We didn’t have to wait to be triaged when we got to emergency. They didn’t take my blood pressure, and I didn’t have to show them my insurance card. Maria just gave our names, and the receptionist smiled.

“We’ve been expecting you,” she said, careful to avoid eye contact as she turned and led us to a set of beige doors. “Okay, see the big dots going down the hall? Follow those around the corner. You’ll come to another set of doors, and then take a left. Just tell them who you are and they’ll buzz you in.”

I snickered. Maria did not.

“Thank you so much,” she said.

We followed the dots down the hall without a word.

This was not how I had planned on spending our second Valentine’s Day as husband and wife. On our first Valentine’s, we borrowed a convertible and drove up-island to eat oysters, the top down and the music up.

Tonight it was raining.  When I picked her up from work she instructed me to go straight to the hospital.

I asked if she was okay.

“I am, but you’re not,” she said, “I phoned the hospital this afternoon and talked to one of the psychiatrists.”

“Are you serious?”

“I told him you’re manic, Chris. He asked if you were on any medication, and I told him about the pills you take. He said that mania and anti-depressants are a very dangerous combination, and that your behavior makes sense with that in mind. He said we need to go to emergency right away.”

“We’ve been through this a hundred times, Maria. I’m fine!”

“Chris. We need to go to the hospital now. I’m completely serious.”

“I’m not your father, and I’m not your fucking ex-boyfriend, Maria.”

“Don’t start that again. Do you want to drive or should I?”

“I’ll fuckin’ drive. You know what? Let’s go. Let’s prove that you’re being hyper-vigilant because of your fucked up childhood and your fucked up relationship with your fucked up ex, and that I’m totally fine.”

She started to cry.

She cried all the way to the hospital.

I drove faster than usual.

————-

The dots led to another waiting room with its own reception desk.  Maria checked in. Unlike the first waiting room, this one was empty save for a man sleeping upright in a chair. Drool cascaded down his chin and pooled in the crease of his crimson sweat shirt.

Maria sat down and pulled a book from her purse.   I scratched my beard, and looked around the room. Everything was in its pre-ordained place.  In stark contrast to the man sleeping in the chair under the large clock, the room was immaculately clean. There were no plants. Tiles shone under the buzz of fluorescent light.

I sat down, and rested my arm on the back of the chair I’d left between us. I didn’t bother looking at Maria’s face. Her Roman nose pointed squarely at the center of a page that never turned.

I pulled my phone from my pocket and texted my friend Lindsay. I had a crush on her, which intensified with every minute I spent in the waiting room.

Guess where Maria took me for Valentine’s Day?

Her response came quickly:

Where?!?!?!?! ❤

I wondered if she was alone. I couldn’t fathom how she could be: she was gorgeous and kind. The prospect of her being unattached excited me.

The Psych Ward!  Hahahahaha!

I shouldn’t have told her that.  She wasn’t responding now.

I opened Facebook to distract myself. I looked at old photos, and deleted a bunch of them because it sickened me to see Maria and me smiling.  Happier times.

————–

I had met Maria at her farewell party. She was leaving Calgary the next day for Victoria, where she was registered for classes in September.  We hit it off, and wrote each other every day.  Six months later, I moved to the island.

Maria liked and encouraged my impulsiveness, back then. We’d drink and smoke together on her balcony.  We talked about baby names.

We took refuge in each other on our wedding day. Maria and I, both introverts, found the spectacle of the ceremony, and the reception exhausting. We stole away together throughout the night to check in with each other, to hug, and to ensure each other that it would soon be just the two of us again.

Now we ignored each other in the waiting room of a psych ward, her gaze fixed upon page 201.

Maria had stopped drinking while I continued. She talked less about the future, and more about the past. I learned how monstrous her father and her ex-boyfriend had been, both of them alcoholics. That is why she stopped. On the rare occasions she did drink, she talked to and about her ex-boyfriend. I’d find her talking to him on the phone, though she denied it.

After thirty minutes of sitting, a doctor appeared. I assumed he was going to call on the unconscious, drooling man since he was there before us, but he called out my name in full. I stood up. The doctor forced a smile and gestured to the room behind the window in front of where Maria and I sat.

“Can I come too?” Maria asked.

“You’re Maria, I presume?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks for coming Maria. I want to talk to you too, but I’m going to talk to Christopher first, okay?”

