Below you will find the description and first chapter of Lives Lived, a literary fiction novel. If you would like updates and information on the release date, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and use Lives Lived in the subject line.
Are you who you choose to be? Or has the world assigned you an identity?
Gabrielle Dubois is rebuilding her life after a short stint in a psychiatric hospital. While she mends wounds and soothes her mind, the past rises behind her, threatening to destroy her present and future wellbeing.
I am a broken woman how would it feel to shove a piece of stainless steel into my jugular how long would it be before the hot red pain gave way to peace this can’t stop will never stop I don’t want to die but this is no way to live-
Even three glasses of wine couldn’t slow things down. The clicking of the brain had begun days before. Now it was full speed. How long had it been since she’d decided to not take any more medication?
I don’t need anybody no one knows how strong I am I can live on my own crutches Lithium is a prison I won’t live in I would rather-
“Gabrielle? Are you still with me?”
We are here, in our bedroom, at home. This is a safe place. This is a safe place!
“Gabby, are you sleeping?”
The intricate stitches that weaved up and down both forearms itched. Not scratching was a sort of punishment.
If you’re crazy broken insane you don’t deserve the relief of a scratch look at what you have put everyone through why can’t you just be normal and-
Jonah had an affinity for her hair. His fingers weaved through the tightly curled knots, digging deep until he reached her scalp. The patient rhythm of his fingers soothed her, and the memory of her latest episode evaporated. She answered him with a shake of her head. Silence was necessary and beautiful. She didn’t want to break it.
The afterglow was sweet and full of pathos. Jonah’s legs were neatly tucked into the backs of her thighs and she lay with her eyes closed, naked and cold. Mild shivers ran along one side of her body, but she did not reach for cover. The serenity of the moment brought slight warmth to the crisp predawn hours. She gripped Jonah’s hand to feel. To be sure that this was not a dream. It was good to feel again. It was true. Only love could save you.
They had the place to themselves and had chosen to make love on the rickety futon in the corner of their room. Somehow the dilapidated thing had survived all four years of their relationship, but the metal bars had begun to penetrate the thin mattress and comforter. One of Gabrielle’s rib bones begged to be released from its torment but she held fast for a while. It was moments like these, when bodies intertwined with each other, becoming one, that people existed for.
“I missed you.” Jonah said, breaking the silence again.
She wasn’t ready to talk. Not about the past month or anything else. It was enough to be folded into his curved body. The renewed bond felt fresh and stronger than it had been before. Inside things were peaceful and quiet. Thoughts were steady and her heart was content. Her mind was in attendance and it seemed as if it always had been and would be. Today, she was present. The body, however, would have appreciated a few more days of rest.
The fatigue that always came after the flurry of mania was in full swing. Even though the recklessly lived days and adrenaline laced nights were over, her body had yet to catch up. A week in the hospital was typical, but she would have preferred more. Jonah had surrounded her with a delicate calmness that was allowing her to readjust to life, but the man wanted his wife back as soon as possible. He handled her fragile state with extreme gentleness and care but she could sense his slight impatience. It couldn’t be easy. He literally held her hand. Straightened her collar and brushed her hair. Jonah had slowed the spin of the globe for her, and she was grateful. The world was not racing and there was a chance that things were going to be all right. But he had to let her comeback to herself when she could. Not when he wanted her to.
Jonah eased his hands out of her hair and kissed her right shoulder. He gently twisted around to the front of her body and put his head on her rib cage. Coddling close to her breast, his nose nicked an erect nipple. It was scary to think that he needed her. That she wielded power over another being. But it was apparent. Jonah Dubois needed her.
It was August. The days had been unseasonably cool, and the nights breathed an ultra-crisp breath. Still the windows of the flat remained open, blowing truth into their home. A wind whistled through the bedroom window pushing the two further into one another. The dark stillness soothed the couple into a lull. The rise and fall of Jonah’s body plunged her into an introspective mood. Life was wonderful. Beautiful. Clichés that spoke the truth.
Jonah’s scruffy five o’clock shadow rubbed against her belly, forcing a giggle to creep out. She reached down and touched the top of his head, the straight prickles of fresh hair growing on his bald head. The faint hint of moonlight called attention to the bandages and stitches that ran up and down the insides of her arms.
