Kian sat poised, a storm of emotions rushing across his face. His expression was laced with frustration and his eyes bounced between me and the pale green wall behind me. I love Kian, and it kills me to see him like this. It’s weird to say someone’s eyes can actually speak to you, but when you’ve been with someone long enough, it’s true. We’ve been married a year and had been seeing each other for 2 years prior. We have always had a solid relationship, the one every girl wants. Most days I’ll wake up to the smell of coffee and just as I turn my head, I see him walking through the doorway of our bedroom holding a steaming white mug and smiling down at me. He’s a morning person and doesn’t even like coffee. The mug is always for me. He comes over next to me, sits on the edge of the bed and slides it into my hands just before kissing my head. “Good morning, lovely,” he almost always says.
This morning though, he sat on the edge of the bed quietly, no coffee, no kiss, just a stare that I’ve never seen before. I can’t say this was something that happened all at once. I’d be a lying fool to say that. I graduated a year ago from Black Hawk Community College and was ecstatic to get a job as a counselor at Family Resources less than a month later. I was working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, and while I was excited to have landed a job in my field, I can’t say I was 100% prepared for some of the patients I would be seeing. Some of their stories are heartbreaking, and it’s really hard to maintain that counselor-client relationship with them. It never gets easier. No matter how many times I meet with my clients, I will never get used to it. How can I? Aviva tells me something new at every session. She’ll tell me how her husband bound her to the posts of their bed when he was drunk one night, raped her, and then left her stuck there for 2 days, how he’s taken control of all of her finances and won’t let her work, how he hits her because he thinks she looked at another man the wrong way, how she wants to leave, but can’t because he threatens to take her son and because she has nowhere to go. It’s stories like hers that break me. My job is hard. I’m not good at watching women like Aviva go through hell and then just go about my own perfect life like nothing happened. It’s a burden I take with me even when I leave work. And Aviva is just one client. I’ve got a full book of appointments and unfinished paperwork that has started to overflow from my folders, now spilling onto the small metal desk in the tiny office space I’m given there at work. I haven’t been on top of everything like I was 10 months ago when I was still new to the job, and when I get home I just collapse on the bed, stare at the ceiling of the small apartment I share with Kian and cry until I fall asleep. I don’t even see Kian until the next morning because he doesn’t get home from his construction jobs until late. I used to stay awake for him and we’d hold each other tightly and fall asleep together. Now I just don’t have the energy. It’s usually just me asleep on one side and him on the other and a huge gap separating us down the middle.
He always asks me about work and if I’m okay. He knows I’m not, so I think it really frustrates him when I don’t talk to him about it. No matter how much I want to spill my guts to him about my job though, about how miserable I’ve been, about how I can’t seem to separate myself from the women I counsel, about how I think I may have wasted the last five years of my life going back to school to pursue a counseling degree because I can’t even seem to actually do my job without crying myself to sleep every night, I can’t tell him. I can’t tell him because to do that, I’d have to tell him about my clients. I tried once, but he didn’t really understand. It’s not even like I could make him understand either because I can’t tell him any of the stories the women tell me or else I’d be breaking confidentiality. So instead, I internalize my emotions, and I’m almost sure that’s what this is about.
“Hey,” I say. I’m resting my head on one arm, the rest of me still cocooned in our oversized comforter. He looks down at me from his spot on the edge of the bed. He’s already dressed in a navy blue plain t-shirt and jeans, like normal, but I can tell he hasn’t showered. The dark brown stubble on his jaw and chin is a bit longer than normal, which is weird because he’s always clean shaven.
“Hey,” he says back, his voice flat.
“I could ask the same about you,” he says.
I know what he’s alluding to, but I ask him what he means anyway. “Mya, you can’t keep doing this. I feel like I don’t even know you. You aren’t the same person I married.”
“No, I am. You don’t understand. It’s just work is all. I’ve just been really stressed.”