“Okay.”

I walked into the room and the doctor closed the door behind us. He neglected to close the blinds. Maria’s nose remained fixed upon her book, but her eyes focused on the window between us. I giggled.

“Is something funny, Christopher?”

“This whole thing is funny.”

“I don’t think it’s funny.”

“I doubt you think much is funny.”

“How do you know that?”

“You look like a serious man. And you are wearing a very serious tie.”

“Why do you think my tie is serious?”

“It’s red.”

“Red is serious to you?”

“Oh, red is very serious to me.”

“Interesting…” He scribbled something on my chart. I giggled again.

“So what brings you in today, Christopher?”

He looked me in the eye. His shaved head gleamed in the cold light.

“My wife,” I said.

“Can you tell me why?”

“She thinks I am manic.”

“Are you?”

“No.”

“Why does she think you’re manic?”

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to tell you that herself.”

“Why do you think you’re not manic?”

“I don’t believe there’s such thing as bi-polar disorder”.

“Well the DSM…”

“I know all about the DSM, doctor.  What edition are we on now? Anyway, I know all about it, and I also know it’s constantly being revised. Did you know that homosexuality was once listed in there?”

“I am aware, Christopher, thanks. It says here that you are on anti-depressants. Can you tell me about that?”

“I am on anti-depressants.“

“…care to elaborate?”

“Sure. I take anti-depressants because I don’t like being depressed. For the past fifteen years, I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve found that pills help.”

“So you believe in depression?”

“Oh yes. And depression believes in me.”

I winked.  The doctor added something to my chart.

“What kind of medication are you taking Mr. Wolfe?”

“Effexor.”

“What dosage?”

“I’m not sure. Does fifteen milligrams sound right? I take three pills every morning if that helps.”

“And how do you feel?”

“Right now, or in general?”

“Both.”

“Right now I feel upset. I shouldn’t be here. I’m only here to placate my wife. I feel that I’m wasting your time, and mine, not to mention tax payers’ money. It’s Valentine’s Day, which actually comes as a bit of a relief, because I hate this holiday, and don’t have enough money to take my wife out to dinner. In that sense, I guess this is a blessing, but otherwise, it’s fucked.”

More scribbles on the chart.

“In general, I feel great.”  I continued. “I haven’t been depressed since… August, I think. But my wife seems to prefer when I’m sad. We watch TV together then. I’m more social when I don’t feel like shit.  It bothers her. I think she’s a bit jealous…”

“Let’s stay focused on you Christopher.”

“Okay. Anyway, Maria thinks that I’m manic, as does my best friend who’s a psychiatrist. He’s thought that for years, and now Maria thinks so too.”

“So, your wife of… how many years?”

“Two.”

“Your wife of two years, and your best friend both think you’re manic, and you don’t agree with them?”

“Correct.”

“Why not?”

“Are you familiar with David Foster Wallace?”

“No.”

“He’s one of my favourite writers. He struggled with depression his whole life, and eventually he killed himself. He knew depression very well, but he also knew the other side of it. He said that everyone who experiences depression also experiences a kind of ‘heightened state’ once the depression dissipates. I liken it to climbing a mountain with a big backpack. If the backpack’s taken off, you feel like you could run up that mountain. People coming down the mountain probably think you’re insane for running, but that’s just because they lack the proper perspective. I think Maria and Henry both see me running up the mountain.  They don’t understand, so they think I’m crazy.”

“So you take the theory of a suicidal writer more seriously than that of an established community of psychiatrists?”

“Absolutely!”

He scribbled on my chart again.

“What do you hope to gain from this visit, Mr. Wolfe?”

“I’d like a clean bill of health. I’d like to put the fears of my wife and my best friend to rest for good.”

“And what if I’m unable to give you a clean bill of health?”

“At this point I am willing to go along with whatever you think is best for me and my wife– aside from Electro-shock therapy!”  I laughed.

“That’s an outdated practice, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Psychiatry is an outdated practice as far as I’m concerned, doctor.  Do you mind if I ask what field of psychiatry, in particular, you studied?”

“I do mind. It doesn’t matter.”

“Ok. Do you mind if I ask you what your name is?”

“I’m Doctor Morgan, and I think we’re done here. I am going to bring your wife in and have a chat with her. If you could wait outside, that would be great.”

