cw: panic attack, anxiety
Heartbeat barely above normal, but to you it’s a thousand miles a minute. You feel that heart push against your ribs with all its fading strength, trying to break the barrier between bone and open air. Your lungs steal all the oxygen they can in quick booms like an assault rifle. Then those lungs put their hands up in the air, freeze, and the breath escapes again, fluttering down to the ground completely lifeless.
And there are so many people and they’re all talking so loud and damn it, if you could just act natural. Don’t make yourself look vulnerable—especially when you can’t remember the name of the blonde girl talking to you. You sit cross-legged on your bed, a security blanket draped over your tired, heavy shoulders.
With the blanket around you, every pore in your body is smothering. Without, you’re an abandoned child in a churchyard, naked and afraid.
Here you are, shivering. Suffocating. Wishing you had a god to turn to now. The one who you loved so dearly not long ago left you to the wolves; he didn’t tell you that wolves were sometimes blonde and sometimes looked like house pets.
You used to love the house pets and hate the wild dogs. Anyone not pedigree you euthanized with a laugh. You ignored those without a pure white coat, without a Bible tucked under their arm, without a brain hesitant to adapt to ever-changing time. She is not who you ever want to be again. You were never worthy of such judgmental eyes.
Tears knock at the eyelid doors.
don’t unlock the door, fool.
that’s how you get killed.
keep it shut.
let everyone file out.
The blonde girl invites you downstairs to a bed made just for you and a blanket that won’t suffocate you in your sleep. The idea is nice, but you say no. You can’t. Breathe.
So she shuts the door behind you and you sob. You hide your head in your hands to keep the tears locked out and what if they think you’re faking the black vignette creeping into your peripheral?
You don’t know. Your mouth is stuffed with cotton.
“You don’t know.”
You really don’t know.
He holds you in his arms and for just a moment, your heart sits down. Your lungs welcome the oxygen instead of holding it hostage. You bury your head in his shoulder, and for just a moment, you try to survive. A single tear slips through the mail slot and disappears into his shirt. He tries to find a pulse in your neck, your wrist, your heart, but your veins have always been difficult and he gives up on finding one. It could be the goddamn suede boots you got him for Christmas stepping on your heart monitor.
You know, the goddamn suede boots you kept in your shopping cart for three months because you thought he wouldn’t like them. The ones that every time you walk in the room, he has kicked off in a different corner because he doesn’t leave the house without them. You’ve caught him piddling through his closet, planning his outfits around those boots. You hear him mutter to himself about how this particular sweater—the one he uses now to keep you warm and safe—is the perfect shade of burgundy to match the suede boots.
You want to kick yourself over the suede boots. If he had hated them, your panic attacks would be much less frequent, you’re sure of it. You wouldn’t melt into a puddle of liquid mercury, putting everything around you in danger. You wouldn’t melt because it really is the little things that make you just melt.
The little things like that one throbbing blood vessel in your jaw. The dryness in your throat. The dryness in his demeanor ninety percent of the time. What does he want from you?
The words muddle together in his sleeves. Which timeline is this? The one where you two move in together, have a couple kids and three cats, and playfully insult each other in your wedding vows? The one where you stay in touch after one of you moves across the country and meet up once every five years or so for dinner? The one where he professes his adoration for you over and over until it’s ingrained in your mind and then forgets your name in six months?
Will you ever get married? Have kids? The millions of stretch marks finger painted all over your body say otherwise, the “filled-out” part of you says otherwise, the scar above your ass from when the surgeons weren’t paying attention says otherwise. Your stripping career is over, said the surgeon, and your cysts may come back. The most you can hope for is some sort of validation in an empty Airbnb or some tears into someone’s chest.
This moment—you in the sweater sleeves—is the divergent point.
You want to stay there forever perhaps at the top of the pyramid. At least until the sun rises. In the ballroom, the two of you can watch the sun peek over the horizon and warm your shaking hands. Wrap you in life. Preserve the rot inside your muscles catalyzed by the word “chill.”
You wish. The blonde girl told you last night that she didn’t get Cancer vibes from you because you were so friendly and inviting. She doesn’t know you’re a Leo rising. You want to be surrounded by people who love you, not simply claim to, at all times. You want a laugh track to drone in the background every time you finish a sentence. But then again, that is a false track, a false comedy, a false hope. You are still here, breathing in exhaust with a sputter.
Loneliness used to be your peace. When everyone walks away now, you see the iron bars take seats behind them in your solitude. You chat it up with three hots and a cot and a familiarity not placed in any other interactions in your life; prison is safer without a roommate.
“It’s okay, hon. I’m sure you’re just having a panic attack.”
No shit. You let a sovereign giggle escape. Mask up.
“Hey. Quit laughing at me.”
“It’s better than the alternative.”
“You’re not wrong. Try to sleep it off. Love you.”
Don’t say it back or he runs too.
And in an instant the safety net disappears. The lights hide away for the night. The television flicks into the void. In just a few moments, he’s gone too; his soft snores the only proof he’s still alive. And while you’re glad he’s okay, the blanket wraps its hand around your throat to stifle your very essence and you wish he was awake again to keep you company.
He deserves to sleep. As do you. But the end credits want to roll so bad. You can’t move. You can’t speak. In the dark with only a slow song swishing through your ears, the solitude of it all paralyzes you.
dammit, go to sleep. who do you think you are, bothering him by taking over his home, bursting his bubble, stealing his alone time? is he just a romanticized portrait of who you want him to be? did he comfort you because he cares or because he didn’t want your blood on his hands? you want him to touch you? to run his fingers through your hair and tell you about his day? to grab you by the hips and pull you chest to chest? to shove you against a wall and do as he wishes? you are selfish. he’s the one struggling right now and here you are with your petty bullshit. who do you think you are, projecting your own wishes on other poor, innocent people? no wonder you can’t breathe. just close your eyes and forget that you exist for a few hours.
And you sit on your eyes and try to zip them up as best you can so you can travel for the next few hours, but they always pop back open. You’ve packed too much shit into that big ass head of yours.
Welcome to your grave.
Lie in it.
No one can hear you.