“You keep saying that! Goddamnit, Mya, do you even know how frustrating it is? For me to just sit here and watch you kill yourself over this fucking job? Why don’t you just quit? There are so many other opportunities out there. Ones where I don’t have to watch you fall apart like this.” He gestures towards me, and I know what he’s talking about. My eyes are sunken in, surrounded by a bad case of bags combined with smeared mascara and dried tears, my hair is a mess, and I don’t even think I’ve showered since Friday… and it’s Monday.
“I’m sorry.” I start to cry, and he puts his arm around my waist, not really affectionately, but probably just to stop my tears. He hates seeing me cry. “You know I can’t tell you about work. And I can’t quit. Those women have literally no one else in their lives and I’m not about to give up on them.”
“Well sometimes you need to consider other factors besides work. I never see you anymore and when I do, you’re just curled up, dead to the world. When I make an effort, there’s no reciprocation. I can’t be the only one making an effort. Please consider it. What’s more important, your job or our marriage?”
I can’t even believe our marriage is being called to question, but it’s such a loaded choice he’s asking me to make. I don’t even answer. I don’t know what to say. I just cry. He removes his arm from my side and lets out a sigh. He stands and makes his way to the door, looking back at me once more. His eyes are rimed with tears, just enough to make them glossy, but not enough to spill over. He turns to leave and I hear the garage door clunking open soon after. I’m not really sure where he’s headed, and to be honest, that’s probably the last thing I want to think about. I lay my head on a tan pillow and just stare at the open door where he was standing only moments ago. My head is pounding and all I can do is lay there. I don’t even want to think about my day. I’m supposed to be at work by 8:30. It’s 7:30 now, but getting out of bed requires strength and energy, both of which I don’t have.
I open my eyes to darkness. What time is it? I look to my right at the red block letters on the oak dresser Kian’s dad made as a wedding gift for us last year. It’s 8pm. Is that even possible? I’ve been asleep for at least 12 hours. Shit, that means I’ve missed work. I reach for my phone on the nightstand to my right and hit the home button. The backlight stings my eyes and my head starts throbbing again. I rub my left temple with my free hand. I try to focus on my screen and am not surprised when I find a long list of notifications on the screen– 5 missed calls, 3 voicemails, and 6 texts. 2 of the calls were from work. The other 3 were from Kian. One of the voicemails is from Kian and the other is work. I touch the inbox icon to scope out the messages—one from Cassie, my manager, one from Eboni, my coworker, and the rest from Kian. I don’t know if I want to read the messages. I decide to open the ones from Eboni and Cassie first.
Cassie: Hey, I called, but you didn’t answer. I just want to make sure you’re okay. Please call us back. Eboni cancelled your 3 morning appointments.
Eboni: Mya, you never miss work. Is everything okay? Figured you’d call by now. I canceled the rest of your appointments this evening. Please get ahold of us. We’re worried about you.
I don’t want to read Kian’s messages yet, so I slide over to my voicemails.
First unread message sent today at 8:45 AM. Hey, Mya, this is Cassie. Just wondering where you are and if you’re coming in today. Give us a call back. Thanks, bye.
Next unread message sent today at 4:15 PM. Mya, please answer me. This is exactly what I’m talking about. *Sigh* Click.
Next unread message sent today at 7:32 PM. This is fucked. Mya we’re fucked. I can’t even talk to you. Til death do us part Mya, but we’re not even married because this isn’t marriage. This is fucked, that’s what this is. There is some rustling, and then, click. My heart is in my throat right now and my head is hurting more than ever. His words were so slurred. Anyone could tell he was wasted. I try to swallow the lump in my throat and then press the red button in the center of my phone, preparing myself for the remaining 4 texts I haven’t read yet.
Kian ❤ 8:45 AM: Hope you have a good day at work. Maybe you can wait up for me tonight?
Kian<3 12:03PM: Okay, so no? This really isn’t fair to me Mya. I get it, work is stressful, but what about the first few months you got it? Everything was still fine. Is it me? Because if so, you need to talk.
