my favorite color changes like the wind
in this exact moment,when I close my eyes i can feel the cool warmth. it radiates out, tendrils of life licking my cheeks, tugging my fingertips, whispering to that little piece of me deep down inside:
"come on, come out and play! let's go! breathe! jump! run! cry! fight! strive! grow! come join me!"
the whispers echo around me, but not in the way of an empty room. the opposite, in fact; in a way that is a cocophany of voices repeating the message, spreading the word, beckoning to every being they can find, reaching every corner of the landscape around them.
they continue to swirl - giggling, playful, vibrant notes of pleading for us all to try our hand at truly *being.*
and me? i am content to sit with my toes in the ground, to feel the buzz of the earth and know that I will join the ranks, when the time is right for me too to truly live. but for now I will keep my eyes closed and breathe in deep this shade of the world swirling around me.
you married for money
planned it from the start
set the bait, and the trap
stock in her name
disguised as just an engage-
ment gift, from you to her
you played the game, sure to
avoid doing insider trading.
sold them early because you knew
it wouldn't last
and she adapted too fast, learned
to avoid your ways of control.
women can plan ahead too, you see.
you underestimated my mother's
sixth sense; stole the 330k
a drop in the bucket for
a man worth millions.
could've been more
if not for her resilience,
and when she caught on to
your wicked intentions,
she'd served her purpose,
your children and prestige
advanced your career and
all things to show off
speaking to your greatness
possessions created from
not love, but hate.
she didn't know better,
at first, 'til she did.
you dragged her by the hair
tossed in the backseat
and 8 months of pregnancy
meant not one thing when
you drove through miles
of woods at night
pushed her into a ditch
and told her to sign,
'sign, or i will kill you.'
I wish she'd seen the signs.
at 8am the lawyer came round
and sign she did,
to protect the kids
how is it the law
and the courts
could believe the lies
that you spun,
the web you grew
to protect reputation?
money, of course.
a bribe will go far to hide the truth.
you destroyed my youth,
you stole my soul.
it was not yours to own.
i don't care if you made it,
don't care if you raised it.
you did a shit job anyway
'cause all that I learned
was from watching you, sure:
from seeing how not to behave
and planning my escape,
and deciding that
when I grew up
I would be everything that
you never were.
I'd hold tables and mountains to
protect the people around me
and my love would never depend
on success or attention
because that's not affection
and anyone who could threaten
to use violent methods
is someone who I will not speak with.
you will never meet my children.
you don't deserve to
and they won't deserve you,
to be used and abused
in all the worst ways.
you claim that your blessings have
always been earned and
the best comes to those
who do good on Earth
well then I sure hope
that you'll realize while burning
that you were the worst kind of person
and I hope you know
the only blessing you have earned
is a blessing for all those around
and really a curse, you'll have no reward.
i hope the universe knows
the only thing that you deserve
is living alone and dying alone.
tell the poets i am not yet ready to join them and they will have to wait. there is laughter to be had.
Once upon a time there was a boy. and that boy did all sorts of things that he shouldn't have, all because his parents did not break the bad habits, did not heal their own wounds. he smoked and he drank and he fought and he had girls and he knew he was smarter than everyone around him but didn't know that his intelligence was limited by his parents' failure to model love and empathy.
the boy grew up and he had a hard time in school, in college, because no one likes an asshole who picks fights with professors. he got married, eventually, he thought he'd pulled it together. the boy in our story loved classical things, he loved poetry, and music, and art. but he only loved the "right types" of each, the works recognized for their accolades and for the number of people who knew of and praised them. the boy saw himself reflected in a film that became his favorite. the film starred an actor who understood pain and dedicated himself to laughter. (better to die later having lived providing light to others than bleed out alone without it.)
the boy had children. but he treated them just as though he regarded their value to be up for debate, to be determined in the future in the same way as the works he so loved. and he did not trust them, because of how he had once behaved, and so did not allow their autonomy or freedom to think, feel, or to be.
and one day, many years later, his eldest child watched the film that the man had always said he loved. and she left with the knowledge that the man who had raised her, who had once been the boy, was oblivious to that which she considered obvious: that the boy had seen himself in that film, but he did not not fill the same role as the man she knew now. because that boy, who had become a man, had seen himself as the main character, as the boy who escaped the thumb of a controlling and ignorant father the only way he could.