“Gladly. Thanks for your time.”

I stood up and headed for the door.

———-

Maria and I traded places without trading glances.  The door closed firmly behind her, but it was not enough to wake the man under the clock. It was after eight now, and I was starving. I followed the dots backwards in search of food.

I was well acquainted with the hospital. I had been there a couple of times before.  I’d broken my elbow in two places while riding my skateboard, and I’d also paid a visit after a trip to Jamaica where I’d contracted a foot infection. The doctor who assessed me that night actually laughed at the appendage, which by then only vaguely resembled a foot.

This trip to the hospital, in contrast to the last ones, had no humour, and no lightness. Maria was serious. The doctor was serious. The dots were serious. Even the man under the clock was serious. I looked at the vending machine: juice, Sun Chips, mints.  Serious mints: chlorophyll mints. I hit S-11.  The machine’s silver, corkscrewed ribs churned, and a bag of chips fell.

I followed the dots back to the psych ward. The sleeping, drooling man was still sleeping, and still drooling.  I watched Maria talking to the doctor with exaggerated gestures. I knew she was impersonating me. I’d seen it several times before: her impression was hilarious.

I chuckled and ate some chips. I amused myself by pretending I was watching a silent film until the doctor noticed me, got up, and closed the blinds. Again I chuckled, and wiped my crumby fingers on my sock.

The door to the conference room opened abruptly. Maria walked toward me, her eyes averted, and tears streaming down red cheeks. The doctor stood beside the door with his feet shoulder-width apart. He looked down at his chart.

“Okay, Christopher. I was prepared to let you go, but after talking with your wife, I have a few more questions for you. I’m going to assemble a few of my colleagues, and we’ll meet here in about half an hour, okay?”

“What did you tell him, Maria?”

“Chris, please don’t.”

I shook my head.

“I urge you to stay, Mr. Wolfe. See you in half an hour.”

The doctor turned on his heel, and walked quickly down the hall.

“This is absurd. What the hell, Maria?”

“Please don’t, Chris.”

I bit my lip so hard it bled, and pulled out my phone to distract myself.  Lindsay had finally written back:

Maria loves you Chris. Take care of yourself. J

Eventually, a team of five doctors walked shoulder to shoulder toward us. A female doctor summoned me to the room this time as Doctor Morgan took a seat at the center of the table. He was soon flanked by his team.  I sat before them as if on trial.

I noticed that four of the five doctors used pens; only the doctor who had invited me into the room held a mechanical pencil.

“Thank you for your patience, Christopher. We understand it’s been a long night for you, and by the sound of it, a long couple of months.”

“In what sense has it been ‘a long couple months’?”

“Your wife is very concerned about you, Christopher. Is there a history of mental illness in your family?”

“No. But, both of my grandfathers were preachers. Does that qualify as mental illness?”

The doctor with the pencil cleared her throat, disguising a giggle.

“Mom and dad both work?”

“My dad’s worked at the same job for over thirty years. My mom works for the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Commission—she’s been there since I moved to Victoria. She was a dental assistant before that, but left the profession because she got tired of looking at teeth. Do you ever tire of looking at brains?”

“Is there a history of alcohol or drug abuse in your family?”

“As I said, both of my grandfathers were ministers. They were closely affiliated with the temperance movement. As a child, my mom took an oath never to drink. She and my dad only recently started having wine with their dinner, but I doubt either of them has ever been drunk. My sister’s more conservative than they are: I don’t think she drinks at all.”

“What about you?”

“Me? I love booze!”

“So we’ve heard. How much do you drink?”

“Depends on how much I have in the bank.”

I grinned broadly.

“You joke.”

“If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I am manic depressive, right? It’s one extreme or the other with me.”

“You find this all quite humorous, don’t you?  All a big joke.”

“Hardly. My wife is sitting out there in tears. It’s Valentine’s Day, and to her this is not romantic. I’m sure you’d all much rather be wooing your partners than sitting under this God-awful light.  I find it entertaining, but not funny.”

“How much do you drink on an average day?”

“Well, last night I had about four pints. The night before that three, I think. On Saturday night, I had at least ten— strong beer too: IPA. I may have had a whiskey or two that night as well.”

“Do you realize that your marriage is in serious danger because of the amount of alcohol you consume?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think you have a drinking problem?”