It comes and I can’t stop it and it gets worse over time it won’t stop they can’t save me no one can save me I don’t want to die but how can I live-
“Is it helping?” Jonah asked as he climbed back up to the pillow.
“Maybe. We’ll see.”
“You seem a lot better. Not too happy. Not too sad.” He said, rubbing his narrow nose against hers.
The darkness hid his face. Even so, the confidence in his voice was obvious. Not too happy. Not too sad. That was what he thought this was all about? Although it was a simple way of attempting to understand, the comment irritated her. But what good would it do to say that what she’d experienced wasn’t happiness or sadness? That the fires blazing in her head went far beyond any interpretation of the normal continuum of human emotions? It would have been too much. He was doing the best he could to understand.
“Well, the truth is, I don’t know if I am better or not. It has gotten to the point where I don’t really know better or worse or well or sick. Everything runs and blurs. I figure I’ll take the clarity anyway I can get it.”
The air went still. She heard Jonah’s breathing pick up a bit. In the darkness, the shine of the barely detectible blue pupils were all she could see. Of course he didn’t want to hear that she really didn’t know how she was feeling but there was value in the truth.
Her heart slammed against the chest wall at an accelerated pace. Recognizable forces drove the brisk thumps. The climb was sensed before it occurred. It was time.
“Do you want tea?”
“Wouldn’t mind it.”
She pulled away from Jonah. With a measure of self-consciousness, she maneuvered through the dark. Before all of this, back in the springtime she had embarked on an excessive weight loss journey. An odd quest to twist her body into “something she could be proud of”. All the abdominal sculpting and exercise hadn’t been enough to keep the demons at bay. Then came the loss of appetite and energy. Days spent lingering in the bed too tired to lift food to her mouth.
Thirty pounds later, Gabby was smaller than she’d been when she was twelve. Now she looked sick and felt weak, with her entire her rib cage being visible. The sharp points of her collarbones threatened to push through the skin around her shoulders. As she climbed out of bed the frailty of her body was obvious.
She balled up her toes to absorb the shock of the cold floorboards and headed to the kitchen. The sparsely decorated flat was comforting. Only a few pieces of furniture lined the flat. A bureau here. An end table there. The less furniture the easier it was to keep things together. The familiarity of the rooms reminded her of how great it was to be home, and that a short absence hadn’t excluded her from everything that was and would be. It wasn’t much because much would turn into clutter and waste. Breeding chaos and internal breakdowns.
“Less is more. Cleanliness is the key to a quiet mind,” Jonah would say from time to time. It was occasionally annoying, but most of the time, she was thankful for his patience. Long before Jonah was aware of the moods and interment breakdowns he’d offered up casual wisdom.
You don’t need to save much Gabby. You’ll remember what you need to remember. Things are just things. Replaceable and disposable. People you keep.
In the kitchen, Gabrielle pulled a bottle down from the cupboards. She popped open the jar of fish oil capsules and took one. Back in the hospital she and Dr. Schwartz had a conversation about getting off pharmaceuticals. They spoke in quiet voices behind the closed door of his office.
“I can’t do this, doc. The lobotomy in the bottle isn’t for me. Depakote, Lithium, I can’t take those.”
The Depakote caused her to gain thirty pounds. The Lithium had made it impossible to concentrate, leading her to abandon writing, her one and only solace.
Dr. Schwartz had leaned over his desk, milky grey eyes peering out from underneath wire-rimmed glasses.
“There’s research. More tests need to be done, but there was hope and sometimes hope was enough. Get a bottle of fish oil and take three a day. If the symptoms get worse, take four. See how you feel at the end of the week.”
“Fish oil? Really?”
After all those years of pharmaceuticals, that insurance wouldn’t pay for. All of those prescriptions for anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, fish oil would do the trick? It was hard to believe. But so far it had worked. The moods still came, but they were manageable. She could feel the fish oil slow down the sensations that rushed through her brain. It gave her enough time to find a way to live through the moment.