she left because to her, the man had only ever been the person to belittle and harass her, to throw insults and derision and to break her down with the slightest hint of self-confidence showing or even a taste of the adult she was going to be. he had been the person to make her dread existence, and the man that meant she did everything in her power to hold on just until she could escape. she vowed to herself to only use the same route as the character in the film if she could not see any other way out.
there were many times she came close. she even tried once or twice, but in the end, she didn't use it. instead, she grew up. and she became a teacher, much like the one in the film, who had seen too much of the world, but despite her disillusionment with it believed in the power that young people had. and just like the actor who played the teacher, she knew she had to keep laughing. because even though laughter isn't any sort of medicine, at least it's a band-aid to stick on top of the wound and hold it together.
and she realized that instead of covering the wound he had received, the man who was her father had ignored his injuries entirely, had pretended that they were not even there. because of that, it had festered and spread. and he had not bled out but had instead pulled down and stabbed at others in his effort to rise. then he'd gone through his life with an infection that seeped too deep into his soul and his mind, and somewhere along the way, the man had become the exact person he'd once hated and feared.
the girl refused for that to be her path too. so she kept slapping on those band-aids, pitiful as they were for such a large wound. every laugh, every joke - she does it over and over and over. and maybe she'll make it even longer in life than that comedian did before she too has no choice but to peel off the plastic strips, and the barrier that covers an infection that could not be avoided, and let herself, finally, lose the limb, and maybe her life in the process. just like the comedian did. but at least, then, she will die as he did too - having chosen a life with laughter in it, for the price of dying later instead of bleeding out alone and in the dark.
and if she survives? well, the price of that wound that she had to wait so long to treat will be worth it. even if it is a huge part of herself she has to cut off just to ensure that the next child doesn't know what it is to be that little boy, or to be the little girl that came next, and to be overtaken by a wound that just won't heal, or die doing everything to rid yourself of it, or take the same route as the main character in that film who saw no other way to break free.
another $25 wasted
paid my therapist to talk in circles
while I point out all the flaws in what she says
and really she can't argue because im actually correct
and the things that i say make sense
is it really catastrophizing if it's happened before?
is it reading their minds or predicting the future if what I think is in their heads has all been said to me?
too bad therapy like this doesn't work
when your reactions are perfectly reasonable and logical
in the context of your life
why does it feel like most of these appointments are me waiting around for the next thing that I know I will debunk?
thirty minutes never went so slow
and pattern recognition means I know what she will say before she says it
so she can take thirty minutes to say what I understood in two
and I'll keep waiting impatiently for the next point, to which my response is already prepared
ready to poke some holes? making your therapist unsure of what to say is not something I should be proud of
but maybe I'll add it to the list,
right below the one who told me I should write a book on our third meeting:
'number five: talked in circles because she didn't know what to say when my arguments made perfect sense'
if only therapy were not based on convincing people that their negative experiences in the world are a result of our own flawed thinking and patterns.
why is it western therapy has always simply seemed like yet another way that my world tries to convince me that I am the problem? add it to the pile - talk therapy, my father, my sister, my ex-best-friend, my old roommate. maybe I just attract narcissists who only value relationships as long as they exist for transactional exchange.
I give my therapists another slice of my past, another piece of my soul, devoid of emotions because I don't know how to feel, usually delivered upon a platter of laughter and jokes. in return they put their degrees to use, they point out my patterns of thought and pretend it is as simple as changing them, as though it has not been ingrained in me since birth, since the glass picture frame was smashed over my head as an infant showed me nobody was safe, since they told me that I was nothing. and then the therapists leave satisfied, proud of having helped someone to see the flaws in focusing on the past, ignoring the reality of everyone living with severe complex trauma - that there is no present in which the past does not linger, manipulate, and shape.
transaction complete. trade your soul, trade your mind, let them purchase it for $75, two thirds of which is covered by the system that you do not benefit from. fork over your $25 portion and then bleed out on the couch from a million wounds while they tell you, condescendingly, to stop bleeding. Just stop - you are in control of that - and maybe they'll hand you some band-aids to slap on, but they won't stitch you up, won't even give you the tools to do the stitching, no antibacterial to place inside the wound and heal it, no needle or thread, no analgesic to assist as you attempt to hold together the pieces of yourself with sticky plastic strips two inches by 1/2 inch, or cloth ones, if you're lucky.