“No.”

“You don’t see a contradiction there?”

“Not really. My wife’s father is a recovering alcoholic, and her ex-boyfriend’s a functioning alcoholic. She’s projecting years of shit on me.”

“We’re not here to discuss your wife, Mr. Wolfe. We’re here to talk about you.”

“Okay.”

“Your wife has described your manic states. You come home swearing, yelling, and singing. Is this correct?”

“Yes.”

“How do you feel when you are in these states?”

“Exultant. Buoyant. Happy. Did my wife tell you that I write?”

“Yes.”

“These ‘states’, as you define them, usually occur on productive writing days. I liken my writing process to method acting. The protagonist of the novel I’m working on right now is very exuberant. At the end of four or five hours of seeing— or trying to see— the world through his eyes I become exuberant as well.”

“Do you know where your character ends and you begin?”

“Of course.”

“But you become him for extended periods of time.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far…”

They all attack their notepads.

“Do you think you’re capable of not drinking, Mr. Wolfe?”

“Yes. But I don’t want to not drink.”

“Why?”

“I find it relaxing, and enjoyable. Plus, I love beer.”

“What if we were to tell you that your substance abuse is destroying your marriage?”

“That wouldn’t surprise me.”

“But you still wouldn’t quit?”

“I’d consider it.”

“Consider it?”

“Yes, so long as my wife were to get counseling for her own shit.”

“We’re not here to discuss your wife, Mr. Wolfe. We’re here to discuss you.”

“I know.”

“Good.”

“If you could please take a seat in the waiting room again, we’re going to discuss a few things before we bring you and your wife back in.”

“Okay.”

“Thank you.”

I closed the door behind me again.

“What did they say?”

“They’re gonna bring us both in in a bit.”

I took out my phone. It was after 11:00 PM.

Maria looked at me, her eyes red with tears.  “You must be starving,” I said, “I had some chips. There’s a vending machine back by the doors where we came in.”

“I’m fine thanks.”

“But I’m not!”

“Chris, please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”

“I was just joking. Fuck.”

“It’s not funny.”

“It is to me.”

“That’s part of the problem.”

“Apparently.”

We sat in silence until the door opened again.

The man under the clock woke up. He looked up at us, wiped his chin, and fell back to sleep.

———-

The pencil doctor again stood in the doorway with an insincere smile.

“Alright, Christopher, Maria: you can join us now.”

Maria walked ahead of me and I closed the door behind us. We both sat down.

“Again, we want to thank you both for your patience and your honesty tonight. To cut to the chase, Christopher, we’re not sure how to proceed. Some of us think we should keep you here for further examination— perhaps even detox— but others aren’t quite as sure. It’s difficult to make a diagnosis because of your drinking.”

“What?! You can’t keep me here.  Maria, did you bring me here to have me committed?”

The volume of my voice rose with every word.

Maria was crying again.  The doctors all wrote furiously on their pads.

“We don’t use that word anymore Mr. Wolfe.  But yes, it is an option to require you to stay if we think that you are a danger to yourself or to others. You’ve demonstrated, as recently as just a few seconds ago, that you’re prone to rather severe bursts of anger. We don’t want that to result in you eventually harming yourself… or someone else.”

“Are you fuckin’ serious? I’ve never hit anyone! I’m a fucking pacifist for Christ-sake! What did you tell him, Maria? I’ve never laid a finger on you, or anybody else!”

“Sometimes your bursts of rage scare me, Chris.”

“What, my bursts of rage at oil companies? At fucking…”

“Chris, please don’t swear.” Doctor Morgan said sternly.

“…at SUVs? God…”

The pencil doctor interrupted.

“We were wondering if the two of you have a mutual friend who’d be able to provide us with a more objective take on things– someone who cares for you both, and who’s seen Christopher in the states you’ve both described.”

I looked at Maria. Her eyes and cheeks were different shades of red. She focused squarely upon the grey carpet.

“Maria?” I said.

She didn’t look up.

“Do you have any ideas? Not Sasha – I think she is secretly in love with me, and hates me for it!”

Maria sighed and shook her head.

“What about Beth?” I offered.

“I don’t want to bring Beth into this, Chris—she’s due in two weeks.”

Maria’s eyes remained downcast as she spoke.

“Daryl?”

