.
Only with every single waking moment, of every day. When I’m not thinking about Michael.
My family physician has recommended I see a therapist for almost a year now. It's time for me to take the final step. One I should've taken months ago. Calling her office. Booking an actual appointment, one I’ll force myself to keep.
“Yes...I have her information. I’ll go take a shower, but would you sit with me while I make the call? I could use your strength while placing the call to make the appointment. I’m tired of living this way, Mama. I’d like to find myself again.”
Even if I say it tentatively, it’s the God’s honest truth. I need to find myself. The woman I know I can be again. If I have to crawl through hell to find who I was at the tender age of twenty-one, I will. My life when I met Michael was starting to blossom, all roses, irises, sunflowers, and lilies. His love made my garden grow. Now all that’s left are thorns and weeds. Not any decent weeds either, like a dandelion. At least if I had those, I could make some wishes.
“I think it sounds like a wonderful idea, dear. After your shower would you like to run to the store with me? Luellen called a bit ago to tell me my book order has arrived. I told her I’d be in a while later to pick them up. I’d also like to stop by the meat shop to get some ribeye steaks for dinner. Would going those two places be too much?” she asks.
It’s the third time this week she’s asked me to run errands with her. It’s about to be the third time I turn her down. Snap out of it, Tenley!
“Uh, okay, I guess. I’d like to see Luellen; it has been awhile. If I don’t feel like going inside the meat shop, I’ll stay in the car. Yes, I’ll go with you, Mama,” I reply.
The expression of shock on her face gives her away. She didn’t think I’d say yes to going with her. It’s sad to think about her getting used to my saying no. I hate knowing my parents are used to my disappointing them. No child likes to think they’ve disappointed their parents. Sadly, it’s not a foreign feeling to me. I’ve been knowingly disappointing Maria and Stewart Cleary for my whole life. Well, maybe more when it comes to daddy. Mama is the more easy-going parent, the kind hearted one, with a gentle soul. Daddy? Not as much. He’s the stern one, the rule maker and most importantly, the enforcer.
“While you get out of bed, I’ll find Dr. Beesley’s information for you. Where did you place it?” Mama asks while tidying up my bedroom, thus breaking me from my dark thoughts.
With an audible huff I pull back the covers, sit up, toss my legs over the side, and attempt to greet what’s left of this day head-on, like every grown ass woman should. Why do I find myself wanting to close the drapes, crawl back into bed, burrow under the covers, and close out the world effectively for one more day? Oh, yeah, I know why...because I’m severely depressed. I want nothing more than to not exist. The heavy blinds will transport the bedroom back into complete darkness, thus bringing me comfort. At least for the next few hours.
If I hadn’t moved back home with my parents, I would’ve crawled back into bed and wasted away another day by just being. In the month I’ve been staying here I’ve shut out any sort of help they’ve extended my way. Daddy seems to have washed his hands of the whole situation. He says I should be over the grief part of my downward spiral by now. Since when does coping with grief come with a deadline? Mama is stronger though. She’s been persistent in helping me. She misses her baby girl and would love for nothing more than to see me whole again. Accepting Michael’s death would be a hell of a lot easier if I knew something about what happened to him. Anything.
After relieving myself in the bathroom, I brush my teeth with a speed an Olympian speed skater would be proud of. Walking back into my bedroom, I find my mother sitting on my unmade bed, her cell phone gripped tightly in her hand. Her golden eyes gaze up to meet my aqua blue ones, and the expression in them says so much. She’s proud of me for finally taking this step. Making this call is a huge step for me; it’s me admitting defeat. Again. Taking her offered phone from her hand, I grasp it firmly. I may be taking this step, but it doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of it.
“Will you read me the number, please?” I ask, my voice shaky with nerves.
“Of course, I will. Whenever you’re ready, baby girl,” she says, her voice at least is steady, calming.
“I—I’m, uh, I’m ready,” I lie outright, but if I don’t make this step now, I never will. I’m a chickenshit, but if I don’t call this feeling of nothingness will end up eating me alive. It’s killing me. Literally. Everyone around me has been watching me slowly die for the last two years, myself included.
Enough is enough.