Kian ❤ 6: 00PM: Text me back please. Or call. I just want to hear your voice again.
Kian ❤ 7:00 PM: So I guess this is it?
I drop my phone into the faded grey comforter covering my body from the chill of the dark bedroom. Oh my God, everything just seems like too much right now. My marriage and my job are both at stake, and I just really don’t want to have to face either of them right now. I fall back on the white down pillow and just stare into the blackness at the all-too-familiar ceiling above me, tears swelling in my eyes, but not affecting me since you can’t really struggle to see something if all there is to see is blackness.
I’m so focused on nothing at this point that the slamming sounds coming from the living room scare me more than they normally would have, and it takes me quite some time to realize that the slamming sounds are more like a fist or a body pounding at the front door. What the hell is going on? I sit up, resting on my outstretched arms behind me and stare at the doorway. Should I go out there?
The banging continues, and I decide to go. I peel the comforter away from my body, my phone sliding to the wooden floor below, the battery cover, battery, and the phone flying in three different directions. Lovely. I reach down to grab the pieces, trying my best to ignore the the pounding in the living room. That’s proving to be rather difficult though. My head seems to be pounding along with the beat of the sporadic banging, and I can’t help but to hold my temples tightly, hoping maybe the pressure will help at least a little bit. I’m kneeling on the floor at this point, the pieces of my phone still scattered around me since the pounding in my head has my full attention. I’ve had migraines in the past, but this is by far the worst, and whatever jackass is pounding on my door isn’t exactly helping.
“Mya! Hello?!? I know you’re home!” The banging stops momentarily, though the banging in my head is still as lively as a firework show. I recognize the voice as Kian’s, though the tone is a bit off. Kian has never been much of a drinker, but lately he’s been turning to alcohol more than I think either of us would like to admit.
I grab ahold of the bedpost to my left and hoist myself up, using the walls to guide me through the dark hallway to the living room. I can see Kian looking in at me through the glass window in the middle of the door. “Mya,” he says, a small cloud forming around his mouth as his warm breath hits the cold night air. His dark brown hair is almost glued to his forehead and his cotton sweatshirt and jeans both cling to his damp body. It’s misting outside, so he must’ve been standing out there for a while for his clothes and air to have soaked up so much rain. “Please let me in. I can’t find my keys.”
I’m still standing in the doorway using my right hand as a prop up against the wall. I wonder who dropped him off. Kian never drives if he’s had even just a drop of alcohol, and it’s obvious tonight is no exception since he’s obviously misplaced his keys. I should really let him in… I feel bad that he’s still standing in the cold mist, but I just can’t seem to move from my spot. I look down at my feet and make a great effort to move my right foot in front of me. My head pounds even harder, so I take my free left hand and apply it to my temple.
“Mya?” I open my eyes, not realizing I had ever closed them. Kian’s face is twisted. His eyebrows are pulled down and his hands are cupped against the window, his concerned eyes looking in at me. It’s weird though because I don’t remember it being so hard to see him when I first walked into the living room. It seems even foggier outside, and I think maybe the mist had picked up. But then, why is it misty inside too? I’m so confused, but I have to get to the door to let him in, so I disregard the possibility that it’s somehow raining in my house. I take a step, and then another, and then another, but then that’s it. I try to step again, but I’m somehow now looking up at the door rather than at it. My peripherals are foggy and all I can see is what’s in my direct field of vision—the window of the front door framing Kian’s face. It takes me a moment to realize I’m on the floor, my head turned awkwardly up towards the window and the rest of my body doing its own thing. I can make out the echoes of Kian’s voice, but that’s about it. I can’t see him in the window anymore. Did he leave? Have I lost him? Am I losing myself? I’m scared, confused, and extremely disoriented. I try to call out to him. “Ki-,” but I can’t finish. I’m dribbling. Saliva is leaking from my mouth, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Moving is such an effort.