Maria pulled a Kleenex from her purse, and brought it to her eyes. She squeezed the soaked Kleenex into a ball with her other hand, and exhaled deeply.

“Yeah. Daryl would be good, I think. I know he loves you.”

The pencil doctor looked around at the others.

“Do you think Daryl would be available to come in tonight? We could arrange another time, of course, but ideally this panel would talk to him, and we often work different shifts.  We can make the call if you’d like us to.”

Maria looked up. “I’ll phone him. I told him we were coming here tonight. Knowing Daryl, he’ll be here right away; he’s very concerned about Chris.”

I shook my head.

“Okay. Feel free to make the call outside, Maria. Let’s all take a little break. Grab a coffee, and something to eat. There’s a vending machine by reception, and a Tim Horton’s just outside. Let’s meet back here in fifteen minutes to see if Daryl’s able to join us.  If he is, Christopher will have to sign a release. If not, we’ll schedule a follow-up appointment.”

“If Daryl can’t make it tonight, does it mean I have to stay here?”

“We’ll discuss that on our break as well, Mr. Wolfe. For now, just try to relax. Everything will be fine.”

————

Daryl arrived soon after Maria phoned him. He gave us both a knowing, pained look and hurried over to give me hug.

“Hey, bud. Good to see ya! Geez, is that the right thing to say?  Sssoooorrryyyy. I’m glad to see you are getting the help you need though, bud.”

“I…”

Daryl slapped my back, at once interrupting me, and concluding our embrace. He squatted in front of Maria, who sat in the corner chair. She looked down at him and started sobbing.

“Oooohhh Maria… don’t feel bad, this is all gonna work out for the best. You did the right thing and we’re gonna get to the bottom of what’s goin’ on with our big lug over there! Heh heh heh!”

“I feel like such a bitch, Daryl.”

“You’re not a bitch, Maria. We all know you love him so, so much; he’s so lucky to have you. You’re doing the right thing.”

“You know I’m still here, hey Daryl?”

“Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, I know bud!”

Daryl had dressed up for the occasion. I had expected him to be wearing his trademark yellow rubber boots; he wore dress shoes instead, and a bowtie go with a sport jacket I’d never seen him in before. His styled hair was wet with rain, and his oversized glasses were still a bit foggy.

Soon, the doctors strode down the hallway. Daryl stood up, and walked confidently toward them. Doctor Morgan took a step in front of the team, and extended his hand.

“You must be Daryl. Thank you so much for coming in on such short notice. We really appreciate it. I’m Doctor Morgan.”

Daryl shook hands with each of the doctors in an exaggerated, attentive way.

“It’s the least I could do Doctor Morgan. Chris and Maria mean the world to me. I want to help Chris get through whatever the heck this is.”

“Well, let’s all take a seat.”

We walked into the conference room again. This time, Daryl sat between Maria and I. He polished his glasses, and squinted towards the doctors.

“So, again, we’d like to thank you Daryl, for coming in. Maria and Christopher both obviously hold you in high regard as they’ve mutually agreed that you’d offer a valuable perspective on Christopher’ mental health. How long have you known Maria and Christopher for?”

“I met these crazy kids about three years ago… ooops!  Bad choice of words… heh heh heh… ssoorry… I’ve known them for three years. Beth, my wife, has known them for five.”

“Have you ever been concerned about Christopher’s mental health?”

“Yes. I have.”

I was shocked; I glared at Daryl, but his eyes remained fixed on Doctor Morgan.

“There have been many times when I’ve been very concerned for Chris; he behaves erratically, putting his own life at risk. I’ve also personally counseled Maria on several occasions.”

“Are you fucking joking, Daryl?”

Doctor Morgan cut me off.

“Christopher. Please allow Daryl to share. Remember: you requested that he come here and talk with us. He’s very kind to come here on such short notice. Your interjections will not be tolerated, and I’ve made a note of it. Daryl, please continue.”

“Well, early last fall Chris invited me to a concert at Sucrose Nightclub. I was running a bit late, and when I got there, Chris was already very drunk. He was standing outside smoking, and I could tell that he was agitated.”

“How could you tell he was agitated?”

“I went up to him and said, ‘Hey bud!’ like always, and he immediately started raving about the door staff. He thought they ‘had it out for him’ because he was on the guest list, and kept saying they’d sexually harassed some of the female patrons.”

