January 16th. How It Ends.

His twenty-third birthday was less than twelve hours gone. He could still feel his mother’s arms around him, pulling him out of bed when the promise of cake wasn’t enough to rouse him. He could still hear his father and brother singing their tone deaf rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ while his mother accompanied them on piano. He could still smell the candles he hadn’t been wishful enough to blow out on his own. And he could still see the knife — the knife he’d never reached for, the knife he’d never asked for, the knife he’d never done more than look at, his eyes gravitating toward it in response to a sick impulse telling him it was the way to end his suffering. Like cutting a birthday cake.

It was because he had looked at the knife, and because his family had noticed, that less than twelve hours later, Morde found himself in the same place he had been at eighteen: sitting outside of the hospital, slumped over in the passenger seat of his father’s car, pleading with him not to make him go in.

“N-No. N-No, please,” he whimpered, as if he were a small child. “You can’t d-do this to me. You p-promised you’d never do this to me again.” He couldn't bring himself to lift his head up, his entire body feeling much heavier than it normally did. “P-Please,” he begged. “I’ll do anything.”

“Baby,” his mother cooed from behind him, unbuckling her seat belt and leaning forward so that she could put her hands on his shoulders, holding him steady as his body shook, compensating for convulsive sobs.

“H-How l-long?” Morde sniffled.

“You won’t even have time to miss us,” His brother, seated beside their mother, assured him, giving voice to a sentiment Morde would have expected from their father — had he not been struggling to be strong for all of them. “You’ll be home before you know it and we’ll call you every day.”

“How long?” Morde repeated, as forcefully as he could manage.

“Not long,” his father said. “Two weeks, maybe less.”

“N-No,” Morde protested, shaking his head. It took every ounce of mental and physical strength he had left to look up from the upholstery beneath his feet, his eyes finding his father’s in tearful desperation. “Please, no. D-Don’t make me go in there. Take me h-home. I want to go home.”

“We’ll all go in with you,” His brother said, extending his hand so that he could touch Morde’s arm. “It’ll be okay.”

Defeated, Morde buried his face in his hands, muttering unintelligibly while he wept, his mother kneading his tensed shoulder muscles with careful hands. Despite being the only one of his family members who could understand what he was going through, it was the first time she’d been there for him during a depressive episode, at long last making up for all of the times he’d been there for her. It was the first time she’d been there for him at all since his childhood. “I-I want Mom,” he murmured, withdrawing his hands. “Just Mom.”

Morde could feel his mother exchanging a worried glance with his father before she got out of the car and opened his door. Cautiously, she leaned down to unbuckle his seat belt for him and wipe some of his tears away, running the soft tips of her thumbs under his eyes. “Don’t you want to say goodbye?”

“N-No,” he answered, averting his eyes from her and — finally — letting her coax him out of the car.

“Morde,” his father said, for once referring to him by his preferred nickname rather than his full name, catching his hand before he went. “I love you. I know you don’t believe me right now, but I’m doing this because I love you. I’ll call you every day — Eliya, too — and once you’re feeling a little better, we’ll come visit. I promise.”

As Morde squeezed his eyes shut, fresh tears streaming down his cheeks, he could envision his brother nodding in the back seat. “Two weeks is nothing compared to all the time we’ll have when you’re back home. I love you, little brother. We all do.”

Tearing free of his father’s grip, Morde could only manage one word in response: “Don’t.”

February 1st. How It Begins.

His twenty-third birthday was more than fourteen days gone. He could still feel his mother’s arms around him, pulling him out of bed when the promise of cake wasn’t enough to rouse him. He could still hear his father and brother singing their tone deaf rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ while his mother accompanied them on piano. He could still smell the candles he hadn’t been wishful enough to blow out on his own. And he could still see the knife — the knife he’d never reached for, the knife he’d never asked for, the knife he’d never done more than look at, his eyes gravitating toward it in response to a sick impulse telling him it was the way to end his suffering. Like cutting a birthday cake.

It was because he had looked at the knife, and because his family had noticed, that more than fourteen days later, Morde found himself in the place he should have been all along: sitting in a therapist’s office, properly medicated, and talking her through the thoughts that were weighing on his mind.

“She sent divorce papers while I was gone,” he said.

“How did that make you feel?”

“Like a jack-o-lantern after somebody smashes it in the street. Like she cut holes in me and ripped out all my insides, but needed to dump my body somewhere cold and hard before the fun could be over.”

“Are you still blaming yourself?”

“I think part of me is always going to blame myself… but I blame her, too. Not for everything, just… for leaving. Leaving was her choice. I didn’t have control over that any more than I had control over how I was feeling. She broke every promise she ever made to me and left. She gave up on me.”

“Do you think you’ll ever be able to forgive her for that?”

“I don’t know,” he said, absently fumbling with the ring on his finger. “I know I love her. I know I sat in the hospital for two weeks hoping she would call, despite everything. I just… don’t know whether or not it’s a good thing. I don’t know how smart it is for me to love her anymore.”