Dialing the number is one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in recent months. My fingers shake with every number pushed. Hitting send is the worst of all, my finger shakes above it for a solid minute. Maybe two.
I inhale and start to hold my breath, afraid of whoever picks up the line.
Still no answer.
“Tenley, honey, you have to breathe. Your face is turning red,” Mama says from her place next to me on my bed. Well, shit, I didn’t notice my holding my breath was obvious to anyone but myself.
“Good Afternoon, Dr. Miranda Beesley’s office, Gabby speaking. How may I help you today?” She has a pleasant voice. Friendly. Welcoming.
“Yes, he—hello. Um…I’d like to make an appointment to be seen.” Okay, a stutter but it was easy enough.
“Are you calling as a first-time patient? Doctor Beesley is booked up for the next few weeks but she does have a few openings set aside for new patients. When would you like to be seen?”
Makes me thankful I’m a new patient.
When would I like to be seen? How about the day after never?
“Well, yes, I’d be a new patient. Whenever is the earliest, I guess. Although now, it’s proving difficult to sleep; mornings are honestly not the best time. Afternoons would probably work out better.”
If they would end up scheduling me for a morning appointment, it means I’d probably not have been to sleep from the night before. I’m stubborn, therefore I don’t like to take the pills to actually help me sleep until it’s already morning. My logic makes no sense, I know, but I always make myself believe I can fall asleep without the aide. It never works. Not once has it yet, but I have faith in the maybe someday of it. If worse comes to worst and it’s all that’s available to me, then it is what it is. I’ll cave and take a pill at a normal flipping time. Taking them at dawn certainly isn’t any different than taking them at eleven the night before. They don’t work, what difference does it make?
“If you don’t mind coming in a half an hour early to fill out the new patient paperwork, the doctor could squeeze you in as early as tomorrow afternoon. Does tomorrow work for you? If it doesn’t we can make an appointment for next week. And I’ll send you the paperwork to fill out and bring back when you come in for your appointment,” Gabby informs me.
“Um, tomorrow works. Thank you.” May as well start babbling to some head shrink sooner rather than later.
“Okay, great. Your appointment is set for 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. May I have your name and phone number please?”
Prattling off the rest of the information needed, I hang up and stare at mama; she’s beaming at me. Her smile lights up my whole bedroom as I hand her back her phone.
“I’m proud of you, Tenley,” she says. “In fact, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Nodding at her, because my voice seems to be caught in my throat, I stand and begin to gather my clothes for the day. Heading into the bathroom to take a warm shower, I make myself presentable enough to venture out in public. Two huge steps in one day. Maybe I should write them down, start keeping a journal of the small events I do each day, until I’m back to me. Not like I’d enjoy reading a journal stating when I washed my hair, but…
I’ve no doubt, Luellen will be pleased to see me. She hasn’t seen me in months. The last time I stepped through the doors of Bookmark It! and the bell rang to alert my arrival, she asked too many questions I didn’t have the answers to. She’ll still ask them today, but at least it won’t feel like such an ambush. I won’t be alone this time. Mama will be there as a buffer. She’ll undoubtedly want to know when to expect my newest novel, a question to which I still don’t have the answer to…and maybe never will.
Hopefully, this doctor I’m seeing tomorrow will help me find not only myself but my missing words. Sadly, my laptop sits in the corner collecting dust. Every time I walk by it, I feel it silently judging me. Begging me to flip the lid and start writing again. But the last words I’ve written were on the morning of Michael’s death. The manuscript hasn’t been opened since, for two whole years. My latest novel sits in an unfinished document. How can I finish writing a love story when the love of my life is gone? The remaining pages lay blank, like my days.
Funny how life truly can imitate art.
Less than an hour later, I find myself standing on the sidewalk in front of Bookmark It! with mama, staring at the front door. I’m not sure if I can strum up the braveness required to walk inside. Before this depression took over my life, I’d find solace between the pages of a book. Before I was an author, I was an avid reader. Everything in my life now is before.
Dammit, I need there to be an after. It’s not a question of my wanting there to be an after, I need there to be one. Screw it, I’m going in. This very second. Mustering up every ounce of courage I have, I stride toward the entrance. Pushing open the door, the familiar jingle of the bell covers me in an odd sort of calmness. Breathing in deeply, I take a moment and close my eyes.