“Which is true, Daryl. You know it!”

“Mr. Wolfe, please!” Doctor Morgan interjected.

“When we got to the front of the line, the bouncers asked Chris for his ID: he didn’t have it. The door staff told him they legally couldn’t let him in without ID. Chris became furious, and started yelling at them. He screamed that they were a bunch of ‘assholes’…”

“Actually, I said that they were all as useless as the foreskin on a limp cock!”

The doctor with the pencil cleared her throat.

“Chris then moved a couple feet away from the bouncers, and made a big spectacle of phoning his friend who was playing that night: supposedly he’d put us on the list. I was incredibly embarrassed, and scared because the doormen were all angry. I tried to get Chris to leave, but he wouldn’t.”

“Can I say something now, please?”

“Yes, Chris. Go ahead.”

“I’d already been inside. I had a stamp. There was a separate line for ins-and-outs but they made me stand in the longer line: I complied. When I finally got to the front of that line, they said I couldn’t go in because I didn’t have my ID. I tried to explain to them that my ID was upstairs paying their wages, and they told me to leave. My ID and my jacket were inside. That is why I stayed. I hate that place: I was only there because my friend was playing.”

Daryl rubbed his hands together and shook his head.

“I’m on your side, bud. But it’s the way you react that scares me. You were completely out of control that night. It was ugly, and disturbing to watch. You yelling threats at bouncers is just one example of many where I felt very uncomfortable being around you, bud.”

Maria started crying again.

“Have there been any such occurrences more recently, Daryl– any this year?”

“Yes. Last month, Chris and Maria hosted a party for Jodi, a mutual friend of ours. In the middle of the party, Chris dropped his pants and screamed that he was wearing Maria’s… ooooohhhhh, I’m sorry Maria…”

“It’s ok.” Maria said.

“He screamed that he was wearing Maria’s ‘period panties’. He was, in fact, wearing her… um, panties.”

“Yes. Maria told me about that earlier this evening.” Doctor Morgan replied, as he checked something off on his pad.

“It obviously hurt Maria a lot. Beth and I were very uncomfortable, and left the party.”

“Was Chris intoxicated at the time?” The pencil doctor asked.

“Yes. He’s often intoxicated when I see him.”

“Ok. I think we’ve heard enough,” said Doctor Morgan. “Thank you for your honesty tonight Daryl. Again, we really appreciate you coming in.  You obviously care about your friends a lot.”

“I sure do.”

“We’re going to discuss Christopher’ health in light of what you shared with us tonight—you’re free to go. Christopher, if you and Maria could have a seat in the waiting room we’ll invite you back to join us in a moment.”

Maria, Daryl, and I got up and closed the door behind us. Daryl put his bike helmet on and hugged Maria.

“You guys are great! If either of you need anything, phone Beth or I anytime, okay buds?

Maria gave Daryl another, longer hug.

“Thanks so much for coming, Daryl. Ride safe okay? I‘ll phone you tomorrow.”

It was just Maria, me, and the sleeping man in the waiting room again. We sat, and watched the doctors behind the window talking sternly amongst themselves. I put my hand on Maria’s knee. She pulled away.

It was well after 1:00 AM by the time the consult door opened and the pencil doctor invited us back in. The man in red remained passed out below his clock, snoring now. I was worried about him, but forgot to ask if he was ok: I was worried about myself too.

Pencil doctor sat at the center of the panel this time, and addressed us hurriedly.

“Christopher, we’re going to let you and Maria go home. Given the amount you drink, it would be impossible to accurately diagnose you. We strongly encourage you to stop drinking, and to seek help if necessary. Bipolar is a possibility. Borderline Personality is a possibility. But we can’t make an accurate diagnosis given the amount of alcohol you consume so regularly.”

“Maria. Do you feel safe going home with Christopher? Be honest.” Doctor Morgan asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. If there are any problems tonight, or in the future, phone 911. Christopher is now in our system, so don’t hesitate. You are free to go: have a good night.”

——————

We walked to the car and drove home in silence.  Our dog, Rosie, bashfully greeted us at the door. Piss and shit covered the living room floor. I cleaned up the mess, and took her for a long walk. Maria was asleep by the time I got home.

I took my place on the couch; my pillow and blanket were laid out for me.

