We lie side by side in the dark, and he whispers the same thing he whispers every night: "I love you, Celeste."
I don't want to ask, but I do. Every night, the same question: "Why's that?"
Then, a terrifying stretch of silence as he considers. Sometimes he yawns because it's late and we're exhausted and I am asking this of him again when he's two seconds from snoring into my left ear. Other times he cocks his head to the side and pulls his lower lip between his teeth. But he always stops to actually think about it, really mulling over the question because he knows by now that I really do need an answer. Otherwise, he'll find me on the sofa at three in the morning, my face a swollen riverbed of tears.
He's found me there before, on our small green sofa, my shoulders still shaking from the sobs I quietly loose into a blanket pooled between my hands. And as he sits beside me, I apologize over and over again. I know I'm being ridiculous. I resist as he pulls me into his arms, grateful and ashamed and tired and completely, utterly bewildered.
I feel terrible about my insatiable appetite for reassurance. The bottomless pit of need that is my brain. I don't want to be like this, because this drives people away. I apologize to Ian again and again, internally vowing to be better next time. I know that if I keep asking him why he loves me, he'll realize that he doesn't have an answer. That I'm rubbish and he's done with rubbish. He will leave and I won't blame him.
There is something fundamentally needy inside of me. I try to untangle some of it with my therapist every week, and I the truth is that I actually am getting better. Ian hasn't found me crying on the couch in the middle of the night for years now. But still, the need. Oh god, the need. It overwhelms me; fills me with self loathing. I can't imagine Ian not being filled with the same kind of repulsion for the woman I think he must regret marrying.
I don't know why he stays. Why doesn't he leave me? I'd leave me in one half of a heartbeat if only I could. I've tried, what with the booze and the drugs and the long, angry slides into suicide ideation, but by now I've realized that I can never leave my own foolish self. I'm stuck with me, no matter what. And that feels horribly, terrifyingly awful.
So in the moments in between me asking and him answering, I am thinking about how to divide our household. I don't mean to, but there my mind goes whether I like it or not.
Eventually, he answers. Mostly his answers are simple: "you stay up late watching goofy shows with me" or "you let me talk to you about work."
It's never enough.
It's never enough, because small words do no good against an onslaught of brain chatter. Holding hands in the dark doesn't make me feel any less unsure.
What does work, though, is that night after night - after ten years of nights - he still lets me ask him. And he always answers. And that, more than any little thing he could possibly say a moment before sleeping, lets me know that when he says he loves me, he really, truly means it.
Image: Celeste McLean via Running Nekkid
Celeste McLean is the writer behind the widely unread blog RunningNekkid, where she talks about grief, mental health, and her Pacific Islander ancestry.
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