"here, peel off all the scabs. uncover the dressings on the injuries that you have held together for so long until you could get somewhere safe. they look just fine, though, so let's just rinse them off and cover them back up - and oh, just stop bleeding. thank you for showing me how deep they are, how many they number. don't forget to hand me your payment on the way out. don't worry if your fingers are slippery or sticky with the blood - the money counts just the same. bye bye, now, see you next week so we can open up those wounds again with unwashed hands and dirty fingernails and see how much they'll weep and bleed."
black and white thinking
after being awoken at 7:30 by my eight-year-old brother ("*step*brother", his voice tells me venomously as I teach him how to read; "you'll *always* count as one of us," the same sweet voice says when I ask if 'now one picture with just the kids' includes me or just them),
I hugged two little bodies and two more that are now taller than I am and one that became another mother all goodbye, and I dropped off the oldest at her boyfriend's house with one final hug (because she's eighteen, now, but that can't be right, she was eleven when we met) before embarking on my five-hour drive home.
and the married fireman who sleeps with me because he got married way too young but cannot afford a divorce told me to risk my life to do something stupid, because he got caught up in the moment, and because I am impulsive and got caught up too and am a people please with little regard for my own life or safety, I did
and when I got home his hold on me wasn't over and I was mad at myself for allowing another person to have that control over me even though that was what I what wanted so I did what I do best
and it turns out I got lucky because my self sabotage of the evening turned out to be a decent guy who wanted us to get comfortable first, who held me and talked and and let me ramble about Christmas because I was nervous and didn't touch me beyond cuddling until I wasn't nervous anymore and I found out that he, too, was a firefighter
distraction never felt so good, until it didn't, lines between pleasure and pain blurred and me lying there too spent to wonder if I am using this to hurt myself, but not entirely caring if I am,
and all of a sudden I realize that i am stuck in a loop, of burnout from relying on no one but myself and decision fatigue which means I want to surrender all control when the opportunity presents itself and I do, but I trust far too easily and that trust is used by those who do not know what it means to carry it, who don't understand that actually the person choosing to give it is the one really calling the shots and the control is given, not taken; and then I hate myself, and I hate what I've become, but doing this reminds me that I am a person, a human being and not a lab rat or a summary of history and results on a chart, and that self-loathing bring me right back where I started, and I do it all again, just like I did last night. Just like I'll probably do tomorrow, or Friday, or next week. (The "probably" alludes only to uncertainty about the 'when', not the 'what'.)
the universe will keep sending firefighters and EMTs and paramedics and Healthcare workers and young medical residents and 911 operators whose occupations I was previously unaware of as I continue to insist that I do not have a type
and I will keep entertaining their desires to be in control of something that goes well, that isn't a crisis, for once in their lives, and I will feed my own demand to let someone else make the decisions for a couple of hours
because at the end of the day, or week, somehow or another way I will fuck it up, I will trust the wrong people, but before I accept that I have I'll at least feel for a moment what it means to be human in a body that does what it should, when mine usually fails me at every possible turn.
moments from memorial hospital
What do you say when someone asks if you're okay and you're so, so not? I know they might not want to truly know. But the neurodivergence means I have a hard time lying. It's a lot of things like that, for me. I know logically what people mean, when they're joking or not. But I also need to set the record straight or make sure my intention was clear. My friend can joke about something that's not funny, really, but that we all have to laugh at. I can laugh at it, and often do - with the disclaimer at the end of "no but really here's why this isn't funny." I think it's the sense of justice.
I don't remember a lot of Tuesday and Wednesday from this week. Apparently, seizures will do that to you. Fuck with your memory, that is - as if the trauma from my childhood hadn't done enough of that already. As if the passing out hadn't either. Tell me why I found in my doctor's notes from 2017, "temporal lobe focal awareness seizures?" and I was never told, even when I knew, even when I thought I was crazy but I knew I'd been having them and was too scared to say anything for fear of dismissal, so I made myself forget. Until now. Until they've started up again.