Maria had already left for work when I got up. I stumbled to the washroom, and sat on the cold toilet. My bottle of pills was out on the shelf next to the sink, which was strange as I always kept it in the medicine cabinet.  Next to the bottle, and a glass of water, three pills were lined up.  I got up from the toilet, put the pills on the back of my tongue, and swallowed hard.

I went to the beach that morning. I hadn’t planned on taking Rosie, but she was obviously feeling anxious. I reluctantly put her on her leash, and when we got to the water, I absentmindedly threw stick for her. The Olympic Mountains stood before me; they were illuminated with fresh snow.  I took a deep breath, and pulled my phone from my pocket.  I dialed my mother’s cell.

“Hello?” she said distractedly. She sounded far away. I then remembered that she’d be at work.

“Hi mom, it’s me. Do you have a minute? It’s important.”

“I’m at work, but I guess I can take a break. Are you okay? Is Maria ok?”

“Yeah, we’re fine. Can you just call me back when you’re out of the office?”

“Yes. I’ll phone you in five minutes. I just have to let Kim know that I’m going.”

“Ok. Talk soon.”

I walked up the path to a bench overlooking the beach. My phone’s signal was much stronger there. My pocket buzzed soon after I sat down.

“Hi.”

“What’s going on?”

“Is there any history of mental illness in our family, mom?”

She paused. “I don’t think so— not on my side, anyway… why?”

“Maria thinks I am crazy. She took me to the hospital last night.”

“What?! Why?”

“I don’t know. She talked to one of the doctors yesterday afternoon, and told him that I’m manic. He told her to bring me in right away since I’m on anti-depressants.”

“What did they say?”

“They let me go… they said their results are inconclusive. We were there for about six hours. It was awful.”

“Where’s Maria now?”

“At work.”

“Are you okay, Chris?”

“Yes! I feel fine. I don’t know why she’s freaking out so much. Daryl came in too, and apparently he’s worried about me as well. It’s crazy.”

“Well, Chris, you’ve always been a strange one, but I don’t think you’re mentally ill. Maria must have known you’re weird when you got married.”

“Yes!”

“Have you heard anything about that job you applied for last week? I am sure it’s hard on Maria that you aren’t working. I can’t imagine being without work for as long as you’ve been. It must be a huge stress on your marriage.”

“No. I haven’t heard anything yet.”

“I don’t know why you’re so stubborn. Why do you guys live there? There’s no economy to speak of. A girl in my office lived there for a year, and went through much the same thing as you’re going through with work. I think you guys should move back here. There are tons of jobs to be had for you, and for Maria.”

“Mom, we’ve been through this a hundred times. We’re not moving to Calgary: I hate it there. It’s full of money obsessed pricks driving SUVs!”

“Don’t swear, Chris.”

“Gah! OK.”

“Well, maybe you should come back home for a while. You’re not working, anyway. You could apply for jobs from here. Your uncle’s going bear hunting in a couple of weeks, I think: you could go with him. Maybe it’d be good for you to get away from the island for a bit.”

“Maria doesn’t have any vacation days left.”

“I didn’t say Maria has to come.”

“Oh. Hmm… it would be nice to go hunting with Uncle Dale again, but I don’t have money for a flight. We barely had enough to pay the rent this month.”

“Your father and I have some Air Miles saved up. If we were to pay for your flight home would you want to come back for a while?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Let me talk to your father and I’ll phone you back.”

“Okay.”

“When would you want to come, next week?”

“I’d leave this afternoon, if there’s a flight.”

“Oh… okay. I’ll phone your father, and look into flights before lunch.”

“Okay. Thanks mom—talk soon.”

“Bye.”

I walked back home quickly. Suddenly, I wanted to leave as soon as possible. I went through the hamper, and threw some clothes into my backpack, along with my computer, and the manuscript I was working on.

I rested my pack on a kitchen chair, and wrote a note on the back of an old liquor store receipt:

Hey,

I’ve decided to go to Calgary for a while. I think we need some time apart to think about things. I’ll give you a call in a few days. The dog’s been fed.

Chris

I grabbed my toothbrush, deodorant, and pills. I scratched Rosie’s ears: she whimpered, and looked me in the eyes. I started to cry. I cried, and cried, eventually crumpling to the floor next to her. When I finally composed myself, I gave her one more pat on the head, and walked out the door.

 

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