The Trip By Karen Hamling

After two hours on the road, I see the wooden ‘Welcome to Nakusp’ sign. A big blue ‘N’ on a white background. The sign is weathered and worn and very much like how I feel as I travel highway 6 into town. “N” for Nakusp or “N” for numb? It is the middle of September and fall has just arrived. I spent last night in Nelson, to decompress before I headed home. I need a break to help me reset. The drive has been spectacular with the maple leaves turning to reds, oranges, yellows while the birch, larch, and trembling ash turning to various shades of yellow signs of winter approaching. I sigh with relief. It has been a difficult journey.

I drive down the winding highway where lights glow in various homes and it looks cozy.  I turn right at Anderson’s gas station.  It has been in the Anderson family for years with a well-lit gas pump area a bright beacon, welcoming me home. 

 It is on the verge of dusk as I pull into our driveway where we live in an older Victorian looking home, purchased soon after my wife and I were married.  We did some minor renovations to make it our home- our special place.  The vines crawling up the side of the house to the peaked roof   have turned a deep red.  The porch, with its round columns, cookie cutter roof  line, and carved railings are difficult to see without the lights on. The house looks as dreary and lonely as my mood. 

Yesterday morning, I travelled with my wife to Trail Regional Hospital for her admission to their psychiatric unit for assessment and hopefully some treatment that would help with her condition. They would hold my wife in the psychiatric unit for a week to ten days to assess her and find medications that would work better for her. 

Paranoia, they said.  Actually, she had been diagnosed as having schizophrenic paranoia.  We tried to deal with her paranoia with medication and consultations, on an outpatient basis with the psychiatrist; unfortunately, her condition deteriorated.  She refused to take her medications regularly because of the side-affects that she was experiencing.  The medications made her feel drowsy and she experienced some dizziness as well as some blurred vision.  She couldn’t handle the dizziness and the blurred vision – she said she felt out of control.

The psychiatrist had assured me patients with the diagnosis of schizophrenia very seldom become violent but there are rare cases.  He told me often the diagnosis could be genetic, but also Schizophrenia often followed a significant trauma that happened in the past.   Sometimes it’s chemical based.  In any case, my wife’s illusions were increasing.   They needed to be able to evaluate her over a few days and see what they can do to stabilizer her. 

Getting my wife to Trail was difficult. The accusation of trying to get rid of her hung heavy in the air.  I still hear her words  “ I am not getting in that car and going to Trail.  You are going to just dump me there and forget about me.  I know you are trying to get rid of me.”  I tried to reassure her that I would be there for her and I just wanted her to get well.  Eventually she agreed saying “I’m going to go so that people can see that I am fine and you are trying to poison me.”

It’s been eighteen hours since I dropped my wife off and I am relieved and drained.  A full night’s sleep, in my own bed, would work wonders.  I know it will also give me time to digest what has happened and where we will possibly go from here.  The past year has been very difficult. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and there were many times I questioned if I would survive.  The turmoil and stress of the past year caused many sleepless nights and nausea permeated my body most days. I began to wonder who needed protection from whom?  But then, I couldn’t imagine her being violent – it just isn’t the way she is.

On the way home, I reminisced about our married life and happier times. We married fifteen years ago and were very happy,  She was an intelligent,  easy-going, woman.  We both loved to read a lot of the same books and enjoyed spending time discussing them.  I loved my wife’s sense of humour, she could find the funny side of any situation and often had me laughing at her observations.  Also, her positive view of anything we dealt with – we were soul mates.   I can’t say exactly when maybe two years ago things changed. 

Little things at first.  My wife had misplaced items and started accusing me of removing or hiding them.    It didn’t bother me at first – I’m pretty easy going and tend to let things slide like raindrops off a rain jacket.  After all, wasn’t that normal in any relationship?  I mean, the misplacing and forgetting and thinking someone else was responsible.  After a while it seemed that she became more irritated and eventually the behavior became irrational, with accusations that I was trying to poison her or have her killed.  She wouldn’t eat anything that I had prepared unless she got to dish it out and then I had to eat the first few mouthfuls.   One night, I woke up and found her sitting up, staring down at me in the bed, watching, to make sure I wasn’t going to kill her.  The next night she moved into the guest room and installed a bolt on the inside of the door and has slept there for the past year. 

On the trip home from Trail, I started thinking back to the traumas that might have occurred during our marriage.   I wondered if the two pregnancies that ended in loss, at three months, would have been the issue, worse the stillborn at six months.   She never totally got over the sadness and grief of those episodes and refused another pregnancy.  The sadness, at that time of our lives, was like the weight of a heavy blanket pinning me down.

I haul my brown leather overnight bag out of the car and slowly walk up the red brick driveway, past an array of asters and moms, the final hurrah of our white rose bushes, cedar shrubs, and unlock the front door.  The house feels strangely quiet.                                                                                        

After I drop my case in the hall, I walk into the kitchen and pour myself a scotch, two fingers and a splash of water too tired to drag out the ice tray.  I move into the living room and notice the answering machine’s red light blinking.  I don’t have the energy to listen to the messages – they can wait.  I flick on the light by my leather arm chair, slump into the worn seat that has my body imprint, raise the foot and settle back.

The news hour has just started with the latest COVID-19 reports. The report is not good.  We are getting more and more cases now that fall has arrived.   The news seems to drone on and on with politicians and people about the province giving their opinions and worries about the future. It is all too overwhelming.  The United States is preparing for the November election and I watch how Joe Biden and Donald Trump are gathering supporters.  World war III!   Dear God, please let there be some sanity come back into our neighbors to the south.   

The Liberals and the Green Party leaders were harping at the Premier’s decision to hold an election a year earlier than promised.  Yada, yada, yada.  I can’t wait for this and the US election to be over.

The red flickering light from the answering machine nags at me.                

As I watch the news, my mind wanders to the past.  About six months ago, my wife had nanny camera’s installed around the house.  There are two in the kitchen.  She said they were to make sure we didn’t have anyone burglarizing the house.  It dawns on me now, were they actually there to see if I was mixing poisons?  Having an affair? 

The red light from the answering machine draws my thoughts back to the moment.  Perhaps, I should check the messages. I lean over and place my glass on the coffee table.

 I hear a creak from the oak floor.  Startled, I turn around and there my wife stands holding a butcher knife over my head. 

About the Author

Karen has previously written articles for The Valley Voice, The Arrow Lakes News, and The Nelson Daily News. She gave that up when she became Mayor of Nakusp for 13 years and Chair of the Regional District for 4 years – the first female chair in the history of RDCK. It was an interesting time in her life but left no time to nurture her creative life and so decided to fix that by enrolling in Leesa Dean’s creative writing course and loving it. She has owned a restaurant, a ceramic studio, and has certifications as a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Health Records Technician.

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