Garden of Live Flowers
Erin, the first of two therapists I will work with during the next few weeks, and Intern come to my room and ask me if I’m ready for the partial hospital program. Erin punches a code into three different doors to get to the floor where the partial hospital program takes place. Later today, my wife, Holly, who will eventually become my ex-wife, will be at the doctor’s office and I should be with her, but I will not be with her.
The room where the program meets isn’t large. Three square tables are pushed together. A woman sits in one chair in one corner; a man sits in another chair at the head of the table. Erin takes a chair in the middle, and I sit across from her. Intern sits next to me. So we have a new member, Erin says.
My name is Will, I say. The guy looks like he played football in high school, and I don’t know how comfortable I am talking about you. The woman looks like she might be a lesbian. Today, my wife and I are supposed to learn if we’re having a boy or girl. I’m here, so I can’t go to the appointment with her. I’ve been on the psych floor since Friday. On Wednesday and Thursday I tried to kill myself. I swallowed 70 pills on Wednesday, and I drove to the Tobin Bridge and tried to jump on Thursday. I stop talking.
Erin nods at me. Is that all you want to say, she says.
I say that in January, I met a man with whom I began a relationship and it ended on Wednesday morning. I tell them that you are a drug addict, and that you had told me you are a drug addict. I hid a recorder in your room and recorded you and your friends getting high and snorting pills. I tell them that when I asked you about the pills, you had lied to me and had covered it up. The next time I recorded you, I say, you found the phone, changed your locks, took out a restraining order against me, and told me you never want to see me again. I had to tell my wife, I say, who will soon be my ex-wife.
Really, I could have just said that I had opened my heart to a man, and he alone had had the power to cut me too deeply, and when he had decided he didn’t like what he saw, he cut himself out of my life, and by doing that, he cut out my heart. That is our tale. The rest, everything that came before and everything that comes after, those parts are just details.
Erin walks me back to my room at break. Enjoy your last meal on the unit, she says. Everyone calls it the unit. I know I will never refer to it as anything but the psych floor of a hospital. Unit is a nicer word, almost as nice as resort or luxury suite. Psych floor sounds broken and pitiful and ugly. Psych floor sounds like there is something broken in my head. Psych floor sounds like how I feel.
I take my packed bag to the registration desk. I ask if they have my release papers. Release. That’s what I have to do with my feelings. Release them. Let them go. Turn them into something else. I know what everyone wants me to say, but I don’t believe any of it. I want you to walk through the doors and hug me and say, rabbit, I love you, and nothing else matters. And I want to say I’m sorry and please forgive me and tell me what I have to do to make this right.
The nurse hands me my discharge papers. Erin has signed the paperwork confirming that I will complete the partial hospital program during the next two weeks. I ask the nurse if I have to come back to the floor, and she says no. Erin meets me and asks how it feels to be a free man. I tell her I don’t feel very free. She says I will and to give it time. Let go of things that have happened, Will, she says.
During the second half of group, we talk about stress and how we’re the architects of our days. Don’t catch stress, Erin says; don’t give it to someone else.
You know, there are natural stress relievers in nature. Avocados. Blueberries. Walnuts. I feel as if my life for the past six months or so has been consumed by catching and giving stress. I should have listened to you each time you suggested I eat an avocado. I should have said, sure. By the time the group ends, I am eating an avocado every day. Some days, I eat two.
Be grateful when you’re feeling good and graceful when you’re feeling bad, Erin says.
What do you think about that, Will?, she asks.
Easier said than done, I say.
Just remember to love yourself and don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Things will happen to you that will cause you to feel bad and sad. These emotions you’re feeling right now are very much like a wave. Sometimes you will feel happy and you’ll think that you’re OK, and other times you will not feel so happy and OK, and if you remember that these changing feelings are normal, then you’ll be better able to handle them. Eventually, the lows will not come as often and when they come, you won’t feel as low as you do today.
Group ends and Erin asks me how I think it went. I tell her I liked it. I tell her I wasn’t as uncomfortable talking as I thought I would be. I tell her I’m looking forward to coming back on Wednesday. I thank her for helping me feel normal.
Will, she says, you’re all normal in here. You just need some help getting through difficult situations. Everybody needs help sometimes, and you’re lucky enough to be in a place where you can get it.
Holly picks me up. Avery is in the backseat and he is drinking out of his sippy cup and he is wearing swim trunks and Holly tells me they went to the beach. I ask for my phone. She hands it to me.
He didn’t call or text, she says.
I tell her I’m not looking to see if you had tried to get in touch with me.
I have 204 e-mails, mostly junk.
How was the appointment I ask. Were they able to tell you if we’re having a boy or a girl?
They could tell, and they wrote it down on the back of a sonogram picture. They put the picture in an envelope.
Thank you for waiting for me, I say.
You should be there, she says.
