- It isn’t normal for worry to make you shit your pants.
- Everyone has pooped their pants or will, but they don’t talk about it.
- Being nice is better than being mean.
- Sometimes, being mean seems like the better option.
- I am sick of snow.
- My scarf is oddly fluffy.
- It should be considered totally normal to walk around talking to yourself as long as you aren’t talking about aliens or guns.
- My mom once gave me a copy of “Alien Autopsy” as a gift.
- If smelling a baby doesn’t lower your blood pressure you need to cuddle a puppy.
- I hate feeling like a failure.
- I am not a failure.
- If after you have smelled a baby and cuddled a puppy you still feel awful I would suggest going to TJ Maxx.
She wore her anxiety like a name badge: Hello, my name is self doubt with occasional loathing and sadness. But really, deep down, Rachel wasn’t sad, morose, or languishing; she was just anxious. Sometimes she thought her blood felt like driver ants consuming her insides like they would cattle in an African village. When she thought of that comparison she smiled a guileful smile knowing that she was a pretender. The only reason she knew of driver ants was from an Oprah Book Club book she had read in her twenties. In the car on her morning commute Rachel would think back to the moments that she felt defined her; moments that if she had made a different decision would have possibly altered her life. It was her own personal butterfly effect and she knew that it was senseless.
On this morning drive Rachel flicked at her wedding band. A steady rhythm of nerves: flick, flick, flick, her thumb against the white gold band. A physical manifestation of her inner agitation. The radio played; the morning radio show did their ridiculous voices and callers called to discuss the topic on hand. The air conditioner was on three of four and blew her hair. For a split second Rachel stopped the flicking to pretend her hair was being blown by fans at an InStyle photo shoot. In the fantasy would be her smiling face, her hair shoulder length and artfully wind blown. On her thin wrists would be Jennifer Myer bracelets, each bracelet as dainty as the women in the picture. In this fantasy she was thin, dainty, and graceful, with the kind of beauty that was accepted by other women. She had originally found popularity as a twitter personality and eventually became a regular on Jimmy Fallon, who had offered her a cameo in an upcoming movie. Another caller to the radio show breaks the fantasy and she moves on to thinking about her decisions. How many had been hers to make and in how many had she been just a silent participant?
The first time she had sex had been a misunderstanding; an ill attempt at talking dirty had led to the quickest sex ever on record. Sure, she could see how it happened. They had been making out for what seemed like hours, mostly naked and pressed against each other on a comforter that was beige with small pink roses.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” she whispered back.
Rachel was sure that more needed to be said.
“I wish you could be inside me,” she decided to add.
And with that her virginity was gone, him on top and pumping. Her body was scootched off the side of the bed. With the last pump she could see the digital clock; it read 3:48. Her virginity was gone in under a minute. Like any good control freak, the next logical step was to make him sit with her and read a pamphlet on teen sex and pregnancy. Which, of course, he did with no complaint, mostly because he was in love and a little sticky. Her accidental deflowering aside, sex was something that Rachel thought about often on her commute.
Now that she had recounted the accidental deflowering, the flick, flick, flick of her ring once again started and Rachel marked that experience into the her-mistake-to-make category. She had said the words that led to the act. This one was a clear mark in her column. The recalling made her smile; virginity was there to be lost and really there was no regret here.
The radio was pulling a phone prank and it made her skin crawl. The idea of intentionally making someone uncomfortable and angry made little sense. It seemed mean, but the intended victim always laughed in the end with an added, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Flick, flick, flick went the thumb against the wedding band as the pre-recorded laugh track played behind the gag. The insistent laughter saying, “don’t be uncomfortable; it is all in good fun.”
Every morning Rachel commutes and every morning she dissects her life events. In fourth grade she cried when her paper wasn’t perfect and the teacher mentioned it to the class. In the sixth grade she gave a boy her bracelet so he would like her. Each individual act probed for a better solution. This was her commute.
The idea behind this post is that I am interested in the small amounts of time that this character spends rethinking her decisions and fantasizing about what could have been. How many small, thirty minute periods, are lost to rehashing our old life events?
It has now been two years since Mom died. Not passed away or no longer with us. She is dead. And it hurts to the point that I feel like my body cannot contain this grief. It spills out of my mouth when I am angry. I want to look at people and say, “Fuck you my mom is dead.” It spills out of my eyes in a current of tears while I’m driving. The grief is balled up in my clenched fists. It escapes through the nervous tapping of my feet. She is gone and at times that feels unbearable. Even with the grief though, I feel lucky. I am lucky to have had her for 36 years. I am lucky that I got to shave her legs.
Before she left for Arkamecca I shaved her legs. We sat in a cold and dark hospital and I washed her hair with dry hair shampoo. I wrapped her shoulders with towels so that her gown wouldn’t get wet. I filled up a puke bucket with warm water and soaped down her back. Her stomach was swollen with fluid but her back was so thin. I remember being shocked that I could see her bones so clearly and I remember telling myself to not react. We soaped her underarms and chest and dried them with soft pats. I refilled the bucket and soaped up her legs. I scrapped the razor up her legs removing the little black hairs. She told me over and over that I shouldn’t be doing this for her. I said that she would do the same for me. She said that this was different and I said, “No, Momma it isn’t.”
