since you left

A fiction short story by Aaron Smith

***Trigger warning: contains talk of self-harm and suicide***

All I have are dull kitchen knives.

I can’t cut a chicken breast or a steak with these dull knives you left me. I can barely cut an apple, relying on more blunt force than a honed edge. Sometimes, the butter knives seem easier to use.

I get why we let them all go dull. You were the one making dinners most of the time, so you were the one wielding the knives and navigating dark thoughts. I was surfing Twitter.

Over time, the set of blades we got that could neatly slice through a tomato without crushing it to a pulp – these knives became dull with use. Meat, cheese, packaging, cardboard, fruits, veggies: all the things that were cut over and over.

But not your skin. You had something else for that, something I could never find; something I forgot about when things were stable. So, I don’t know why we let the kitchen knives go dull. Maybe it was because I saw that glint in your eye when you were having a bad day when you were so sad I saw it crushing you; when the depression, hopelessness, and onslaught on emotional agony overtook you. I could read it in your eyes sometimes; you were looking for a release, a distraction, a way to feel something other than what was consuming you at the moment.

Other times, it was to add to your collection of scars so that people could tell that you were deeply hurt just by looking. And then there were the surprises, the times waking up in the middle of the night to the bathroom light on and your sobs gently seeping out from under the door. Or when I would come home to another bandage wrapped around your arm.

But that’s all over now. All that’s left are memories and dull kitchen knives — no more navigating the ins and outs of your mental illness. No longer living with the volatility of your mood swings. No more therapy sessions. No more doctors appointments. No more anything.

I used to think it would be suicide that took you from me. I was wrong. It wasn’t death or a psych ward that took you away from my life.

Disappointment stole you from me.

You were disappointed with everything I did. How little I cleaned, How I didn’t make dinners, How I handled birthdays and celebrations. With my lack of emotions. With how many late hours I spent at work. With my friends. With my family. Everything was a disappointment with you.

I tried to fix it. Over and over and over, I apologized and decided to do better. I wanted to make you happy. Sometimes you were. Those were good times, good memories. But it was fleeting. Too often you were angry at me or weeping over the unfair hand life dealt you or checked out entirely from life.

I think you wanted me to save you, to relieve your pain, to make you happy. Maybe that’s why you were always disappointed. I couldn’t compete with your illness, your history, your misery. I couldn’t complete you, give you identity, give you meaning. Maybe that’s what you were disappointed with; you just used everything else as an outlet for that ultimate disappointment.

I don’t blame you for being let down; I mean who could live up to that expectation. So, if that’s what you wanted from me – to fix you – then you have every right to be disappointed. You wanted what I could never give. Maybe the next guy can. Maybe someday you can find the right person to fill that hole in your heart that you continuously feel. Maybe someday you can find the right person who will celebrate you the way you want to be celebrated. Maybe someday you can find the right person that can save you like I never could.

Maybe you left for another reason. Maybe I am as horrible as you say I am. Maybe I am infantile and just looking for someone to mother me. All I know is you painted me with dark, ugly colors, and I’m left wondering if it’s all true. If it is, you have every right to get as far away from me as possible.

But you haven’t entirely left. You still call; still Facebook message me; still text me. Sometimes it’s to brag about your new man as if to make me jealous. Other times, it seems to be from a friendship I’d like to think we still have, checking up on me and seeing how things are going. Then there is the nostalgia, the times you contact me wishing things had been different, that I had been different, more, better, hoping that we were still together and not going through this divorce. As lovely as the nostalgia is, it confuses me. It always ends with you angry at me, glad you left, glad to be rid of me.

Here I am, left alone. You didn’t take much when you went. Clothes mostly. You left everything else as if abandoning this life with me once and for all. And I do feel abandoned. I tried to make our marriage work, to make a life with you. I feel hollow now as if a part of me has split and crumbled.

Was this how you felt when you said you were empty?

Was this alone how you viewed yourself? Was abandoned how you felt when I let you down?

So, now I know what it’s like to be in your skin. Is that what you wanted, me to hurt the way you did? Well, you win. You succeeded in crushing me and then walking away from the salted ruins. I don’t know if I can ever feel ok again if I can ever stop hearing your accusations and demands to change, to be better.

My therapist says one day your voice won’t be as loud, that one day I’ll be able to see the ways I tried, the good I did, and that I’m not an awful person. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they know something I don’t about healing from you. I don’t know that I can believe any of that right now, so my therapist says they’ll believe it for me until I’m ready. That feels nice like someone cares about me. That’s what I need, care.

Tonight, I’m trying to cook dinner instead of ordering out. I’m making spaghetti, and I decided to add some green peppers and onions to the canned sauce. I’m trying to cut up these vegetables with these god damn dull knives you left. It reminded me that you’re gone, that you’re not here anymore and that you never will be again. I’m going to make sure of that. I don’t need you; I don’t need the mess you’ve left me with; I don’t need to keep these knives dull any more.

Aaron J Smith is a father, writer, nerd, and coffee drinker. He hates writing about himself. It’s the worst. He lives with Bipolar II and fiercely believes in mental health advocacy to remove stigma and shame associated with mental illness. He also likes cats. Aaron lives in the Pacific Northwest with his two kids. He has been featured on several prominent websites and published anthologies. You can find him at and on twitter @CulturalSavage

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