Piles of wooden fences and sawn limbs, a stack of warped wooden dressers, carpets and shingles, line the narrow street. Remnants of homes or the aftermath of tragedy, it’s hard to know what to call it. I drive slowly. My head lolls and my mind wanders, shoulder muscles go lax because I just can’t carry any more weight. Nagging questions roil in my brain. Why was I spared? What’s coming next? The fever is near, I can feel it coming like the drop in pressure that brought the storm. Those thoughts, new inklings are always just a mild distortion of the lies from the last panic. But still I don’t recognize them until it’s too late, until the weather has already shifted.
My focus begins to blur and I force my mind and my eyes to return to the present. The oppressive heat is like an admonition from the earth I’m killing. We’re all killing it. I’m killing her. She is patient and resilient, but these natural “disasters”, the silent clinging to summer in mid-October—it’s her form of passive protest. We are ignoring and driving gluttonous circles around Mother Nature’s sit-in.
There is no fresh air to free me from my mind prison, today. The kids are reading in the backseat and I start foreseeing a bleak future of catastrophic destruction in my own home, in the next hour. My stomach clenches and my heartbeat starts to pick up. I close my eyes briefly, behind the wheel. We’re stopped now, sitting in the garage. I want to take a deep breath, to swallow, to move on, but all I can do is half of any of those things. It always feels like a small suffocation. I wish I could cry.
I slap my hands hard against the steering wheel. It startles the kids. “Geez! Mom, you scared me! What are you doing?” Nothing, I’m fine. Everything’s okay. Let’s go inside now.
I press the button to open the trunk hatch. The stale smell of gasoline and too much heat greet me as I sidle along the narrow path from driver’s door to trunk. I heft the bags of carefully budgeted groceries. My shoulder pinches to remind me of my weakness. Today, I’m too aware of my weakness.
I set the bags on the floor of the kitchen. It could definitely be cleaner. I think I step in something slimy or wet. My shoe slides a bit. Disgust is fleeting, now. I walk back into the garage and call to the kids. Their little growing brains are buried in books. I doubt they even notice how hot it’s getting in that closed up car.
“Don’t forget to grab your water bottles. Please bring in some of those books. Yes, you can watch a show. If you want a snack, you may have an apple. No, I’m not going to cut it up for you; the apples are small. Okay, I’m going upstairs now. Really, you can come get me if you need anything, okay?”
“Yes, mom. Okay, mom. Sure, mom. Sorry, mom. I’m fine, mom.”
I carefully put away the groceries, each item in its specific place. Order is my sanity. I replace the bags to their rightful home on my way to the stairs. Do these stairs keep getting steeper? I round the corner at the top of the stairs and the panic seizes me by the throat and flings me against the wall like I’m some pathetic rag doll. I crumple in a small heap. I kneel on a Lego brick. God, how badly I want to cry, but I can’t. Right now, I can’t even muster anger or frustration. My assailant relents. I get up and head to my bedroom. I slip off my shoes, put them on the rack. I peel off my jeans, hang them in the closet. I’m dizzy, leery of the next attack.
I sit heavily in my desk chair as I’m slammed backward, pressed down by my shoulders, crushed under the weight. The thoughts come swiftly now—fears and reality colliding and mingling in a fever dream kaleidoscope. I feel it all, too much, too much. I want to breathe, to cry, to swallow, but I can’t. I do all of these things only by halves. I’m pinned and destroyed. Vitality is being ripped from me unceremoniously. I can’t fight. My freedom is gone. I can’t run. I’m trapped, trapped, pinned here. I can’t escape. Please, please, God, just let me die.
Then, in an instant, I’m released. I crawl to the bathroom, though I know I’m not really sick. I want to lay on the tile floor, but I think how gross that is. I pull myself up by the countertop. I see my face in the mirror. The telltale crease is a glaring omen between my eyebrows. There is no demon behind me, now, but no matter. The damage is done.
The thoughts, now, are acute. Am I still breathing? Am I still me? I hate myself so much. Why do I always give in? I’ll be nauseous for hours, maybe days. I’ll be shaking when my husband gets home. I just realize that my teeth have been chattering for some time now. My jaws ache. I’m shivering, half naked, violated and destroyed by my own mind. My body is sick. My brain is sick. But really, no really, I’m fine.