Trigger warnings at the end. Please take care of yourself.
Anxiety overtakes my bloodstream without permission: the pounding pulse on my wrist traces back to my throbbing heart, the heat on the back of my neck and cheeks is a heat that reminds me that I am not in control, not over my thoughts, not over my body. Anxiety climbs to the surface of my skin in the form of beat-red cheeks, a physical, burning presence that doesn’t allow me to keep my panic private.
Not that it matters right now, as I sit at the kitchen counter and stare at the microwave clock, watch the colon between the hour and the minute blink. It beats slower than my pounding blood, too slow, like it doesn’t understand the direness of the situation, the direness of the information it portrays.
It’s 8:37 a.m. on my day off, and Deanna was supposed to be home thirty-seven minutes ago. I woke up twenty-two minutes ago, realized she wasn’t home, and was able to convince myself she was fine for about five minutes before I ran out of safe, non-life-threatening reasons why she would be late. Maybe she missed the subway and was waiting for the next one–unlikely, she said that her boss was going to let her off with plenty of time because it was a special occasion. Maybe she got stopped by a person giving away tracts–she told me once that she liked to argue with them if she was having a bad day. But surely not even doomsday criers were handing out propaganda at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday. From there the possibilities deteriorated: she got hit by a car, she was mugged, someone bombed the subway, some creepy dude watched her serve drinks all night, followed her when she left, and–
Not even I, a veritable expert at imagining the worst, want to finish that thought.
Then, selfish selfish selfish, my thoughts turn to me. If she’s dead in an alley, what will I do without her? I can’t afford this rent by myself, even if it is the shittiest apartment in the world. Where am I going to find a new roommate? I can’t live in my car, I don’t have a car. Deanna promised she was going to teach me how to file my taxes. If she’s dead in an alley, who the fuck is going to teach me how to do taxes?
By the time the door swings open at 9:07, I’ve worked myself into such a frenzy that my first thought is robber and not oh, there she is.
She enters triumphant, with more enthusiasm in her smile than I think I’ve ever seen. It’s almost enough to make me forget my full hour of spiraling. “Sup, my dude! Sorry about the wait, but I had to stop and get breakfast for this very special day! I thought about cooking, but then I remembered that I can’t cook for shit, so it’s greasy diner food for you.”
I just stare at her, can’t even conjure up a response. I had fully convinced myself that she was dead, had already made a plan for how I was going to survive on the streets, and then she has the nerve to show up very much not dead.
She throws the bags on the counter and begins to open up takeout boxes. “We got scrambled eggs, we got bacon, we got hashbrowns, we got pancakes and waffles cause I wasn’t sure which way you swung, we got… hm… I don’t know what that is.” She looks up at me, smiles again, and then some of it slips off as her eyes scan my face. “You okay?”
Don’t you dare, I tell myself. “Yeah.”
I shake my head. “Nah, I’m good.” I reach over and grab a slice of bacon. “Thanks for breakfast.”
“Yeah, of course. And hey, happy birthday!”
I bob my head, still trying to get my words back after the only sound I had been hearing was the pounding of blood in my ears. Start small. “I’m more of a waffle guy.”
Trigger warnings: anxiety attacks, brief mention of rape.