The scariest thing, to me, is not remembering. At one point I blinked and there were two nurses in front of me - black scrubs, curly hair, a young guy. And a young woman, blonde, sweet smile. She asked me questions. I said, "Hold on, we already had this conversation though." I meant that I was having deja vu - another seizure in itself, most likely. Her reply compounded my confusion even more, even though her tone was joking, teasing: "Well that's because I was just here five minutes ago, hon! You had another episode." *What? No, I would remember. She wasn't here. She was here an hour ago. I would remember. I would... remember. Right?* My confusion must have shown. I am always fighting tears, now. I hate not remembering.
"What? I dont... I don't remember that." I hate that I can hear the panic edging into my voice by the end of the sentence. She squeezes my hand. "Hey, it's okay. That's why we're here. You're okay."
I pulled it together, of course. I hate to sound like an egoist when I say that. But it's true. I am the master of Pulling It Together. My only moment of weakness from Tuesday afternoon(??) to Saturday morning, when I was discharged, was at 11 at night, when I tried to get back to bed from the bathroom that's 10 steps away on my own. I stopped by the sink to get a wet washcloth. The nurse (a different one) found me sitting on the floor. "Hey hon, whatcha doin down there?!?" He's laughing a bit, teasing, again. I usually play the game - I am, as the lab techs said that very morning after stabbing me six times just to get blood for the day, "a good sport." (Perhaps my unmedicated ADHD singing and Vine repetition provided some morning entertainment for the crew of seven people in my room, all fascinated with my veins' refusal to cooperate.)
But right now, I can't play the game. I can't look at the nurse, so I don't."I just wanted to wash my hair." And that's when I lose it. Big sobs, ugly sobs. I'm crying. *Disgusting. Shameful. Don't let them see, don't let them see, don't let them see.* My hair hasn't been washed since Monday. It's now Friday night. My hair, usually curly and thick and somewhat red, is bogged down with electrode paste times three from EEGs, and glue from the long term one, and grease from the removal, and tangles from all of the above and the cap that failed to hold the dozens of wires in place. Not to mention the marker all over my head from the grid the technician drew. My hair is heavy and damp and black. I just want it clean. I just want to feel like a person.
So I'm crying, and I'm apologizing, and the nurse is being incredibly sweet as he squats next to me, telling me not to apologize, telling me he knows this is hard. He can get me a shampoo cap (I don't know what that is, but it sounds good). Besides, he says, the water in that sink takes forever to warm up and the cap, which gets heated, will feel much better than the cold washcloth. I'm holding the washcloth in my left hand and as he says that, I drop it. Or, more accurately, my hand decides to stop working and it falls. I huff in frustration. He sees it. "Hey, it'll come back. A seizure will take a lot out of you, hon. But it'll come back." He's talking about my strength. I'm still crying, but silently now, more my typical type, if crying only once every six months can be called typical - what my friend calls a "pretty cry." You'd never know from looking at me, and it takes only seconds to hide the evidence."I don't know that it will." My voice comes out trembling. *Weak. Weak. Weak.*
"They think I have MS, and I keep dropping stuff, so." *Pathetic.* "But that's okay, it's fine. I'm 24. My life isn't over. It'll be fine."By the end of the sentence, I'm no longer crying. The steel in my voice is back. It'll be fine, because it has to be. Emotional instability will not be in my chart. I can handle this, just like I've handled everything, by myself, and be fine. I have to be fine.
The nurse helps me up. I remember his name, of course. I remember many of them, probably just about as many as the ones whose names I don't recall, or who I don't even remember meeting. I wonder what else I don't remember. He gets me to my bed, and returns 20 minutes later with a shampoo cap. As it turns out, it doesn't do the trick; too much grease. It'd take four more to get my hair clean. But it's warm, and takes off some of the blue paste, and it wets my hair enough that I can convince myself I feel more clean.
I fall asleep that night with wet hair on a hospital pillow, in new sheets and a new gown that he changed for me while I was in the bathroom, that he helped me into, because I cannot do it on my own, cannot even take two steps unassisted.I know I'll be okay. I always am.
I haven't slept much, yet. when I got to my mom's at 10pm, I was already exhausted. three days of hard work and little sleep and a hookup and anxiety and no breakfast will do that to you. my sister was here when i pulled up next to the neighbor's car. I could see her silhouette in the window. i sent her a video of herself with just the caption 'SPOTTED!', then turned my car off & waited for her to notice before grabbing my weekend bag. she opens the door.
"what are you doing here, you have another doctor's appointment?"
"two. i called mom hours ago and reminded her."
"well, she didn't tell me!" most likely, she never heard my message.
