Partner comes home. I am still awake, not being able to sleep while she was out. In fact, rarely can I sleep when she is not here. (I can rarely sleep with her here, but that’s another story.) I had walked the dog, fed the animals, cleaned the cat’s wound (don’t ask)… When she sees me sitting in the living room, surprise and disappointment register on her face.
She says, “What are you doing up? You shouldn’t still be awake.”
I don’t answer. She doesn’t expect one and walks into the back of the apartment. I follow her.
“You didn’t put the fan in the window to cool the bedroom off.” Her annoyance and irritation are palpable. I didn’t realize she had wanted me to do that.
“Sorry,” I reply. “You need to tell me these things. I didn’t know. And anyways, it’s nice and cool in here now.”
“Ok good,” she says, but her tone betrays her words. As I’m attending to the animals, she calls out in frustration.
“Someone threw up on the rug. Ugh. Over here. And… over here!”
I remain silent. I hadn’t seen it. I hadn’t even been in the bedroom since I had come home. But somehow I felt like it was my fault. I should have gotten the bedroom ready for her. Wait. No. That’s not my job. My job isn’t to caretake her.
She comes into the kitchen.
“You seem mad…” I say. I was about to say, “at me” but she answers before I can finish.
“It’s just… I was expecting to come home and just roll into bed. But I can’t. There are all these… obstacles.”
Am I an obstacle?
“But you seem frustrated with me,” I manage to say, despite the pain that arises within me.
“No… It’s not you. I’m just tired. I just really need to get to sleep at a decent time.” I wonder how she expects to do that when she’s out late at a concert on a weeknight, but I remain silent.
She sees my face change – this is where the trigger has just occurred – and her tone changes to an apologetic one.
“I’m sorry babe. I’m just tired. It’s not you, I’m just annoyed at the situation. I thought I’d be able to come home and get right in bed. I’m sorry. It’s not you, I promise.”
I say “okay” and leave the room. But the damage has already been done.
As she’s about to climb into bed, I go into the bedroom to say my obligatory “good-nights.” She notices that something’s wrong, and keeps asking me if I’m sure I’m not upset. I tell her that I’m not, and not to worry.
“Get some sleep,” I tell her, and leave the room.
What I don’t tell her is how I had been waiting all night for her to come home. How I had planned on going straight to bed as soon as she did. That the real reason I wasn’t asleep yet is because she had been out and it’s hard for me to get myself to sleep without her there.
I didn’t tell her that all I had wanted was for her to act just the slightest bit happy to see me. To show genuine appreciation for the things I had done tonight so that she could enjoy her night out. For my presence, upon her arrival home, to bring her just the smallest amount of joy.
Instead I was unwanted.
What I didn’t tell her is that my heart feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest, even though I know I’m overreacting. That my stomach feels twisted up into knots, even through my brain is telling me that her responses had nothing to do with me. She even told me as much.
What I didn’t tell her was that I feel utterly unwanted. And not just unwanted; a failure. I failed to make her arrival home as easy for her as possible. And above all, the feeling that I am a disappointment. That despite all my efforts, people will still be disappointed. What I do is never enough. I can never be good enough.
A lot of self criticism there, huh? Yeah, I know. And I know that these feelings stem from past hurts, not current ones, and actually have little to do with my partner. But knowing these things and feeling them are two different things entirely.
So tonight, as my partner sleeps, I sit triggered and knotted up inside and braced against the world, wishing I could just crawl into a hole somewhere and stay there forever.
This… is what triggered looks like.