Three people exist in this relationship. Me, M, and PTSD. Sometimes M and I, we manage to make PTSD feel like a third wheel; it just lurks helplessly on the sidelines. But other times PTSD pushes me out of the way and I watch, paralyzed, as M tries unsuccessfully to wrestle herself free from its clutches.
I hate how angry it makes me. The way PTSD shows up and makes M scratch at her skin like worms are crawling underneath its surface. Or how, when I get home from work, I feel my heart sink when I walk into the bedroom and M is curled under the blankets again, exhausted and depressed. I hate how our home looks like children live here — clothing, underwear, dishes scattered willy-nilly throughout the house.
We have no children, and I didn’t sign up for this, dammit.
But then I look into her sparkling blue eyes and she tells me she loves me and I just want to hold her and hug her and give her everything I’ve got. I want her to be happy so bad, sometimes I want to cry.
And sometimes, sometimes it works. Some days we’ll ride our bicycles down to the dyke in Richmond and the sun will beam across the ocean and we’re grinning like two kids in a candy shop, chocolate dripping from our lips. Those are the moments I live for. A respite from the darkness, brief and sweet.
But it’s not just M’s PTSD that intrudes. Sometimes I catch myself finding fault with everything. And M is such an easy target; she already feels guilty before I open my mouth. But I know that the crap I’m spewing isn’t about her at all. It’s about me. And how shitty I feel because no matter how hard I try, life isn’t easy. The money is tight, the lost family still hurts, and I feel like my own life is just a waste of space.
When those moments happen I find myself looking at everything with a critical eye. Of course, finding things that bug me is easy when PTSD has M in its clutches. But what I don’t, can’t, seem to admit out loud is my own ineptitude, for not being more accomplished, not having reached higher heights in life, not being able to solve this problem. It’s the hurt of knowing that this, what I have right now, this might be as good as it ever gets. The thought tastes bitter. I hate bitter.
And if this really were as good as it got? Would that be so bad? Truth is, I have so much right now. M loves me with all her heart. How many people can say that about their partners, without a shred of doubt? And her dog E, well, E and I have bonded alright. She sleeps curled up next to me most nights, her snoring little body leaning into my chest. I have a job that challenges me, even as it exhausts me, I have friends who like me. Heck, I’m even thinking of going back to school come Spring.
Life has never been this good in fact.
So why? Why do I feel this urge to scream with frustration? Is this the grief that comes with knowing that some dreams, some paths will most likely forever remain unwalked? Is it sadness for the battles I’ve fought, losses I’ve felt? Is it sadness for the dark clouds that inevitably will come again?
When I look up, M is there, waiting for me, with her loving eyes. And I feel ashamed, for the darkness still in me, and the anger that clings to me like an unwelcome shadow. We hug and it feels so good, her skin against mine. And I try to pretend that I don’t see PTSD peering back at me from the corner of the room, patiently waiting.