"Trixie's in prison." As my little sister tells me that our dog has been sick all day because of something Mom fed her, I roll up my sleeves.
"you've been handling this all day? well, i get why you want Mom to come home and handle it but it'd be straight up animal abuse to make her sleep in that tonight. it's not her fault." 'that', naturally, being the vomit and spew and diarrhea that is yet again on the floor of her enclosure (which has barely been used since she was a puppy except to eat and for 'timeouts').
"I got it, I'll give her a bath. can you just clean up that last bit and then lay down some towels?"
the scene is very much a reminder of my place in the family we once had but can barely still claim exists: me, the eldest daughter, immediately setting down my coat, wallet, bag, and keys right next to the door, and Handling Things.
Trixie got her bath, and, as usual, she was absolutely terrified to the point of shaking. mercifully, she didn't nip, just cried the whole time, and still trusted me to scoop her up and hold her close in a towel afterwards.
I'm still thinking about this at 2 am, and about what would've happened if I hadn't been born first of my full siblings. would the second born have stepped up? my gut screams "no FUCKING way," knowing that my childhood bully is as delusional and angry and obsessive and oblivious as the man who raised us.
3:16 am. i haven't slept much still. but Trixie woke me from a very loose doze with two little yips, very polite but urgent barks. she never barks in the night, and she curled up to sleep on the washable bed I set up in her enclosure (along with one of the stuffed animals that's already on the way out in case she's sick again), which tells me now that something is up.
as soon as I switch the light on and see how she's standing, her little black tail wagging in short bursts with urgency, i realize i forgot to let her outside after the bath, before bed. i speak to her calmly as i scan the enclosure for any signs - but it looks all good. she goes out, and I'm standing with the cracked door to the back porch letting in 25° windchill, but I don't want to close it because sometimes she goes on "adventures" and digs under the fence (she always comes back) and I don't feel like waiting up for her. i realize, belatedly, that her collar is sitting on the table still. i took it off for her bath & never put it back on, so if she does escape her terribly and difficult life and enprisonment, she won't be able to be identified. well, shit. just another thing I've fucked up.
a jingle of the collar gives the rustling leaf sounds pause, and then I can hear her little feet pitter-pattering up the staircase. i can tell as I gently put her back into her space and clip the collar back on that she did, in fact, get sick again - i can smell it on her. "oh, baby, you were sick, huh? good job barking to go out. you did so good. go back to sleep, ok?" wild to me, how smart dogs really are.
4:45 am. I'm awake again. Not sure if I slept or only dozed. but now I'm not thinking of the dog, or the responsibilities, or the issues with my attendance at work because i keep missing for doctors' appointments and chronic illness symptoms. I'm thinking, now, about the two appointments i have today. i check my phone, mostly out of habit, or maybe boredom, or seeking a distraction. I write a bit. I take a break. I text Liam - 'ignore this bc it's 4am but it just occurred to me that maybe the reason my EEG and somatosensory EP results haven't been posted yet is because both would too obviously indicate MS and they dont want to tell me that way. or maybe not.'
i stare at the ceiling. i toss and turn and pull the covers up and down and layer and punch my pillow and drink some water from the bathroom sink and ignore the pit of hunger in my stomach and try to remember how the last EP went, and try to forget that the tech told me this set of them would be the most difficult yet, that it'd wipe me out for the day and probably give me a really bad headache or trigger a migraine.
the last migraine i had lasted ten days and sent me to the ER. I'm praying this doesn't do the same.
5:11 am. maybe i should just give up on sleep. my tests are in under four hours, and it's a 45 minute drive. so really, I have two and a half left to "sleep." i know that this won't help the tests be easier. my body just refuses to cooperate. i wonder if it, too, is a middle child like my siblings, or if it falls more into the role of enabling and irresponsible mother to the oldest-daughter brain that tries it's damndest to keep everything on track.
making mary’s monster
up. down. up. down.
it's methodical, the rotation of her wrist on the fulcrum point
and each time the cool metal pierces the canvas below
she remembers why it is that she used to love sewing.
up. down. she doesn't need to measure to pierce the holes.
years of practice with needle and thread have assured nothing less than perfection
when it comes to retribution in the form of a dagger and what once was a man (now turned into canvas).