At home, because I don’t know how else to think about it, we each have suitcases to carry upstairs. We get upstairs and we put our luggage down and I ask her if she’s ready to find out if we’re having a boy or a girl and she says yes. I pick up Avery. She opens the envelope, and we look at the picture. I say we’re having a boy and she says we’re having a girl. We ask Avery if he’s having a brother or a sister and he says sister. We turn the picture over and in bright yellow highlighter is the word GIRL. We’re having a daughter I say, and I reach for Holly and we hold each other tightly and she’s crying and I’m crying and Avery doesn’t know why we’re crying but he’s touching my face and he says daddy sad, and I say I’m not sad at all. We already know that inside Holly grows a little girl named Aurora.
We have to call people. I want to call you. I think you should know. You know we’re finding out today. While Holly is in the bathroom, I text you from her phone: We’re having a girl. I thought you’d want to know. I do not indicate the text is from anyone other than Holly. I delete the text from her sent texts. I check her phone periodically that night and you do not respond. I expect you’ve reacted to the news. I expect you may have cried. You not only lost your partner and a son, but you lost a daughter too. You will never meet your daughter. You will never know the girl you once yelled at me for conceiving. You will never know the family we could have been.
Avery falls asleep around 9 p.m., and Holly asks me if I want some tea. I’m tired, and I think I will be able to sleep. I let myself think about you briefly. A week ago we were talking in your room. You were getting high. You told me you were trying to get me to move in with you. Why would I possibly think you’d want someone else to take the empty room?, you had asked.
She brings me my tea, and we sit on the couch drinking our tea and not talking. I tell Holly I need to clean out my car. I take a plastic shopping bag downstairs with me. My car is where I parked it three nights ago when I got home from the Tobin Bridge. The sun has set. I look up and count the stars. I stop counting the stars when I get to 100. I think that in the constellation of my life, you and Holly were each north stars. I was an astronaut, dividing my time between the two of you.
I think that the stars are no less lonely on a night when I am committed to living as they were on a night I was committed to dying. If I had died, and somehow you had found comfort in the stars, and you were able to reach me there, you would have been pretty tall.
I am standing outside of my car and my keys are in my hand and I want to unlock the car and begin but I’m afraid that I’ll open the car and I will smell death and desperation and hopelessness. I’m afraid of what I’ll find. I know you’re in there, buried deep in the carpet. I hear a siren in the distance. I hear the clanging bell of a train passing through. I unlock the car and put everything I find into a plastic bag. I will separate everything into a bag of things to return to you, a bag of things I don’t mind continuing to use, and a bag of things I will save, because I save everything, but that I will never look at again.
I go to work the next day, even though Erin had suggested I take two weeks off. I have to go back to work because if I go back to work, then I am not broken, and if I am not broken, then I know I will survive, and if I survive, then there is a chance that one day you may tell me you love me and that you never stopped loving me.
No one knows what to say to me. What can they say? I feel like I’ve lost everything. I feel like every planet in my solar system has exploded. I feel like I’ve exploded. I feel like I’ve gone supernova and have fallen into a black hole. What can anyone say that will make me feel any different? They say nothing because there is nothing they can say. Words will not make me feel any different. There is nothing they can say because there is nothing I can say because there is nothing you will say.
I think people should understand that saying I am sad is all I can say. That should be enough. Don’t make me relive everything by asking me what happened. I don’t know what happened. What happened is too much for me to talk about.
I have brought the journal I kept in the hospital. I plan to photocopy it on my lunch break and give it to Holly. I want her to read the journal. I have written things that I’m not sure she will want to hear out loud.
Before I go home, I photocopy my hospital journal. I put the photocopied journal in an envelope. I put the original journal in a different envelope. I wonder if I will ever read the journal again. I want you to read the journal too. I wish I could get it to you. Sign language. Carrier pigeon. Smoke signals. Morse code. Sunday morning adverts.
At home, Holly asks about my day. I tell her it went as well as can be expected. Holly tells me that she is going out.
Can I trust you here with Avery?, she asks me.
I tell her that I feel safe. I won’t do that again. I don’t want to die, I tell her. I don’t like how I’m feeling, and all I want to do is make it right with him, but I don’t want to die.
She says she can’t hear about how badly I want to make it right with you.
I tell her I photocopied the journal, and that I’d like her to read it.
She says she’s not ready to read it.
She says she thinks she’ll be able to eventually, just not today.
“Garden of Live Flowers” is an excerpt from William Henderson’s in-progress memoir, House of Cards. Other excerpts have appeared in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure; Euonia Review; Hippocampus Magazine; Annalemma Magazine; Curbside Quotidian; How I met …, an online collection of essays detailing intersections, crashes, and other ways we meet people; Sea Giraffe (from which he was awarded the Martius Prize in Nonfiction); the Smoking Poet, Zouch Magazine, Whistling Fire, 50 to 1, Specter Literary Magazine, Ham Lit, Xenith, and Writing in Public.
Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Stork, an Emerson College publication; and the New England Blade (formerly In Newsweekly), where he served as editor. He writes a weekly column, Dog-Eared, for Specter Literary Magazine, and he will be included in the forthcoming anthology, Stripped.
He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association.
Henderson works as a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and is a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @Avesdad, and through his blog, HendersonHouseofCards.wordpress.com.