Marya Hornbacher

I have ended it five times. She forgets each day that it’s ended. Each day, another patient or a nurse tells her that I’ve left. She calls me in a panic and wants to know if it’s true. I say it’s true. I tell her she knew yesterday that it was true. She apologizes for forgetting. The ECT, she says. I say I know. I say she doesn’t have to apologize. I am gentle, again, and keep my voice low, as one might with a kicked dog or a frantic child. I repeat myself. I explain. I say it’s for the best, tell her she knows it’s for the best. We rewind to yesterday, the day before, the day before that. I sit in the same chair and stare at the same place on the wall and say the same thing. I tell her yes I love her. I tell her no there’s no one else. I tell her she will be all right, I will not leave yet, I will find a place for her to go, it will be all right, all right, all right. I want to throw the phone at the wall, put my fist through a window. I pace my words slowly, almost sing-song my leaving, as if singing her to sleep. We pace through it again, pace back and forth, pace the narrow hallway of her mind.

She finds the ward a comforting place. She feels safe. She said this when I put her in. When I put her in, we were led through the series of doors. They put her in a gown to search her pockets and the things I’d packed in a small suitcase for her. They were gentle, kind. They sat her down and gave her toast. When she had finished the toast, she turned to me, took my hands. She clung to my hands so hard the nails broke my skin. Wide-eyed, she said, I like it here. It’s safe. I said, Yes, it’s very safe. You’re safe. I sat with her a while, and then she was tired, and I took her to her room, and she lay her long body on the bed under the window and fell asleep, and I could finally leave.

I did not run. I walked slowly. I waited as they unlocked each door, let me out. I stared at the door of the elevator until it opened. I walked steadily through the hospital lobby and through the last door and into the winter light and I flinched.

It is the morning of the day I take her in. I unlock the door of her apartment, step in, shut the door softly. She looks up. She is wearing the purple stocking cap. Her face is wet with crying, terrified.
I sit down next to her on the red couch. The room is filthy, plants dying, papers and books everywhere. I ask again if she needs to go to the hospital. I ask her every day. She says no. I say all right. I tell her perhaps we should just stop by the doctor’s to see if he’s around, if maybe she could see him real quick. She nods, as if that makes sense, as if you can just walk into a psychiatrist’s office without warning. I put her in the car. She slumps, stares at the floor, asks me if I like her shirt. She knows I have always liked her in blue. I want to crash the car, drive it off the road on the curve of I-94 that I’ve never liked. We park the car. I lead her into the doctor’s office and tell them that she isn’t feeling very well and could we possibly see the doctor just quick. They look at her and call the doctor, and then we are in his office, and he is a small kind man, and he looks at her, and then at me, and then at her and asks her how she feels. Fine, she says. I gently disagree. She stares at me. I have betrayed her. I have backed away. I am giving her to someone else.

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