Your wife changes her hair color every season and her personality adjusts slightly. You’re secretly only in love with Autumn wife. She just came home sporting her Winter color.
it’s my fault. it’s just that when we met it was autumn; her red-orange hair and crackling laughter. there’s a little spooky in her, a lot of play. and what a better time for falling?
i didn’t realize it for the first few years - something shifting, something so subtle. the winter makes us all cold, the summer makes us all a little out of our minds. i just loved her, because she was incredible, and i was the luckiest person alive.
it’s just that i realized that spring came with sudden bursts of cold. it’s just that summer frequently raged in with fire sprouting from her lips. it’s just that winter was the worst of all, her eyes dead. it’s just that autumn loves me different; throws herself into it without the clingy sweat of summer. i used to love that summer girl, you know? i loved how wild she was, the way in summer she took every risk she could. but i carried her home drunk one too many times, cleaned up one too many of the messes she made for no reason than to enjoy the sensation of burning. and winter was worse; the shutdown, the isolation. how she became distant, a blizzard, caught up in her own head, unable to tell me what was wrong and unable to think i actually wanted to listen.
she comes home, her hair bleached white. a dark smile on her lips. the shadowy parts of her are back. they loom like icicles overhead. she kisses me with her body held at a distance, a peck on my cheek that feels like an iceberg. she makes polite conversation and we go to bed early, our bodies untouching.
it is a lonely season, i think on the ninth day of this. winter is cold. winter is known for the death of things. when i look at her, i see the girl i fell for, inhabited by an alien. she was the first women i loved so much i felt it would kill me. i can’t leave. when i wake her up with my crying, she tells me to shush and go back to sleep. she’s different like this, quiet, doesn’t eat.
three days later i stare at myself in the mirror. i wonder if it’s me. if the fat on my body or something in my face or the wrinkles and she doesn’t love me. i try prettier lingerie, lean cuisine, i try different hair, more makeup, try harder. it doesn’t work. she looks at me the same; that empty gaze that neither loves nor condemns my actions.
somewhere in februrary i lose it. we’re fighting again, from car to restaurant to car to home again. we fight about stupid things, small things; i tell her i feel she doesn’t love me, she says i’m not listening. the circle goes around and around, old pain peeling back, new pain unhealing. i sleep on the couch.
i wake up when i hear her crying, white hair around her all messed up. the kind of sobbing that only comes at two in the morning, heavy and thick and hurting. my winter girl. my heart is breaking. she looks up at me like i’m her anchor. “i’m sorry i’m like this,” she says. and i start saying, it’s okay i’m here we’re married, but she just shakes her head and says, “I know this isn’t the real me.”
i hold her cold hand. she stares at the blankets. “i am different in winter,” she whispers, “i know i am and i’m sorry.” she looks at me. “why do you think i dye my hair? cut it off? get rid of the old me?”
i tell her it’s okay. we’re together and it’s okay, and then she whispers, “i’m sorry you married four of me.”
we lay there like that, her head on my chest. she falls asleep. i stare at the ceiling, thinking of the way she sounded when she was crying. how i helped put her in that pain. how i promised in sickness and in health and everything in between.
the next day i spend at the library. there aren’t enough books on how to love someone with seasonal affective disorder so i make my own, notes and pages and little ideas on post-its. and i take a deep breath and make myself a promise.
she comes home to her favorite dinner and we kiss and she’s uneasy but that’s okay. the next day i bring home flowers and the next day she finds little love notes in her pockets. i love her quiet, the way winter demands, understand her sex drive is faltering; spend more time just cuddling. we drink wine and we kiss and some part of her starts relaxing.
the truth is there is no loving someone out of their mental illness. the truth is that you can love someone in despite of it; love them loud enough to give them an excuse to believe they can make their way out of it.
and i learn. i remember the rebirth of spring, when she starts thawing. we kiss and have picnics in pretty dresses. i remember her joy at little birds and her rain dancing. i fall in love with the flowers in her cheeks and the little bursts of cleaning. i fall in love with summer’s slow walks and milkshakes and shouting to music playing too loud on the speakers. i fall in love with her dancing, with the sunfire energy. and when winter comes; i am ready. i remember that snow used to look pretty. i fall in love with the hearth of her, with the holiday, with the slow smile that spreads across her face so shyly. i fall in love with how she looks in boots and mittens and every day i find another reason to love her the way she deserves - they way i always should have.
she comes home with her white hair and dark smile and a package in her hands. i ask to see what it is and that small shy grin comes creeping out. it’s a sunlamp packed in with medication. she looks at me with those wide eyes and that beautiful winter blush. “i’m trying to get better,” she whispers, “i promise.”
recovery doesn’t look immediate. sometimes it isn’t neat. i can’t say we never fight or that we’re suddenly complete. but each day, that tiny girl’s strength gives me another reason. i love her. i love her while she tames the roller coaster of spring; i love her for reigning in the summer storms; i love her for taking her winter and trying to be warm. it is hard, because everything worth it is hard. she spreads out her autumn leaves; mixes the best parts of her into everything. learns to take winter’s silence for a moment before yelling in summer. learns to take autumn’s spice and give it to spring. we are both learning.
one day she comes home and her hair is different, but it’s a style i don’t know. i kiss it and tell her that she’s beautiful and the inside of me swells like a flood. i’m so glad that she’s mine. every part of her. the whole. i am the luckiest person on earth. and i always have been. but she’s hugging me and saying, “thank you for helping me,” and i can’t explain why i’m crying.
this is what love is; not always an emotion but rather your actions. the choices we make when we realize our lives would be empty if the other was absent. this is what love is: letting them grow, helping them find their way in out of the cold. this is what love is: sometimes it takes work to see how the thing you planted together actually grows.
this is what love looks like in an autumn girl: it is winter and she glows.