Kian can’t be gone, though, at least not yet. I can still hear his muffled voice, so I know he’s still out there somewhere. I hear a shatter and the sound of glass hitting the floor somewhere to my left. I try to move my head to get a better look, but I can’t. Kian is now inside looking down at me. He’s kneeling next to me with his hands are around my shoulders. He’s crying and saying something, but I can’t make out any of his words. I want to hug him, but my limbs are foreign to me and I’m having a hard time focusing on him. His wet hair fades to a blur, the outline of his jaw disappears along with all his other features. I see his eyes for one more moment- two pleading brown eyes. I love you, they seem to say. I try my best to hold on to the image, but they eventually fade to black. I am no longer lying limp on the living room floor, no longer aware of my husband, no longer aware of myself. All I recognize is darkness.
My head still hurts, but it isn’t pounding anymore and I can actually think logically through my thoughts, so that’s good. I’m not sure what to expect when I open my eyes, and it takes me a moment to focus on my surroundings when I finally do. It’s almost the opposite of what I remember when I passed out in the dark on the living room floor. It’s like a rush of light is flooding into my eyes, and I blink a few times half expecting my headache to reach the point it reached last night… Wait, can I even say last night? I have no idea what day it is. Did I miss another day of work? Where’s Kian? Fuck. I look around the room I’m in. I’m lying in a hospital bed, and tubes are hanging out of both of my arms, twisting and curling into a number of beeping machines. At first I think I’m all alone in the drab white-washed walls of this hospital room, but the lump in my stomach settles when I find Kian passed out in one of those simple plain chairs that are a step above the folding ones. He’s leaning against the corner, his hair dried in a mess atop his head and his eyes looking somewhat sunken in. Yet, there is no one else I would rather have passed out next to me at the moment.
I consider waking him. I really just want him to hold me and tell me everything will be alright. I want to know what happened and why the hell I’m in a hospital and how long I’ve been here. I sit up in my hospital bed and reach for the small remote on the sterile bed stand next to me. It’s kind of a stretch but I finally get it, making quite a bit of noise in the process. I bump a hospital cup and a bed pan around and then purposefully hit the remote against the plastic safety rail on the side of my bed. The process doesn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped, though. Somehow I’ve managed to get one of my tubes tangled in the bed rail. The needle in my arm wiggles in a way it probably wasn’t meant to move, and the rail shakes, clanking against the metal bedframe it’s attached to. I look over at Kian and am pleased to find him stirring in his chair. He moves his head off the wall and opens his eyes to see me sitting in the hospital bed gripping the remote with one hand (my other arm still enwrapped in the bed rail) and staring at him intently. His eyes crease up into a huge smile as he laughs. It’s so refreshing to hear that sound. It’s been so long. I smile and laugh with him. He stands from his chair and quickly walks over to me, untangling the tube from the rail before wrapping me in a firm embrace. When he pulls away his eyes are glossy with tears.
“Hey,” I say, smiling, but still concerned because I’m not sure what to make of this.
“You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice again. You had me scared to death. I thought I might lose you,” he said, kissing me on the forehead.
“What happened, exactly?” I ask. His expression changes a little. I can tell he doesn’t really want to tell me, and behind his half smile, he looks concerned. He doesn’t get a chance to explain himself though because a nurse knocks twice at the door and then walks in carrying a clipboard.
“Oh, great! She’s awake! How do you feel sweetie?” she asks.
“Confused,” I say, “but okay, I guess.”