I left the hospital that night not knowing that it would be the last time I would see her alive. Kara was able to see her the next day before she flew to Arkansas. That afternoon I called Mom and she asked when I thought Dad would get to the hospital. I told her that it would be a few hours. She said, “He needs to hurry. I have to pee.” This was the very essence of Mom; she didn’t want to bother anyone at the hospital. She never wanted to be a bother. I told her that I loved her and she asked me to check on Kara because “she seemed upset.” This happened on a Monday; on Friday she was gone. She was gone but at least her legs were somewhat smooth. Even as sick as she was, she remained just a little vain and I not so secretly think that her last words were, “root lifter.” She loved her hair product and her Oil of Olay. I know she was pleased when the funeral director said she had great bone structure. Her vanity wasn’t off-putting, it wasn’t the “I’m better then you” variety. This vanity was pride in neatness and her home. Her vanity was really a pride that comes from growing up poor, and wanting to take care of your things when you are older.
I am sure you didn’t know this, but Mom was convinced she created racquetball. She grew up on a farm she was born to leave. Many hours of her childhood were spent bouncing a ball off the side of the house, catching and batting at it. She joined every school organization she could just for extra time in town. She rotated her dolls out so that no one doll was ever jealous of the others. She was quirky and interesting. As she got sicker, she and I talked one Sunday afternoon. She cried and told me she wanted to go home to see her parents. Her parents had been dead for years. She said that she no longer cared about her things and that she would miss us, but that she wanted her Mom. I was blunt with her and told her the truth. “Momma, you are dying. We are going to send you to Arkansas and they are going to do things that make you sicker, but then they will fix you and you won’t be dying anymore.” While we had the conversation I tried not to react, thinking, “Do not cry. Do not cry.” The hot grief built up in my throat and tasted of bile. Arkansas didn’t have time to fix her, her heart and body were too broken for them to fix. She died with Dad next to her.
This time of year everything is secondary to the grief. I couldn’t give a damn about the news, the house, work, or school. This time of year my panic attacks get a little worse and I want to hurt myself a little because physical pain is so much better than emotional. I will think about tattoos and how the hot scrape will make me feel better. How I will wear my tattoos as a shield. They will protect me from the outside hurt. I will wait for May to end. Kara, Dad, and I will laugh about Mom and then we will cry. May will end and the cycle will start over again.
My face is hot and my hands are numb.
I scratch at my forehead as if it removes the repugnant thoughts I think.
How can they think this is okay?
How can anyone think that this is okay?
My stomach turns over and the juice sloshes around. It is acidic and burns.
My breathing is shallow, and I try to control my lungs.
If I think too hard about breathing I forget how, and I feel like I’m drowning.
I scratch at my arms and I feel closed in.
The streets are full of people. They all want something.
They are in my personal space. My private space.
A red paper dragon flutters by my ear.
The sound is invasive and spreads into my healthy tissue.
Just a little pain will clear my mind.
Knuckles pressed into my thighs.
Slight red marks on my arms.
I am in the midst of a panic attack.
My chest hurts and I can feel the blood moving in my veins. My thoughts are loops and I am unrightfully angry and aggressive. The juices in my stomach slosh around like the churning water of a child’s amusement park boat ride. I feel vindictive and hurtful, but not to the outside world; I want to turn it inward.
“You’re not fast enough, Heather.”
“You can’t get it all done, Heather.”
“You aren’t good enough, Heather.”
Now, I’m angry at myself for my mental temper tantrum and I try to focus on the abundance of good in my life. Never am I lacking for clothes, food, water, or love. The shelter over my head is strong and sturdy: rain and wind are never issues. But now I am disappointed in myself for trying to make myself feel better for concentrating on what feels like an overabundance.
When did this start happening to me? What was the catalyst that brought on my hatred and doubt? I am scratching at my forehead and wringing my hands with anxiety, reminding myself that this attack will pass but acknowledging that now I will live in anticipation of the next bout.
“When are you going to write that paper, Heather?”
“Selena needs to see the doctor this weekend, Heather.”
“A Valentines box needs to be done, Heather.”
I want to hide in the bathroom and scratch my arms with the jagged edges of my fingernails, leaving a trail of white lines that sizzle and spark as they turn red. Adults don’t think like this. Adults aren’t destructive to themselves. They don’t crave just a little pain to make themselves feel better. Adults don’t crave a little aggression taken out on their body.
I am less than an adult when in the middle of a panic attack.
My ears are hot.
My skin itches and burns.
I feel exposed.
I repeat: here, now, loved, whole, healed, and enough silently to myself.
Tomorrow I will feel better.