Vault

In mid-April of my first year with Blue, I went to spend the afternoon at Michael’s apartment. From the Metro stop, I turned down side streets canopied with the chartreuse of early Ginkgo leaves, past the power restaurants that ring K Street. What time will you be there? I had asked him. All day, he replied. Outside the lobby, I glanced furtively left and right before going in, and waited for an empty elevator.

He had replaced his door since I was last there. The new one was four feet wide, brushed steel, with a central panel where an 18 inch wheel lock balanced on a giant gear. Three deadbolts, each one inch thick, cinched the opening edge. There was no viewer, but as I approached, I heard the gears crank as the wheel lock slowly turned. With all his weight on a right shoulder, he pushed it open just enough for me to squeeze in.

We laid out a picnic supper on the floor. Outside, spring day temperatures had dropped and I savored the sting of the room’s warmth on my cheeks. He had made something sweet, chewy flatbread, and something spicy. We washed it down with cold wine, and then opened old photo albums. There were fewer pictures of Rich and the family than I remembered, and shadows where the remaining pictures had been rearranged to make the gaps less obvious. I opened my mouth to ask about it, but for some reason couldn’t remember any of their names, and so didn’t. Michael seemed unbothered.

A little before ten o’clock, I went to laze on the bed and was not awake to see him turn out the lights. I went in to see Blue the next morning.

“Mai, I never told you that you have to put Michael in a vault and lock him away.”

“It’s not to suppress him; it’s to keep him safe.”

“Safe from what? Did you think I wanted you to get rid of him?” Blue asked in a mildly hurt tone.

“No. I don’t know. No…. What does it mean to recover from dissociation?”

“It means knowing and understanding all your parts, and accepting that they are a part of you. It doesn’t mean Michael needs to go away, now or ever, if you don’t want him to. In fact, I advise not going that direction for now.”

“Why? He’s starting to forget who Rich is. Everything is fading.” The sobs were beginning to rattle in my chest; there was a ripping sound.

“He protects you, Mai. You’re going through a rough time right now; you could use some protection.”

Just a few days later, an alarm sounded before dawn and Michael broke out of the vault. I paused, confused, for a moment, frantically scanning the apartment and hallway for intruders, but there were none. No one in the building or the city was up at that hour. He swept by me impatiently, grabbing his coat, my coat, pushing my arms through the sleeves. His arm clamped around my waist and we began running.

We stand at the top of a ravine in RockCreekPark, something hissing in the dark behind us. I am still calm and try to turn around, but he is blocking my vision. He pushes gently, insistently, and we scamper down the hillside, bouncing off small boulders with their mica glinting in the moonlight, slip sliding on wet leaves. I try to call out, What’s the matter? What’s wrong? But he doesn’t wait for the sounds to finish forming. We run down and down.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” I cried soundlessly in Blue’s office.

“Do what, Mai?”

“It just feels so bad. Please, I just want to sleep.” The dark dissolves and Michael and I are on the ledge of a cliff. Below, mist rises in thick coils and I can’t see where the rock ends.

“Let the people around you take care of you. Let Michael take care of you.”

“You shouldn’t leave me alone with him right now. He’s in a strange mood.”

Michael pulls me to his chest, my face hidden in his lapels. I feel his weight on me, tilting, tilting. We leave the ledge and fall. Saltwater lacquers my eyes and I can feel icy air currents on my legs, the back of my head, the only places where he is not plastered to me.

“Excuse me, Mai. Did you say flying or falling?

“Falling……”

“How might you hurt yourself?” Blue raised his voice. The anxiolytic effects of Zoloft kick in almost instantly, but its full anti-depressant action lags behind by a month or more. He made me promise to call him if I contemplated taking action, and to wait for him to return my call.

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