I have just come home and it’s already started.
I was gone for a long time. Long enough that an empty space when I left now has an apartment building standing on it looking surprisingly sturdy for how hastily it was assembled.
I didn’t choose to go exactly. He wanted to go, but couldn’t. There seemed to be no other choice but to separate--temporarily, he said--to give him space. So I went instead. Me and the kids, off to my mother’s.
It was not all sunshine and roses staying with my mother. But now I’m longing for those minor annoyances.
You see, I opened up a box. Something new I’d just gotten, something I wanted to use. It’s a little bit of an expensive thing, so I didn’t just throw the box in the trash. If something was wrong, if it didn’t work, I wanted to have all my packaging if I needed to return or exchange it.
When I opened the box and left the box and the instruction manual on the counter, I already knew this would be a problem. The counters were empty before. Now they were not. And they were inhabited by a box. An empty box. A thing that didn’t belong there. A thing that did not have its place there. A thing that needed to go somewhere else, definitely not here.
I’m not sure where else I could’ve or should’ve put it. The counter, right next to the trash can so I could easily dispose of it when I was done, was simple and vacant. After all, why does a counter exist but as a place for one to set things down? So I put the box there, knowing it would be a problem, hoping I’d get lucky in the few minutes I’d need to check everything out.
Sure enough, he is there moments later with a trash bag and a frown and he raises his voice when he complains about the box being on the counter as he throws it in the bag. I try to explain to him my thought process, but he doesn’t care. It needs to go in its place. Its place is not here. He cannot tell me where its place is, though I suspect he sees it as the trash. (The fact that he’s already put it there is a pretty good hint.)
I have been gone for a long time. I was happy to come home. Happy to see him. Happy that he was happy to see me. But now I am realizing that it is about more than that. I come with baggage. I come with children. I come with stuff. I come with a finite amount of energy and work that I can do. And I can see that while we’ve been gone, this entire apartment has morphed into his space where our things will be intruders.
I was feeling confident before, like things were going to be okay.
Now I am wondering again. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would have to put my head down for the next few weeks, do as much as I could, get by with the kids and the house and the stuff all by myself while he worked long hours and was rarely home. I forgot about this, though. I forgot that I have to find a way to make the chaos of our house of young children palatable to my spouse. And now I am wondering.
I am wondering about his mental health. Not just his stress level or his energy level or his endurance or his emotional well-being. I am wondering if this is not just a stress-induced mania but a real legitimate issue. I am wondering if it’s OCD and, if it is, how on earth we will fit that in our lives. There is already the depression (mine), the depression and anxiety (his), and of course the autism (our son’s). Can we handle yet another diagnosis? Can I handle another diagnosis? Can I handle the additional stabilizing and caregiving and energy and work that will involve to keep things just so? Can I handle being the glue that holds this tiny group together?
Being the glue for 4 should be easy, right? Especially when one of the 4 can’t yet speak or walk. But I find I’m having more and more trouble being the glue when I have a spouse separating himself from us. He’s pulling away and even though I try to pull him back, it’s hard when I feel that he doesn’t want to. And when our connection is so weak, I don’t know how to make us a group. Instead it feels like I have kid-time and spouse-time. And the kids, as the ones who are here and needing and wanting all the time pull in a different way and a different direction.
An hour or two later I have another box to open, another item to test. I get it set up and throw the box away. And the bag it came in. Only to realize a moment later that I need the receipt. I open the trash, get it out and then have another problem: where to put the receipt. It does not have a place.
There is only so much I can do. I set it out on the coffee table. And leave it there.