a eulogy to anger, an elegy for pain
embracing of calmness that finally comes
in the clarity of rhythmic and ritual task.
this new dawn arrives with quiet acceptance.
where once the needle pulled together the pieces
now the blade punches on to achieve the same end.
lights pull up behind me. yellow, flashing, and my knuckles turn white on the steering wheel as my grip tightens. maybe I shouldn't have out my hazards on, but i didn't want to get hit, because being on the side of the highway at night comes with its own hazards. at least, that's what I'm telling myself - that i dont want to get hit. that i just pulled over to breathe. that i will not get out of this car, i will not move from this spot, i will not throw away my life.
there's a rap on my passenger window, and if not for the flashing yellow lights of the safety truck that's pulled up behind me, I wouldn't have seen him coming at all in the night. he's left his engine running.
i roll down my window, avoiding eye contact.
"Hey there! Everything okay, you need some help? I can give you a jump or we can call a tow or something." the voice is kind, despite the southern twang that would normally have me wary. i wonder distantly if this is a sign that maybe that wound is starting to heal, but no matter - i've got plenty more laid wide open right now, vulnerable to reinfection and reinforcement of their severity.
i take a breath before i speak to steady my voice. "uh... no, i'm sorry, I'm - im having a panic attack. i think im having a panic attack." it feels pathetic, fighting my voice to keep from slipping into a hum of anxiety and pain.
i can hear the change in his tone when he answers and i know immediately that this man, whoever he is, is a carer.
"you're having a panic attack? okay, well let's just do your best to breathe, just like you just did. what's your name?" im still staring just below the window at the door, but i can see him settle his arms to lean down into the window. yellow hard hat, yellow vest, yellow lights. i wonder why they chose yellow.
my voice comes out in a whisper because most of my energy is spent trying to focus on making sure that he cannot see how bad it really is, how badly i really feel. "caden," i manage.
"Caden? hey Caden. I'm Austin. it's nice to meet you. you're doing great, okay? you want EMS?
unexpectedly, i feel tears well up. "no. sorry," i whisper. "i have ptsd." he notices, and i cover my face with my hands. don't let them see you cry.
"hey, yeah, let it out. sometimes you just need to cry. heck, i go home and cry often enough. i was an emt, fire/rescue. i get it. anxiety, ptsd, depression, the whole nine yards."
i let out a sob, but my instinct is to quickly pull it together. and, of course, i do. im still hyperventilating, though.
"you're doing great, just breathe."
i keep my face buried in my hands. the steering wheel is cold and hard and digging into my wrist, but i let it.
after a few more breaths, i finally sit up. "no tears here. im kind of incapable of crying." i manage to look over at the man, really. Austin looks to be in his 30s, round, kind face, red mustache, round glasses. he's looking at me in concern, and i wonder if he can read where my head is just by the look on my face, by the nature of where, exactly, I've stopped.
"well thats not good. you can't do that to yourself. keep breathing, okay?"
i dont respond for a bit, just focused on the moment. don't let them see. dont let them see. dont let them see.
"im a teacher," i start. "so... i guess im used to it."
a flash of recognition across his face. the shared trauma of teachers, first responders, nurses. carers with no one to care. a gun in my classroom. holding a kid at his dad's funeral, holding it together when he runs up to me and tugs on my hand to bring me up to meet him and introduce me. meeting parents i know have assaulted their babies. holding a girl when she sobs and tells me about the sleepover she had at a friends house where a random man came into the room in the night. a desk thrown across my classroom. a boy in the bathroom, bleeding from the arms. a ten year old telling me about the nineteen bullet holes in the front of his house from his cousin's discontent. verbal abuse from children so traumatized that they want their lives to end. "i hate you. you bitch. fuck you," as my heart breaks into a thousand pieces for the pain they never should have had to endure, as i build them up and forgive endlessly and pray and hope that one day, they will be okay, that at least with me they will be safe and loved. keys between my fingers, scissors in hand, bracing the door to my classroom as my kids huddle in the corner, knowing in my heart that if someone comes through i will die for my students, use my body as a shield, take them down no matter the cost to myself if it means keeping them from harm. this is no hypothetical. it's real. its now.
Austin sees me. he knows.