This feels like home.
“Tenley, my goodness. How lovely it is to see you. Hello to you as well, Maria. You didn’t mention my sweet Tenley was coming with you when we spoke a while ago. What a lovely surprise,” Luellen, the storeowner and mama’s best friend, exclaims.
“She didn’t know for sure if I was coming with her, Lu. It’s nice to see you, too. Beautiful as always,” I compliment her because she’ll forever be beautiful to me.
Lu’s always been one of my favorite people. Having grown up around her, she’s family to me. Not quite old enough to be my aunt, she’s more like my older sister. Hair of fire engine red and hips plump as soccer balls, she’s been a fixture in my life for as long as I can recall. Her hair is the same today as it was when I was five. Her arms are covered in tattoos, something uncalled of in the Cleary family. It’s another reason why I love her. I’ve secretly always longed for a tattoo or two of my own. Although I’ve never been quite brave enough to actually get one. Michael had a few and admittedly it’s one of the features that first drew me to him.
“It’s a pleasant surprise indeed. How are you, sweet girl?” Lu asks.
“I’m…well.” Depressed as fuck, but nobody wants to hear the truth. “Thank you for asking. The store looks amazing, by the way. I love the new color on the walls, the deep lavender makes a bold statement.” Please don’t ask about my writing.
“Great, it’s exactly what I was going for. The old blue was too drab for me. Let me go grab your order, Maria. Take a glance around, ladies. I’ll be back in a flash,” Lu says as she’s walking away.
Well, it’s going better than expected. If she would’ve asked about my writing, I obviously wouldn’t have been able to give her a solid answer. You can only tell someone so many times you haven’t written a single word in over two years. Unless you count text messages. My laptop probably doesn’t even work anymore; it hasn’t been turned on in ages, it just sits collecting dust.
“You know, Luellen was saying last week how much she could use the extra help around here. Maybe you could take the position,” Mama says.
Wait, what? Back this train up and let me off.
“Talk about coming out of left field, Mama. I’m attempting to get back to myself, I don’t need a job. You know this, I’m an author. Not having written anything new in a while doesn’t change the fact I’m still an author. My books are still selling. I’m sure if you look, there’s more than one of my works sitting on display here among the shelves.”
“Tenley, I know you don’t need the job. I was merely mentioning it because I thought you may like it. It’d get you out of the house and give you something to do besides spend the day wasting away in bed.”
“If I promise to give it some thought, will you please drop it before Lu comes back? Haven’t I taken enough steps toward getting better for one day?” I plead.
At least I think I have, I mean it’s taken me a whole month to make a simple phone call.
Maybe calling a therapist and venturing out in public aren’t considered large steps to everyone, but to me, they’re huge. We live in a digital age, where with the push of a button I can have my groceries for the week delivered to my doorstep, all the while I would lie around doing nothing. Going to the beach on my birthday was a massive step for me. Admitting defeat and moving into my parents’ house was a monstrous one. The steps taken today? To me, they’re life changing.
Instead of answering my question mama stays silent, the silence in itself is answer enough. It’s not long before Lu comes out of the stock room with her hands full of books. From the looks of her arms bogged down by inventory, mama placed quite the order. Book collecting (hoarding, actually) runs in the family.
“Did you find anything else or are you all set with these for today?” Lu asks.
“I believe we’re all set with these, Luellen. Thank you again for ordering them for me. Would you like to come over for dinner one evening next week? You could let me know which night would be best for you, and us ladies could make a night of it. I’m sure Stewart wouldn’t mind. He can go out with the guys or find something else to occupy his time and leave us be. Doesn’t it sound like fun, Tenley?”
“Oh...yeah, it sounds nice,” I mumble.
“I’d love to. Wednesday would work out best for me, but I can let you know for certain by tomorrow, if it’s okay?”
While they continue to make plans, I browse the new release section, seeing several new releases from an author I love. Before my world exploded I stumbled upon a book of hers and desperately fell in love with her writing. Not bothering to read what they’re about, I grab every single Colleen Hoover book on display and carry them to the front. I’ll read them, someday. Hopefully. Maybe I’ll start to read one tonight, losing myself inside the fictional pages sounds like heaven to me.