“How are you feeling today?”
I’m not sure you want to know. People ask that all the time and don’t really mean it. They don’t want to hear the truth, they just want to be polite.
“I want to know. How are you really feeling?”
It starts with a swelling in my ribs, like a balloon inflating under my breasts. It expands until I can no longer inhale like a human being -- I must breathe around the bubble that is wedged so firmly in my solar plexus. The breath of a Barbie Doll. Plastic. Inhuman. Unyielding.
And then I’m in the well, looking up. A bright circle of light I can’t reach. My equilibrium shattered with one impotent breath.
Little blue pills. Guided meditations. Pulse throbbing in my throat, making my necklace thrum and dance. Brain spiraling on a manic typewriter ribbon of thoughts. Everything I touch tainted with smeared black fingerprints.
And then what? Wait a week, a month, two months for it to subside. Will it? Can it? Sometimes it does and I’ll feel fine. I never know when it’s going to go away. But it always comes back. Always.
“You sleep too much.”
It’s my only escape. I can breathe when I’m unconscious. Even so, I clench my teeth, waking with a blinding headache. More little blue pills. Benadryl with wine. Guided meditations do fuck all.
Sleep is relief. Sleep is oblivion. Sleep is peace -- as close to death without actually wielding the razor blade.
“You’re doing this to yourself. It’s going to age you. Why can’t you just snap out of it?” There are too many things filling that bubble of dread: dead mother, meaningless job, no money, grief. Being left behind. The future. The past. But never, ever the present.
At work I long to crawl under my desk and hide. Anywhere there is no one. And dark. And quiet. A closet will do, or bed. Places where no one will find me. But please. Find me.
Dreams at night of my mother on fire, hair a conflagration, her mouth open in a silent scream that’s burned on the backs of my eyelids. Grief squeezes my throat tighter until I’m gasping.
“Why aren’t you happy? What can I do to make you happy?”
The pressure to be fixed weighs like a millstone. I am immovable with the fear of attracting attention. I am a gazelle, a fawn, camouflaged, waiting for the predator/savior to move on. Nothing to see here. Please don’t go.
I must do better. I must get well. I must stop this ridiculous behavior. I must not let it get to me.
“Don’t I make you happy?”
Oh my love, you are the one bright spot that keeps me from pitching over the edge. And yet I know this is killing you too. You keep watch, try your best, feel helpless. And I keep focusing on me, me, me. When do you get the attention? Why do you have to be the strong one? When do you get the break?
“I love you.”
I love you too. Please wait for me to come back.
Anna Karras is a librarian, a rabid knitter and obsessed with the Great British Bake Off. She lives in Naples, Florida, with her husband and two cats, Shady and Fingers.