This is part of my novel, "What Losing You Did to Me". To start at the beginning, click here. Right now a new section of my book posts every week.
Cielen is snoring from the couch, one of my cast-off blankets wrapped around him.
I'm awake and can't sleep. It feels like everything is moving inside me. I'm too unsettled to lay down.
I'm remembering a time when I first met Cielen. It was about a month into our partnership, and we were on our second outing, way up north where snow peppered the ground each night and melted by noon the next day only to return as son as we would stop to make camp.
It's hard to think about who I was then. I was living for the job. I couldn't see the beauty in it, and I hated myself for leaving Aainn. I barely talked to Cielen.
Over the course of that year there were several times where Cielen saved our lives in the wilderness. There were many times I myself had saved our lives. But in those first two months I was more reckless than I should have been. I was angry and short tempered and upset.
And Cielen just kept right on going. It's not like I gave him much choice. The first week we met he had tried to talk to me, but he'd learned really quickly that my noncommittal noises were best translated as not interested, go away. Until one night. I'd guess he'd had enough of my sour attitude.
I had barely picked at my food (again) and was busy staring into the campfire, my knees held to my chest, hating myself. The intensity to which I hated myself scared me. I didn't know what to do. I was drowning, but I couldn't voice this. I just remember trying to kill myself from the inside out. Trying so hard to remove the feeling parts of me because I couldn't function with a bleeding heart.
Cielen sat beside me, something he hadn't tried to do in awhile. He'd left me alone for about two weeks, issuing commands and keeping our relationship strictly business. I knew somewhere behind all my walls that he wanted to be friends. I just didn't know how. I felt those doors, once opened, would let something loose inside me that I'd never be able to recover.
"Merienge." He said, briefly touching my shoulder. "We need to talk."
I ignored him.
"If you don't talk to me I am taking you back to KI tomorrow." He said to my back. I ripped my eyes from the fire in front of me and slowly turned to face him.
He regarded me for several seconds.
"Listen, I know we haven't gotten off on the best start. And I don't care about your past, I'm not interested in hearing your secrets. But you have to stop punishing yourself for whatever happened."
If I had been capable of anything more then frozen emotion at that point, I think my mouth would have fallen open. I just stared at him.
"I've noticed in these past few weeks how little you eat, Merienge. You've lost a lot of weight. I don't know what you are dealing with...but you are starting to be more of a liability to me here then a help. Yesterday you almost walked right into a fire ant tree. This could have killed both of us."
I don't want to think he's right. I look down at my toes.
"We need to work together. We need to be a team."
I know he's right about that one. But have I really lost a lot of weight? Have I really not been eating? I'd known for a long time that stress affects my ability to function normally-- first at the orphanage where I'd retreated to books and second due to the miscarriage Aainn and I suffered. Both those times I'd been very depressed. But not like this. I knew this was worse. But I didn't know how to reach out.
Cielen cleared his throat. "If you want to keep traveling with me you need to eat three meals a day. I'm going to help make sure you are receiving proper nutrition. This should help stabilize your hormones and help clear your head. Then perhaps you can work through whatever is bothering you."
Cielen told me later he thought I was trying to starve myself. Maybe subconsciously I was.
That day was a turning point. I started eating, first to keep my job and then to live. Cielen taught me to laugh again, to see beauty in the forest around me. I opened up slowly, carefully, finally sharing what had happened to me and Aainn one night when the snow was cold and Cielen and I were snuggled close for warmth and survival. It was then I began to trust him.
And I really do think he saved my life, because by the time we got back to KI two weeks later with our specimens, I only weighed 102 pounds.
Click here for the next part.