Nathaniel took a deep breath as he unlocked the front door. He wasn’t sure how Anita would react to his sudden reappearance, but he really did hope she wouldn’t be home. His foot crossed the threshold of the house, the door closed and there was a still silence that hadn’t been there before. His bag was dropped quietly from his shoulder as he listened for any sign of his wife.
Another deep breath. “Anita! I’m home!” He called.
Overhead, he heard five footsteps before a door opened. The footsteps continued halfway down the steps until his wife just stood in her robe staring at him like she’d seen a ghost.
“Nathan?” Slowly, Anita sat on the stairs. “I didn’t think you were ever coming home.”
Nathaniel shrugged. “Me either. But I think we need to talk.”
“Yes. We really do.”
For a moment, husband and wife stared at each other like they were in the dark. In a way they were. Nathaniel was the first to move into the kitchen to make some coffee. Anita joined him at the dining table.
They didn’t know where to even begin.
“Nathan, while you were out, I had quite a bit of alone time to think about my actions. And all I can say is that, in those moments, I truly felt like I was protecting Chloe. To be honest, I’ve lost track of where the truth ends and the lies begin. Not like that matters at this point. I’ve ruined any chance of my own daughter talking to me ever again, and I’ve managed to bring the usual self-fulfilling prophecy to pass: I have a mental illness so, therefore, I will always be alone.”
Nathaniel just sat at the table and listened carefully to the words. Because of his hesitation, she beat him to the punch. He nodded to acknowledge her.
She continued undeterred, “I am under no impression that we’re going to stay married, Nathan. I know…I know this crossed a line we aren’t coming back from. I’ve accepted that. But I’ve been trying really hard to fix what I can. I apologized to Chloe, though I doubt she thought I was sincere, and I started back on my meds. I don’t know if it’ll mess things up, but I started just mixing the powder into some yogurt in the morning. I don’t feel as physically sick when I do, and I feel like they’re working still, so who knows?”
Again, Nathaniel nodded. A question gnawed at him, even if he wasn’t quite ready to ask it. “So…do you want a divorce?”
“Of course I don’t. But can you honestly tell me you could look past this? That you could forgive me and move forward?”
“And, forgive me, but with how close you and Chloe are, don’t you think she’d be angry with you for staying?”
What was happening? This was most certainly not how Nathaniel saw this conversation going. This wasn’t the Anita he knew. But maybe it was? Maybe this was sane, medicated Anita? His head hurt.
“Chloe wouldn’t be angry with me for staying, so long as I was happy,” Nathaniel finally said. “How can I trust you? How can you possibly prove what you’re saying?”
“Easily, actually.” Anita slid from the chair to retrieve a small binder from the kitchen. It wasn’t one he recognized. “The day after you left, I did a bunch of research, made a lot of phone calls, got a lot of advice. Every time I take my medication, I log it. Time, date, what I took with it, side effects, all that. I keep track of my moods on paper, and with an app that my doctor can use to export the data. I track all of my food, all my activities, pretty much my whole life, including shopping trips.
“The goal is to first collect data over three months, to give the medications time to work. And then I have an appointment to sit down with my doctor to make sure it’s all stable. Once the medication part is under control, I will be referred to a psychoanalyst who can help me with the behavioral changes I want to make, like controlling spending, analyzing my moods, things like that.
“The advice nurse talked to my doctor and, given how my track record for medications has been, he said this was probably the best way to go about it. If I can handle documenting the minutia of my day, I can handle anything a psychoanalyst will throw my way.”
Nathaniel flipped through the pages in the binder, taking note of what she documented. She made notes about talking to Chloe and the stress that put on her. She made notes about his own expenses, probably so they didn’t think she was getting random hotels for weeks on end. And she even made notes about the changes she made in the house.
“You canceled the house phone?”
“Yeah. Why pay for it when it wasn’t good for anything…or for anything good?”
He shrugged and turned back to the binder.
“Have you already filed for divorce then? You talked to our lawyer last week.”
“No, I haven’t. I wanted to be prepared for the worst case scenario.”
“Mm.” He closed the binder. “Anita, I don’t know if this is enough to save our marriage. I really don’t.”
“I didn’t put this together with that intention, Nathan. I did it because I am a grown-ass woman who needs to stop blaming her own mother for turning out this way. I should have started this way back in high school, but I was a coward. I ran away. And I don’t want to run away anymore. I’ve made my bed and I’ll sleep in it despite the mistakes I’ve made.”
“I’ll be completely honest, Anita. I don’t know what I want to do. Part of me screams divorce. The other part thinks this can be saved. Maybe it can? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m not ready to make that decision. I don’t want to rush it.” Nathaniel sighed heavily, staring into his coffee cup. He hadn’t even taken a sip.
“Then what do you want to do?”
Nathaniel looked up at the woman he married in all her flawed glory. Her stare was completely different than the other ones he’d seen before. This one was filled with determination at being a better person mingling with the loneliness and longing he felt, too. She didn’t want him to leave, but wouldn’t stop him either. In such a short amount of time, Anita had changed considerably.
Nathaniel extended his left hand to her, letting his knuckles rest against the laminate of the table. His wedding ring shined in the light above him. A very small smile tugged at the sides of his lips. Anita’s left hand slid onto his savoring the warmth of his palm. Her own wedding rings—the wedding band on the inside of her finger and her engagement ring on the outside—glittered in the light. Nathaniel’s wrist turned over as his fingers laced between hers.