Content Warning: Suicide


My husband left things. A sock at the hotel, his car in the parking garage, our infant son at the doctor’s office. Granted, the socks were no big deal—he had a drawer full. I saw to that. And the car was parked in an appropriate place for cars, even an appropriate space marked Visitor. Which he was. And our son was in a safe place. You could argue my husband’s morbid fear of doctors was to blame for that leaving.

He simply went on to the next thing.

He left things around the house. Post-it notes that said fix the and watch out for stuck to the refrigerator and doors. Instructions to himself that were indecipherable to me, words and intentions locked up in his memory.

 “I’d never leave you, Ellen,” he said, his eyes darting away from mine.

In our therapist’s office, he picked at the leaves of the potted ficus as we picked our way around the landmines of my accusations and fears. “Sorry,” he said. Then he walked out of the therapist’s office, the car keys and a Wrigley’s spearmint gum wrapper forsaken on the chair. “Wait,” I said, calling after him and handing him his keys.

“Where are you going?”

He dropped the keys back into my hands. “I shouldn’t be here,” he said.

I thought he meant here, in therapy, with me. Now I think he meant here, as in on this planet.

“Walking away,” he once said to me, “solves most problems.” The therapist reminded me that I knew this about him when I married him. I threw away the gum wrapper.

She suggested I meditate. “Nothing in the external world, Ellen, and no one, can give you the anchor you are looking for.” She said he had an aversion to completion and gestured to her potted plant. “He doesn’t want to put down roots.” She recommended medication. For him, and maybe for me. “To help you cope, Ellen.”

Each month I refilled the little brown bottles that sat on our bathroom counter. We took turns with the baby. I fed, he bathed. He went to work. Did he have everything? Tie? Phone? A kiss to go? I patted down his body searching for the wallet. Yes.

The baby learned to crawl, then cruised around furniture, and eventually toddled to the front door waiting for Daddy to come home from work. The days passed and settled on me in a soft blanket of constancy.

My husband’s smile left first.

“Sorry,” he said one day.

He left his coat at the lawyer’s office when he filed for divorce. Inside one pocket, two forgotten binkies and empty gum wrappers. Inside the other, a handful of small white pills.

I worried about him. I wasn’t sure how he would manage without my rescues. Or how I would manage without rescuing.

When he left our apartment, he turned to me and said, “Ellen, you’ll be . . .” and then he opened his hands as if those hands knew how I would be. He placed that knowledge right there by the front door and walked out into the rain. He left his umbrella.

After he’d moved out, I found the words buy 2 on a bright green square of paper pressed onto the bathroom mirror and a package of Oreos half-eaten in the pantry, one cookie left with a bite in it. Had the cookies always been stale?

Maybe he was trying out this life, like an experiment, tasting it to see if it worked for him. Maybe he was a visitor.

Recently I heard from a co-worker that he left his job.

I imagined him discarding clothing, keys, phone and now parts of his life. I had been a force of accrual, buying new socks, having a baby. I hadn’t seen that he was dismantling all the accumulation of adult life, preparing for the last act: his leavings a prelude to the final departure. Leaving behind only a body.

His remnants live on in the apartment: a drawer full of socks, some still encased in cardboard bands announcing their size; the Christmas sweater I knitted for him in a blue that I thought was his favorite; a sadness, congealed on the bedroom pillow where he used to rest his head.

Just yesterday I found a post-it I hadn’t seen before. It had lodged between a table and the wall. A pale-yellow paper square with a gummy edge that no longer held.  The writing on it, in his unmistakable slant, said let Ellen know.