A short story based on true events, By Chelsea Walker
A wave of hot air washed over her as she left the air-conditioned grocery store. She almost didn’t notice it.
Imagine that, she thought absently, I’m finally getting used to the heat.
After living in the Arizona desert for almost 10 years, Sarah was finally able to make it through the summer without feeling like a melting crayon. She turned her cart toward her section of the parking lot and lazily made her way over to her vehicle. There was a light, hot breeze—just enough to shake the leaves on the trees that grew, evenly spaced throughout the asphalt lot. The sky was a brilliant blue—not a cloud in sight. A typical day summer day in the desert. She sighed.
I can’t wait for monsoon season.
Rainy days were scarce here. It was something she really missed about her childhood home in Canada—the cool rainy days, among other things. But that was a long time ago and now little more than distant memories. She slowed her pace as she approached her car, digging her hand into the pocket of her purse.
Where are my keys?
She dug through the jumbled mess of receipts, wrappers and hot wheels cars until her fingers made contact with cold metal. Finding the fob, she unlocked her car and began loading her few small bags into the trunk. The sand colored Toyota Camry was one of the best purchases she and her husband had made in their almost 6 years of marriage. They had scrimped and saved long enough to buy it with cash. It was the perfect size for their little family–just big enough to fit the two of them, their 2-year-old son, Anders, and now, their new baby, Cathrin.
“Oh shoot!” She exclaimed aloud.
I forgot to grab the milk.
She groaned. Hurrying, she gingerly shut the trunk and locked the car with her fob as she rushed back inside. She practically ran back to the dairy cooler, grabbed a gallon of skim milk and made her way to the checkout, ending up in the same line as before. “Forgot to grab this.” She said, smiling at the clerk when she saw a questioning look in his eye. “I thought you looked familiar,” he winked in response. Jerry, an older gentleman, was typically here on Saturdays and always seemed to have a smile and a kind word for everyone. Sarah tapped her foot as Jerry rang up her purchase. She quickly paid with her card and rushed back out to the car.
I hope my frozen stuff is still cold.
Sliding onto the front seat, she started the car, and blasted the air conditioning. She waited a moment with the door still open to let the hotter air inside the car, out. She looked at the temperature reading in the dash. 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Plenty hot. When she felt like the temperature in the car had gone down some, she closed the door and reached for her sunglasses. They burned her fingers. Sighing, she put the Camry in reverse and started for home.
Her little reprieve from the duties waiting for her at home was over. There was always so much to do, and Sarah was determined to do it as perfectly as possible. She tried to smile as she thought of the children, but as she turned the final corner to her townhouse complex, she could feel her stress level and anxiety rising. It seemed to explode with intensity the closer she got. Sarah did her best to push it down. It was how she always dealt with it lately. She decided a while ago that she could at least fake feeling normal by forcing the unpleasantness down and just pushing ahead. She didn’t know what else to do. It seemed to be more intense than ever these past several days. The only time it let up, was when she was away from home.
Everything’s fine. She told herself, as she parked and grabbed her grocery bags out of the trunk.
As she walked the up the short stretch of sidewalk leading to her front door, her mind went to her friend, Maren. Maren had recently had a baby, as well and really struggled with postpartum anxiety. She ended up admitting herself to an inpatient behavioral health facility to get treatment. She had talked to Sarah about how much it helped her. She suggested that Sarah check it out. Sarah pushed the thought out of her mind.
Why would I do that? I’m fine. I’m just stressed, that’s all.
She took a deep breath and stopped outside the glass sliding door, that was the front doorway of their townhome. Beige, tab top curtains covered the glass from the inside. She thought back to when they had first moved here and how excited she had been. She didn’t feel excited about much these days. She mostly felt stressed out of her mind.
Taking another deep breath, she set her grocery bags down on the concrete and grabbed her key out of her purse. As she stuck the key in the keyhole a sweet, little boy—her Anders—pulled the curtain aside and smiled up at her. His brilliant blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he bobbed up and down with his hands clasped in front of him. Sarah couldn’t help but smile now. She loved this boy and his sister more than words could express.
That is why I keep going every day, she affirmed to herself. For them.
She opened the sliding door and cheerfully greeted him as he hugged her legs. “Hello, my sweetie!” Sarah crooned at him. “I missed you so much!” She tousled his blonde hair and laughed.
Scott, her husband, greeted her with a hug and kiss and grabbed the grocery bags from outside, shutting the door, while Sarah made her way over to the lavender bouncy seat. She bent down and lovingly enclosed a sweet bundle in a pink onesie, into her arms as she stood. “My sweet Cathrin,” she lovingly whispered, pressing her cheek to the young infant’s. Sarah kissed the little rosebud lips, which were now opened in a big smile. Sarah laughed at the slobbery kiss. She returned the little Cathrin to her seat and made her way over to the kitchen.
In doing so, she surveyed the scene around her. Giant cardboard building blocks and cars littered the stained carpet and laundry piles dominated one half of the couch. She saw that Scott had made progress on the kitchen, which was mostly clean.
