Trigger Warning: mental health, suicidal thoughts, self-harm
Anticipation of what was coming was in some ways worse than the panic attack itself.
The thundering of her heart pounded in her ears. Vibrating numbness creeped into her
fingertips. Clenching her fists, she willed herself to relax. Flames licked the sides of her face.
The swirling pressure rising in her chest burst forth. Unable to restrain herself any longer she
grasped for anything solid. Her vision fading and consciousness draining away. She could feel
herself sinking into a pit. Suffocating flames of black consuming her. Finally, nothingness. I was
almost a relief.
Her eyebrows raised to aid in the opening of her eyes, she turned her head slowly. The
thick fog that obscured her vision slowly cleared. She could feel her soul slowly refilling her
deflated body. She always manages to survive what felt like certain death. She tried to reattach
her hands to her body. All the connections in her brain seemed severed. Her head churned and
oozed. Forming thoughts felt like treading in molasses.
Bounding into the room, unaware of their mother’s fragile mental state, the children
came. So many arms begging to be held. Request after request buzzed from their mouths. Her
quiet recovery was short lived. The reality of motherhood slapped her in the face. There were
diapers to be changed. She had to make sure dinner got on the table and soon. No one has any
clean clothes, not that anyone had bathed yet this week. Clean clothing wasn’t going to hide the
The small off-white kitchen was so filthy even the rats weren’t interested. The dishes that
filled the grim ringed sink would have to be washed before she could even start to make dinner.
“You can’t get clean dishes from dirty water.”
Windows work much better when they aren’t covered by a board. She’s forced to stare
at her own pasty reflection as she waits for the water to heat up. Grease coats her hands. She
calls for a towel to dry. Simon, always eager to please, rushes in with the towel he insists is
clean despite having just used it to wipe up the baby’s pee.
“Never mind. I’ll get it myself.”
A crash brings her back to reality. Crying and spitting blood the baby reaches for her.
Exasperation overflows through her skin. I very idea of picking him up is making her skin crawl,
but she does it anyway. A small cut on his lip. It’s mostly drool from teething. No major damage
was done. All he needs is comfort. Releasing him back down to the floor she grimaces. The
pain is yet another reminder that she is a prisoner in her broken body.
She places the burnt chili on the table in front of her children. Tears stream from Simons
eyes. He’d rather starve than eat the slop in front of him. Benny, the oldest and never one to
bring attention to himself, leans in and does his best. She can almost feel the way the beans
squish in the baby’s hands. Another mess she just cannot handle.
Suddenly the dog goes crazy. The children too. In the through the door, but no further
appears her husband. A returning hero. They cling to him. More than any of them she needs
him. All she wants is for him to wrap his arms around her. She wants to shrink into his body and
let go of all her troubles. A quick “Hi honey” is all she gets. He sweeps past her, takes off his
shoes and coat, and deposits himself on the couch. He needs to check to see if his friends are
Retreating to her bedroom for a moment’s peace she collapsed on her bed. Beside her
bed sits a worn cardboard diaper box. Inside the box were all her old journals, notebooks, and a
sketchbook or two. She writes down things that are meaningless to other, but to her they are a
lifeline. She knows that forgetting will come one day. Once she had asked her mother about the
people who had left messages in her yearbook, and she hadn’t been able to remember much.
So she wrote the details mundane as they may be in these books and scraps of paper. She’d
flip through and read back the record of her life. Some made her cry, others made her smile,
and a lot of it made her feel ashamed.
I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. These books are filled with all my sins. They’re
the only ones who know all the terrible things I’ve done. I can get rid of the evidence.
She leapt from the bed to search through a box on top of her dresser and pulls out a
lighter. With the box under her arm, she goes to the closet and reaches for a bottle of lighter
fluid from a high shelf. Into the backyard she collapses on damp ground. Cold drops touched
her bare shoulders and the breeze ensured she felt them. Was she crying or was her face wet
from the rain? She plopped the box out in front of her in the muddy grass. Her legs burned, but
she shivered on.
I’ll be rid of it all. There won’t be any proof. All my sins will burn away, and I’ll be free of
She lit the lighter and looked at the flame. Now she knew for sure she was crying.
Who am I without my sins? Will there be anything left? Maybe all I am is sin.
She shut the top of the lighter and pulled the box in close to her body. She wrapped her
arms and legs around it and held it tight.
If I burn up my sins, I’ll burn too. I don’t want to die, but I can’t live like this.
She released the box and curled up beside it.
“What are you doing out here?”
“You look cold.”
“I have to burn it.”
He nodded, went back inside, and returned with her well-worn coat. He spread the coat
over her and turned back to the house.
She didn’t know how long she had laid there. The wetter the box got the more she
worried it wouldn’t burn.
I’ll lose my chance.
She grabbed the bottle of lighter fluid and opened it, but her hand stopped short
just above the box.
I don’t want to die!
She threaded her arms through the sleeves of her coat, slipped the lighter and the fluid
into it’s pockets, and picked up the box. The cool mud squished between her toes. Once she
had put the box back in its place and hung up her coat. In the bathroom she caught a glimpse of
Leaning over to start the bath made her dizzy. The bathroom floor was cold, but she
couldn’t feel it. Emptiness filled the spaces inside her where thoughts and feelings once had
dwelt. When the water rose high enough to catch her attention, she snapped back to reality. The
rough knobs turned easily off. Her wet clothes clung to her. She had to peel them off. It felt like
they were holding on, clutching at her skin. She couldn’t get a full breath and pulled frantically to
free herself. She sat on the side of the tub to catch her breath. She swung her legs over and her
feet hit the steaming water.
If I can’t burn away my sins maybe I can scald and scrub them away.
She crawled in bed, her skin raw in bed. The sheets felt soothing. He was already there
looking at his phone.
“I think I need help. I think I need to go somewhere and be committed or something.”
“What if they don’t let you come home?”
Ethyl Boyer is a PNW native who spends her time creating and crafting and hiking around in the small mountain town where she lives with her two dogs and four wild children.