She chuckles and then introduces herself as my nurse, Darla. “Well, sweetie, the confusion is expected. You had quite the night last night, but it’s not to worry. Your vitals are much better now,” she says, messing with buttons on the machines to my left and scribbling notes on her clipboard. “So, you’ve experienced what we call a TIA. It stands for Transient Ischemic Attack. It’s basically a mini stroke, which is really quite rare in all the stroke survivors I see because you’re much younger than most of them. But I digress.” She proceeds to fumble with her pen and tap it on her clipboard a few times, analyzing me over the clear rims of her glasses. When I don’t say anything, she continues. “The good news is that the doctors haven’t spotted any damage to your brain or anything like that. The bad news, though, is that TIAs usually are warnings to a future stroke, so you really need to be careful. The doctor will stop by later today to give you some instructions and let you know what you need to do. I’ll go let him know you’re awake and we’ll see about getting you out of here in the next few hours.” She says the last part right before leaving the room. She threw everything at me so fast, and my head is spinning with scary thoughts. I’m only just 28, how is this even possible? I look to Kian on the side of my hospital bed and can tell he’s already heard the nurse’s spiel at some point prior to me waking up.
The worry on my face must be clear as day because he pulls me closer into his side, kisses me on the head again, and then says, “We’ll get through this together. No matter what happens, I’ll always be here for you.” I smile and rest my head on his shoulder. Everything will be okay.
I was released from the hospital yesterday, and the sense of security I felt there is pretty much gone. There’s still so much I need to figure out, and while Kian hasn’t said anything about it since we’ve been home, I know he still wants me to quit my job. Actually, everyone does. Before we left the hospital, the doctor came in to give me post-care instructions. He asked me a number of questions about my lifestyle- eating habits, sleep quality, work, marriage, the whole nine yards. When he got to the topic of work though, the conversation seemed to go on forever, and the whole time, Kian was just sitting in the guest chair by the bed with his arms folded across his stomach, his eyes bouncing between my expression and the doctor’s.
The doctor cleared his throat and lowered his clipboard. Pulling his reading glasses from his face and spinning in the little back stool at the edge of the hospital bed, he studied my face. “Mya,” he said, “I’m going to be blunt with you. You’re 28. Much too young to be dealing with the possibility of a stroke, and if you want to avoid that, there are some things you need to do. Just sitting here listening to you, I can tell you get pretty emotional about work.” Kian nodded in agreement. I knew they meant well, but I couldn’t control the irritation welling up inside me. I was sick of hearing about how I was too strung up on my job. I worked my ass off to get where I am, so excuse me for not giving up on it so easily. And they don’t know what it’s like anyway. I’m important to the people I serve, and I like that feeling. I know I let it get to me sometimes, but everyone gets stressed over work, so why am I the one being victimized?
I dropped my gaze to the floor and pursed my lips. “If you don’t lower your stress levels, Mya, it’s going to happen again, and it will probably be worse, if not a full on stroke. It sounds to me like a lot of the stress is from work, so you might want to consider starting there,” he said. Then he spun over to the small table, reaching past the glass cotton ball jar to grab a pamphlet from a the small black rack hanging in the corner. “I want you to read through this. It has lots of advice for stress management and there are lots of professional resources if you need guidance.” He smiled at me under his gray mustache and patted his hands against his legs. “I hope I don’t have to see you here again. Best of luck to you both.” And with that, he stood from his stool and left the room.
I slowly looked up from the baby blue tile I had been studying on the floor to see Kian staring at me. He leaned forward in his chair to touch my back. “I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but you can’t ignore it,” he said.
“I know.” My voice was a little raspy, and my shoulders felt tight. Kian stood from his chair again and wrapped me in his arms once more.
Now we’re both in the kitchen. I’m sitting with my legs dangling from the counter, and he’s at the stove scrambling some eggs. I’m still thinking about what I should do, weighing my options over and over again in my head. He interrupts me, though, when he looks over his shoulder at me and winks before setting the spatula down on the counter. He walks over to me and pulls my legs around his waist. In this moment, I forget about the knots that have been hibernating in my stomach. I smile. Yes, I am important to the women I help, but I’m also important to me and the life I want to live, and that life needs to have this man in it. I wiggle from Kian’s embrace and pull my phone from my pocket.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“I’m quitting my job.”
“Okay.” He smiles and hugs me harder. The phone rings on the other line, and I smile back. Yes, it is okay.