She swallowed one fast. Hoping that it didn’t break on the way down her throat. She dropped tea leaves in a pot and waited for them to boil. In just ten short hours she would be back at work. That was how it had started this time. Long hours at work. Disgruntle coworkers and the effects of the recession. The combination had turned her world upside down.
At work, friends turned into enemies. They fought for the same shifts and stole tables from one another. Names were called and accusations thrown. Cooks stole out of the employee lockers just to make ends meet. The irate customer that glared at her throughout her meal and waited until she was leaving to complain, was the last straw. The woman had said that Gabrielle was an idiot- a stupid, dizzy waitress, for getting her order wrong. Between sobs Gabrielle told her manager she had to go. That she was quitting right then and there. She remembered screaming and crying and running from the building like a rabid animal. Had that really been her? She had run the entire way home that day. There was no recollection of crashing to the pavement and scratching up her knees and arms but that must have happened. She remembered standing there in the middle of the living room with blood dripping from her wounds and Jonah’s questions washing over her. The cuts and scrapes hadn’t hurt at all. Her body numb and her mind locked into a cycle of continual spinning.
The memories twisted through her gnarled brain tissue. Reminding her of what had been and might always be. How could any of this ever be different? She couldn’t stop the swinging of her brain, back and forth, between sanity and insanity. That was when the Voices came.
Jonah won’t stay with you. You’re too sick. He doesn’t love you.
The Voices were stuck to the ridges of her brain. No switches or nozzles turned them off. They spoke out of time whenever they felt like it, and battles raged between the Voices and the calm sayings that rose up from her heart.
He’s here to stay. He loves you. You can trust him.
The battles were forged frequently and so far, there was no clear winner. Not even four years between them could convince Gabby that Jonah was a permanent fixture in her life. She trusted Jonah but not herself. It had been too much for everyone else she’d ever loved.
No one can deal with this you can’t marry can’t have children you will never be well for those things might as well not even try-
It was just another episode. They would come and go. The one that had come a couple of weeks ago was over now. Things happen. People fall and get back up.
It was hard to erase the idea that the fight to survive was futile. There was a fear that one day she would not be able to pull herself back from the darkness. She held a concern that one episode would destroy the desire and ability to regenerate any form of normalcy. Every time she was in remission she allowed herself to play with the idea that she’s seen the last of the mania and depression. There were rumors that the bipolar cycle could end.
“Do you think that you could get over it one day?” Jonah asked years ago with great enthusiasm. Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. She could never really say anything for sure. Except that she loved Jonah and felt closer to him than she had anyone in a long time. There was a sense of belonging in her heart, and an acceptance that was completely unfamiliar. Jonah might be the thing that helped her to survive, but it was too early to tell.
Questions with elusive answers rushed around the kitchen. Snippets slid past her ears before they could register. She tried to catch them before they triggered another trap door.
Let it go. Relax and let the heartbeat fall back to a normal pace. Water in the pot is boiling. Stove is on. Stay on task. One thing at a time. Focus. Focus on the activity.
All notions of normalcy had been abandoned years before. Just had to get along however she could without asking for pardons. This was her life. This was how she had to live. It helped to be married to Jonah. She knew he didn’t necessarily understand, but he accepted who she was.
When the tea was ready, she poured two cups and placed them on a serving tray. That was when it came. It felt like rushing off the edge of a diving board. Her breath ran down her throat to hide. The brain couldn’t process everything. Her eyes remained clear and open. Refusing to close.
Jonah’s voice disintegrated the flashback of her limp body bleeding in the family room. Scenes from the most recent tragic trip would be back to stifle her but at that moment, they had disappeared. Visions and Voices. Things that were not really there scurried away. That was the price to pay for being sick and absolutely unfixable.
“Gabrielle? Are you alright?”
It was okay now. Jonah was there, and she was safe. It was as if he had heard the blood dripping in her mind. His eyes, cautious but not condescending, gave her the nudge she needed. Could he sense the trouble? Perhaps. Or maybe he just knew that she was wounded.
“You were gone awhile. I got worried.”
She caught his gaze and worked hard to erase the apprehension from her face.
©Copyright Melanie Dawn Watson