He must have worked on that while I was gone.
“Thank you,” Sarah said, as she made her way over to her better half. They hugged again and as they broke apart, Scott saw the sadness in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” he gently asked, concern in his gaze. “I’m just not feeling great,” She said. “I feel so stressed out all the time.” Her unpleasant feelings which had been simmering in the background during the happy greetings had returned in full force. “I’m sorry, Sar,” Scott said sadly—using her pet name. “Is there anything I can do? Would you like to go and take a nap for a bit?”
Sarah thought the idea over and decided it might be good to take a little break. She nodded her agreement and made her way upstairs to their bedroom, tears starting to fall as she went.
Why is this happening to me?
Sarah stood at the kitchen sink, washing the last of the dinner dishes, while Scott got the kids into bed for the night. She could hear them walking around upstairs. It sounded like Scott was probably getting Anders out of the tub and into his little bedroom at the top of the stairs.
She thought back on the day as she scrubbed the casserole dish and stared absently out the window into their tiny backyard. The dry weeds were almost thigh-high back there.
When the weather is cooler, we will have to take care of that. One more thing to worry about.
Sarah was able to “rest” a little earlier that afternoon—if you could call it rest. She had been laying down but was tense, stressed and anxious. She was much too keyed up to sleep and so finally decided to get up and get some dinner ready.
“Do you want to watch a movie tonight, Sar?” Scott had asked during dinner. Sarah knew he was really trying to lift her spirits. “Sure,” she agreed, though she knew it wouldn’t help anything. Maybe it would distract her for a little while.
I suppose that can’t hurt. She acknowledged to herself, as she absently finished the last of the dishes and drained the sink.
Sarah started feeling worse as the day had gone on. She went from feeling overwhelming stress to feeling something she couldn’t even really describe to herself. She just felt wrong. As she dried her hands on the faded dish towel, she made her way up the wood stairs to use the bathroom.
As she walked, she took one last look at the mess downstairs. It seemed to have gotten worse since earlier. How that was possible, she wasn’t sure.
I’m exhausted. I’ll do it tomorrow…
She entered the bathroom and flicked on the light in the tiny space, revealing light blue walls and a small white vanity, with a toilet and a tub. It was the only bathroom in their little townhouse. Not the best of arrangements but it worked alright for them.
I’m not feeling right. She thought again. What is happening to me?
She closed the bathroom door and turned, facing the mirror. As she did so, she glimpsed her reflection and was startled by what she saw. Instead of her kind, cheerful face, her reflection’s features were twisted with malice and hatred. She saw her shoulder length brown hair and fair complexion. There were her green eyes—It was her, but it was not her. Her mouth seemed to curl with contempt or twist in a sneer. Her dark eyebrows angled downward in a menacing frown and in her eyes was a look of pure evil. It was a dark, caricature of herself and she knew it meant her harm—maybe even wanted to kill her.
This isn’t real. This isn’t real!
Sarah covered her eyes in fright and became aware of a new sensation. It was as though she could feel hundreds, maybe thousands of demons all around her, shouting at her in her mind. She fumbled with the lock in the door handle, finally unlocking it, and ran into the bedroom.
“Scott!” She shouted, sobbing freely. “Scott, something happened!”
Scott, startled, looked up from the clothes he was folding on the bed, concern in his eyes. “Sar–what’s going on?” He crossed the room quickly and encircled her in a warm embrace. She tearfully recounted the strange and frightening events in the bathroom.
“It’s going to be ok,” he said soothingly. Looking up at him, she could see the worry in his eyes.
“I want to go get evaluated, at that facility–like Maren suggested.” Sarah conceded, relief flooding her at the thought.
Maybe someone there will know what’s going on… and how to make this all stop.
“Yeah?” He asked. “That’s probably a good idea.” He paused. “Are you going to be ok tonight?” He questioned, looking down at her.
“I think so,” she said cautiously, still visibly shaken. “I just don’t think I can go back in there–at least not right now.” She said, referring to the bathroom. Fresh tears came as the unpleasant memory played over again in her head. She tried desperately to focus on the reality around her and not the enormity of confusion and fear she felt. She looked around the room willing her mind to think of anything else, but try as she might she could not shut out the memory and the alien way she felt inside.
“Why is this happening?” She finally asked him, through her tears, the helplessness evident in her voice.
“Do you want to say a prayer?” Scott gently asked. Sarah nodded and the two knelt by the bedside, Scott humbly asking God to help Sarah feel better tonight so that she could sleep. Peace washed over her.
Feeling comforted Sarah hugged Scott telling him thank you, for all he did for her. “Of course,” he said simply. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Scott. I couldn’t get through this without you. I’m sorry you have to deal with all this.” She said.
“Sar–don’t worry about that.” He said kindly. ” That’s why I’m here–to help you.” He kissed her and went to get ready for bed.
As Scott went to brush his teeth, Sarah changed quickly into some pajamas and climbed into bed, pulling the covers up to her chin as she rolled to over her right side. She closed her eyes, trying her best to maintain her calm and blessedly fell quickly asleep.