Uncle Fester squatted in my head like bloated, ornery toad, culminating in a bad evening of snapping at Dylan and Becky for no reason. Alone in the kitchen while I was lighting a gas burner, those physical symptoms which accompany Uncle Fester at his worst - the choke collar, the weight on my chest, the pounding in my skull - all clamped down like a vise. I’ve suffered panic attacks before but this was different. Instead of thinking I was dying, I was afraid I wouldn’t die, but my life would be miserable.
I felt that way as long as I could stand it.
Then I took the wooden match I’d used to light the stove and held the head to the flesh inside my arm.
The closest I’ve come to something like that was dragging the scooped edge on top of a safety pin over my forearm in middle school. I wanted it to scar, so I picked at the scab every time it formed. If I was going to practice self-mutilation as a coping mechanism, you’d think I would have discovered it earlier in life.
The burning match head brought Fester up short. A second match, allowed to burn longer to get good and hot and used more quickly once the the flame was blown out - not the desperate use of anything at hand to stop the flood of emotions but an intentional match - well, that second match sent Fester away.
The following morning was even worse. I’ve blocked it out, but I know it wasn’t pretty. Becky left to drop Dylan off at school. I fully expected her to come back and tell me she hadn’t signed on for this, to get my shit together or get lost.
Alone in a house which Fester had robbed of all cheer and warmth, the physical symptoms threatened to overwhelm me again. I heard a voice, my old friend Maria Clara Ferri. During that first week of my separation, Maria told there’d be times I’d be miserable, and I had to allow myself to be miserable.
So I did. I stopped wondering why I was feeling so desolate and let the tears come. At the height of this sobbing jag, I surprised myself by barking, “She left me” at the empty house.
I didn’t mean Becky to drop off Dylan, either.
Uncle Fester has visited twice since then. Both times, his stay has been shorter. I think the third time he might have even been easier to ignore, but I could be fooling myself. Maybe he’s just saving up for one big push to make me ruin my new life, but there’s no way of knowing.
When Becky returned that awful, awful morning, I apologized. I told her I was scared. Scared of us not working out, of losing her, of being heartbroken again.
She offered assurances, but in the end it’s me. When Fester has me, I can’t feel her love. That’s his worst power. I can’t feel Becky’s love, at all.