Kayla Wiltfong

This Is How I Feel Better

There is an alternate universe where everything is fine. I’m at your place, on your twin mattress where I never actually felt like there wasn’t enough room. I can feel you next to me. I can hear you breathe. We ate leftovers from the meal we bought the ingredients for at the grocery store, and we played Grand Theft Auto V, and we read before bed. We probably had sex. We usually had a lot of it, because we wanted to. Now, we are asleep, because it’s 3:39 in the morning and no one should really be up typing at this ungodly hour.

Everything is ungodly. I used to like that.

Except, in that universe, everything’s not fine. You’re still dryheaving in the bathroom and letting me think it’s IBS. You tell me you feel guilty, but you always just say the same thing, “It’s the guilt that’s going to kill me,” and I don’t know that it’s actually killing you. That it’s making you sick. 

As we sleep at 3:43 a.m., you’re still dreaming about your ex and what we did to her. You don’t tell me, even when you wake up in the morning looking adorable. You have a playful innocence in the morning and right before bed, your hair mussed in a way that makes my heart beat faster and your eyes heavy with the anticipation of sleep, or the effects of it. You snuggle up next to me and I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. Like I found it. Like it doesn’t get better.

But it’s not true, because I don’t know that the guilt is currently killing you. I think it is a symptom we can still ward off, together.

I think all the furniture is where it’s supposed to be, but it’s actually all moved just a little to the left. In that universe, it stays there, for a little while longer, at least, but something bad happens eventually. The guilt destroys you. That destroys me.

In this universe, the furniture has now all been moved back into place, and I’m bumping into everything. You know how clumsy I am. And how emotional I get when I fall.

There is a universe where we did all of this differently, and you don’t feel guilty like this, but it took us longer to get to where we were. That would have been fine. All the furniture would stay where it was supposed to be. You would be okay. The guilt wouldn’t be killing you.

It’s not good to think about that universe, though. Radical acceptance, right?

There is a universe where you get better and you find me again. I move to Baltimore with you like we talked about. We get an apartment and two cats, and we name them after your favorite video game characters. We get published together. We blurb each other’s books. We still have a lot of sex, because we want to, and it’s never boring. 

Later, when we’re successful and we’ve had more therapy, probably, we have kids. We name them after our favorite video game characters. They are gassy, because we’re gassy. We can only be naked together at night and when the kids are away, but it’s okay because it makes it special, that time that is just for us.

I have my best friend back.

This universe hasn’t happened yet, or it has always been happening, depending on your own personal theory of time. 

Maybe it’s not good to think about this universe, either. Radical acceptance, right?

I don’t know if we’re in that universe yet, the one where I get my best friend back. I have to wait and see. 

But it’s 3:58 a.m., an ungodly hour, and the typing wards off the tears welling in my eyes and brings them back in intervals. They’re coming again, and they’re making me tired. I use the weighted blanket like I did when you went out of town, pretending it’s you, and that everything’s fine, really fine, because we’re in a different universe. 

I sleep naked, because it’s the only way I can sleep, but even that reminds me of you.


My House is Haunted

My house is haunted. 

It’s been haunted for a while, since I got together with my now-husband a few years ago. Back then, he was the new boyfriend, and I thought maybe the ghosts were those of my exes, playing harmless pranks to let me know they were not content with this arrangement. 

But that wasn’t it, unless one of my exes was very, very forgiving, because the things the ghosts would do weren’t bad at all. They would help me out. I remember one day, early on, I saw a bit of mud the now-husband had dragged in on the floor, and I thought that I needed to mop it up, sweep the crumbs of the world away. Later, out of the corner of my eye, I realized the mud was gone. Someone had cleaned it up.

My house is haunted, and I don’t know who the ghost is.

At first, I thought maybe it wasn’t a ghost at all. I asked my now-husband that day if it was him who cleaned up the mud, thinking maybe I was lucky enough that the culprit wasn’t a ghost at all. 

He just kept staring at the TV, though, and said, “Wasn’t me. You probably did it.”

My now-husband is a picky man. He wants the house a certain way when he gets home from work. I work, too, but my hours are before his, because I have to drive him to his shifts. I leave at nine in the morning and get back home sometime in the afternoon, and if he has a shift I drag him out of bed and throw dinner at him before I drive him to the warehouse where he works. 

I used to wonder why he didn’t clean the house the way he liked in the mornings or on the days he didn’t work when he was there by himself.

One day, on the drive to the warehouse, I asked him that. I admit it wasn’t the best time to ask him, when he’d just woken up and was about to go to work.

“Because I need my fucking sleep,” he said, scarfing down his meal and staring at me instead of the road, spaghetti sauce running red down his hands and noodles dangling on his face. I felt sick. I wanted him to stop looking at me, to look back at the road. “My job’s more important than yours.”

I figured he was right. He did make more money than me. But he didn’t work as much. And he insisted on spending the money on cigarettes and late-night feasts made of more fast food than any one person could eat. But that was my fault, too. I’d been hungry when we met, and ever since he’d been trying to keep up with an appetite that had only ever been the exception and not the rule. When I didn’t finish my mountain of quarter-pounders and chicken nuggets, he’d be worried, beg me not to starve myself. I can’t blame him for that, or that he was only hungry because he refused to eat what I prepared for him. He’s always said I’m a bad cook.

I went home after I dropped him off and spent four hours getting the house ready. I could tell he was mad that I’d asked him, so I put all my energy into it. When I was done, it was time to go pick him up. He didn’t like it when I was late. I couldn’t blame him. When his shift was over, he just wanted to go home.

When we got back to the house, he went straight to the couch and turned on the TV without saying a word.

My house is haunted.

We have a baby now, my now-husband and I. I don’t know how it happened. I think it must have been the ghosts, and my baby is part ghost, because I don’t remember making her. But she’s here now, and she’s precious.

She’s the reason we got married. 

The ghosts help me take care of her, too. Which is helpful, especially since she probably belongs to one of them as much as she belongs with me.

Sometimes, I’ll find myself in the baby’s room, rocking her to sleep in the dead of night while I hear my now-husband snoring in the next room, and I don’t know how I got there. I thank the ghosts for guiding me to her aid.

If they possess me, it seems to be a benign possession. They must have felt how tired I was, getting home from cleaning at the restaurant all day only to clean my own house, never a moment to myself except on that drive home dropping my now-husband off. I’m less alone on the drive back. Something dark and foreboding rides with me.

They must have seen how tired I was of waking up to screams in the middle of the night, my now-husband staring at me until I get up to go get her, his eyes round and open and accusatory. That unmoving look scared me every time. The ghosts decided to spare me that fright and let me sleep longer, too.

My house is haunted, and my body is haunted. 

Possessed is the more common word for it, I guess, but the feelings my body has still feel like me. I still feel tired all the time. I wake up dizzy and make excuses. You can’t tell your boss you fell asleep at the lunch table because you’re possessed. You can’t tell your baby you didn’t hear her first little laugh because you were floating near the ceiling, letting the ghost you traded places with rock her and make funny faces till she stopped crying.

Possessed people don’t have friends, and people are scared of haunted houses.

Most days, the ghosts feel more real than my now-husband. 

Most days, it just feels like me and the ghosts and my little girl.

Kayla Wiltfong is a Kansas City writer of weird speculative fiction and nonfiction, typically covering women’s mental health. She has recently been published in Flash Point Science Fiction and 96th of October. When she’s not writing, you can find her either reading or trying desperately to escape The Void.