what to do when it happens again

On the surface, everything is calm.

She feels calm. She drinks her tea, eats her breakfast, gets dressed, brushes her teeth. The children get ready for school with their usual fights and screaming, as though they don’t sense that this calm is not a safe one. Something is wrong, but something is always wrong. Every day something is churning deep, deep below them.our

They leave the house. She is alone. She makes herself another cup of tea.

She sits down at her desk, wakes up her laptop, checks her email. Nothing important. She settles in to work, still calm, her hands steady. Nothing is wrong.

At lunchtime, she submits her reports and stands up to stretch. There are leftovers in the fridge and she eats them at the table with her book, the one for her book club. It doesn’t hold her interest but she keeps turning the pages anyway.

The dishes go in the dishwasher. The kettle goes on for another cup of tea. She goes upstairs to the bathroom, then comes down again. Her tea steeps, and she looks out the window at the grey and brown of early spring, the squirrels skittering through the trees, the chickadees singing for mates. Nothing remarkable anywhere.

The timer beeps for her tea, startling her. It’s too harsh. She takes it back to her desk and sits down again, but this time, she can’t concentrate. The timer is not that big a deal, she tells herself. It just startled you. You should go for a walk, or call someone.

She stares at her computer screen. She picks up her tea, and her hands are shaking so badly that she spills tea on her lap. It burns, and she cries out.

Get a grip, she tells herself savagely. You’re slipping.

She slams her laptop shut. Takes her tea to the kitchen and dumps it down the drain. Goes upstairs to change her jeans.

In the bathroom, she opens the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. Her gaze is briefly caught by the neat rows of Advil and Tylenol and half-finished prescriptions. But she doesn’t need those; she needs the list on the back of the mirror.

WHAT TO DO WHEN IT HAPPENS AGAIN

There is a list of phone numbers, a list of activities, and a crisis protocol. Right beneath the heading it says IF YOU CAN’T DECIDE, FOLLOW THE CRISIS PROTOCOL.

She is surprised to find tears on her cheeks, but they shouldn’t be a surprise. She never wanted to do this again.

With a sigh, she takes the piece of chalk from its place on the shelf and goes back downstairs.

She pulls back the area rug and draws a wobbly circle on the hardwood. She writes the letters CMXI in the centre. She takes the first candle she can find, a disgusting “clean laundry” scented one, and lights it. She puts it down inside the circle. She gets her book club book and sits down in the circle to wait for help to arrive.

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