"you can't shove it all away, you've gotte let yourself feel." it's gentle, but firm. "you're no use to anyone if you bottle it all up. thats how you end up having a breakdown on the side of the highway."
i dont acknowledge that. "you probably find people here a lot, huh? bet you get a lot of people trying to walk out into traffic." i laugh a bit. he does not. my car shakes with each vehicle that flies past at 65 miles an hour.
he watches me for a bit before responding. "yeah. to be honest it's not in the job description, but I've always done this, stopped to talk to people. 'cause i get it."
"im sorry, ive got some complicated health stuff. i got some bad news today." i give a tired half-gesture to indicate the emergency medical card tucked above the passenger mirror.
his chin dips. "hey, don't apologize. nothing to be sorry for. shits hard."
i just nod to confirm. im not going to tell him that i pulled over because if i didn't I'd have crashed the car. im not going to tell him that it's taking everything in me not to run out into traffic. but it's getting easier to ignore that, now. his voice is calm and grounding.
"im only twenty three," i whisper, staring at my steering wheel again. "im only twenty three. my life is not over. im only twenty three. my life is not over." im saying it for me, really. i almost forget he can hear it. my chest is aching, and i feel my hand go up to rub above my collarbone, to sit there, heavy against my chest, pressing into the pain.
"deep breaths. still with me? you sure you don't want me to call for EMS?"
i just shake my head.
"your life isn't over. i don't know the details, but i know that. you gotta have a little optimism about the future."
"feels a bit like it is, though." i can't help but say it. "i know its not. but im twenty three and i just got diagnosed with yet another life changing chronic illness. thats *four*. my body hates me." i laugh.
this time, he cracks a dry smile. it's quickly replaced with empathy. "thats a lot, no kidding. but thats what doctors are for, right? you just worry about taking care of you. you can't help others like this."
this man truly does see me. only a person who has lived their entire life for others and in a caring capacity can know that this is the only argument that has a 100% success rate at convincing me to keep going. he saw it the moment i said 'teacher.'
"thanks for listening," i say. he's right, of course. time to pull it together. as long as i make it home, i'll be fine. i'll give up the fighting my brain for tonight and just go to sleep.
"no worries. im happy to talk, and sometimes it just takes a stranger to listen. different perspective, right?"
i nod. "yeah."
"how you feeling? nice job breathing. like a pro!" he cracks a smile, and i do too.
"that's me," i say, flashing a fake grin. i know he sees past it, though.
"how far you got to go?"
"couple exits. maybe three minutes."
"you were so close!" he's joking, trying to get me to keep smiling.
"*so* close," i agree. "nearly made it."
"well, you think you'll be okay to make it home safe?"
"yeah," i say, nodding. its only two exits. if i get home, i'll be fine. if i get home, i'll be fine. i want to be fine. (maybe if i keep repeating, i'll believe it.)
the yellow lights are going, still. my fingers find the glass of my window. cool, smooth, hard, real. i wonder if punching it would break it or just hurt my hands. i flick the lock. don't open the door. dont open the door. dont open the door. my thumb slides the lock closed again.
the yellow lights are going, still. my fingers find the glass of my window. cool, smooth, hard, real. i wonder if punching it would break it or just hurt my hands. i flick the lock. don't open the door. dont open the door. dont open the door. my thumb slides the lock closed again.
hopefully he didn't notice. "I'll be good. just need to get home."
he says something about if i ever have car trouble they're always there and can help out at no cost, gives me the hours which i can't remember, raps his knuckles on the window frame. then - "you sure you'll be safe?"
i look up at his eyes again. if i say it, I will have to. I dont break my word. "yeah. I mean, yes. I'll get home okay." his eyes hold mine, searching for any sign of mistruth, anything to set off the alarm bells.
i dont need to say it. he knows, just as surely as he knows by my promise that he probably saved my life tonight. finally, the stern and gentle look resolves. i never had to say it. i'm glad he didn't make me.
"okay. you'd better. drive safe, go home, and relax. don't be too hard on yourself."
i nod. "you said it was Austin, right? thanks, Austin."
he dips his head in acknowledgement. "anytime. happy to help. be safe." then hes pushing off the window of my car, walking back to his truck. yellow hat, yellow vest, yellow lights. still flashing.
i dont look in my mirror to check. I don't watch him go back. i turn the key in my ignition, and turn off the hazards, and find the next gap in traffic to accelerate into.
just make it home, just make it home, just make it home.
thanks, Austin, i think. im gonna make it home.