Dinner had been especially silent tonight. MJ insisted the family eat together every night whenever Steve could be home, which wasn't really that often, but something tonight felt especially off.
Frankie was annoyed because she'd been chewed out by her mother after school for leaving dirty dishes in the living room that she insists she'd been planning to clean... later. But like everything, it had started as a tiny complaint from MJ and blown into a loud, angry back and forth where neither of them really knew what they were fighting about. MJ was feeling guilty now. She'd been unreasonably angry with her daughter for reasons she didn't understand, knowing only that some kind of fire had taken over her for a moment and she'd exploded. Nick, meanwhile, had spent his afternoon in a panic about an A- he'd gotten on a paper that he was convinced was gonna ruin his chances at getting into a good school, despite his mother's half-hearted reassurance.
And MJ, overwhelmed and upset by.... something, she wasn't quite sure what, had started feeling that ache in her back that was constantly nagging her. It came and went, but for some reason it always seemed to ramp up in intensity when she'd start to feel stressed or angry or upset. Which, actually, was often. She hadn't said anything to anyone, but she couldn't ignore the fact that something felt different lately, since the accident. She had expected the pain to linger (they'd told her the surgery might not be able to fix the issue completely and she would probably always have issues with her back). What she hadn't expected was this uneasy feeling to stay way beyond its welcome. She could remember that moment all too vividly, sitting in the driver's seat and realizing she was about to crash, and then those milliseconds (that felt like years) of overwhelming panic and fear before feeling the impact as her body slammed forward. That was almost three months ago, and yet she felt as though she was still living in those seconds of terror, constantly bracing for impact. Maybe this physical pain in her back whenever she got into a screaming match with Frankie, or felt her husband's hands on her in ways she used to love and now made her feel somewhat sick to her stomach - maybe it was just in her head. But what she did know (and tried not to think about too hard) is that the oxy made her feel better.
Not just physically. She had quickly learned, in her first days post-surgery when she was so tense and on edge that she couldn't quite make it through a day without having a private cry in her bathroom, that the pills made her feel calmer, safer, soothed the near-constant lick of panic in her stomach and the shaking of her hands. She had found herself looking forward to the moment each morning when her doctor had instructed her to take one pill, knowing it would provide her some temporary relief from everything.
Which brings her to tonight's tense and silent dinner, the one she insisted on having and yet was too busy in her thoughts to enjoy. MJ had done something she wasn't proud of, something that made her a little nervous despite her insistence that she wouldn't make a habit of it. Her fight with Frankie had left her really stressed, and she had felt the warning signs of a serious panic attack rising in her stomach and chest. She knew she really couldn't afford to lose her shit right now - she had to make dinner, and Steve would be home soon and if he found her curled up on the floor he would have questions - and so she decided maybe she could just take one pill and see if it helped. It wasn't a big deal, and if it helped her stay calm and not freak her family out, then it was worth it.
So she took one. And then her hands still wouldn't stop shaking, and for some reason she didn't quite understand, she took another one.
She'd never done that before, any of it - gone off her schedule, gone over her dose. She had promised herself it was just once. Now here she was, sitting at dinner feeling guilty and worried and embarrassed, or something.
She knew Steve was talking about something that happened at work. Her mind was floating in and out of the conversation. She was keenly aware that she had a slight smile plastered to her face. Inside, she was starting to feel a churn in her stomach. Probably the pills, she thought uneasily. Nausea was listed as a side-effect, and she hasn't really noticed it taking them in the past, but she had taken twice as much and she was feeling it now. Maybe this was a mistake. This was her body's way of telling her she shouldn't do this.
She made a few generic comments, she nodded and smiled and vaguely avoided Frankie's gaze, feeling guilty about how she'd treated her. And maybe not quite wanting Frankie to look at her too closely either, wondering if her deep embarrassment and shame were visible on her face. She made it to the end of the meal like this, and then shooed everyone off to clean up by herself, just needing some time to herself.
"I can help," Nick offered, looking at her somewhat questioningly.
"No I'm fi-" She stopped herself, hearing the harshness in her own voice. "It's fine, I don't mind, thanks sweetie." With that, he was gone, and she began methodically clearing plates, her thoughts bouncing around in her head.
It was an odd feeling. The panic, the anxiety, the shakiness were all gone, but her guilt was wearing on her and she couldn't help running over what she had done. She had been aware that something was... wrong with her these past few months, but this was maybe a new low and it wasn't sitting right with her.
The churning in her stomach was getting worse, and she paused her cleaning and stood still, taking deep breaths and trying to get her stomach to calm down. She sat back down in her chair. Fuck. This wasn't good. She felt like she'd lost control of herself, like she was sinking into something she couldn't name. What was WRONG with her? Why was she so out of control?
She was going to be sick.
She made her way up the stairs to the bedroom, passing by Steve in the living room.
"MJ?" She heard him call after her, not stopping on her quick walk up the stairs. She rushed into her bathroom, locking the door behind her before sitting down on the floor. She hoped Steve wouldn't follow her up here. She didn't want to explain this.
This thought was interrupted by Steve's voice. "Everything okay?" He had been caught off guard by her leaving a kitchen full of dirty dishes and rushing upstairs, the distinct feeling something was wrong coming over him.
"I'm fine honey," she responded lightly, her back leaning again the bathtub, certainly not fine.
"Alright," he responded uncertainly. She listened intently but could not be sure if he had left or not. She hoped he was gone. In the past, MJ would have appreciated just a little comfort when she was feeling sick, but now the very presence of her family was making her feel more stressed and out of control.
She lurched over the toilet and threw up.
"Oh MJ, are you sick?" Steve's voice called back again. Fuck. "Honey? Let me in."
She wanted to respond, but instead she felt an even more intense wave of sickness, vomiting up the rest of the small dinner she'd eaten. Feeling her stomach slightly more settled, she got up as quickly as she could, wiping her mouth and quickly opening the bathroom door.
"Sorry, I'm just not feeling well all of a sudden," she told him, trying to give a reassuring smile. "I'm just gonna lie down for a bit, I'm sure I'll feel better soon."
She moved towards the bed, feeling Steve follow her.
"Oh honey. Do you think you're coming down with something?" He moved to sit down on the bed with her, reaching a hand out to touch her head, but hers was faster to push his away from her.
"Steve, can you just... I just want to lie here for a bit, okay?" She asked, trying to get him to read her tone and understand that she meant alone.
"Okay, do you want me-"
"Can you PLEASE just leave me alone?" She bit back immediately, surprising him. He quickly got off the bed, hurt in his eyes.
"Sorry," he murmured as he headed to the door, closing it behind him, leaving her alone.
Great. Now she had hurt Steve's feelings too. He probably meant well, and she couldn't quite place why the presence of this man who used to make her feel so safe and loved now made her feel.... the opposite. She felt her eyes well up with tears, not just at this but at everything, the way she'd been feeling for these past few months, the way everything felt wrong now. Well this was just great. The pills had managed to help her with the panic and just left her feeling sad, sick, and ashamed. Tomorrow would be better, she told herself as she cried to herself, completely alone despite the presence of a man who had wanted to comfort her over in the next room.
Tomorrow she would do better.