I’m already outside before I remember to take deep breaths. Shallow breathing causes my world to constrict and pucker. Everything feels too close, inverted. I pause to suck it up then whistle it away, back to its proper place and perspective. Finally, with a few more exhales, the far-sightedness is better. Now I can at least see what I’m dealing with.
Sounds are extra sharp this morning. I find myself wincing at the squeals and squawks from kids and hens. I assure myself it’s simply anxiety. It’s just my body trying to warn me. But it’s oftentimes like a smoke alarm blaring when there’s no smoke to be found. I’m thinking of the time I took the broomstick to our detector, and dashed the screaming hell out of it, in effort to stop the panic. It stayed that way for a good year, at least. Because it’s maddening to have a constant siren when there is no real threat. And it wears the skin thin, leaving the nerves exposed.
I give a violent hush to my insides. Reassure my soul that it’s safe. Kept. Held. It’s only a shadow. I tell it to simmer down, but it continues to come to a boil. And now there is smoke. And I’m cloudy. And I realize the threat is on the inside. I think it’s myself I’m afraid of. I hear the ambulance racing by, the howl of the horn rising and falling. How fitting. Are they coming for me? Do they know there’s a crisis just beneath my breath?
Now I’m starting to spin a bit but I’m grasping solid things for support. The countertop. The table. The kitchen sink. I’m hurled over it and I begin to do simple things in effort to ground myself. I’m rinsing a bowl. I’m washing my hands. I talk to myself in phrases that match my breathing. “You are OK.” A dozen times over, prophesying to my spirit that is wrestling to rise above the terror.
But now I feel the fire. It burns like anger. I want to rip the curtains from the rod. I feel like a freak of nature. Like I’m turning into the Hulk. I race outside to avoid witnesses, and I yank a massive braid of wisteria from the chicken coop door before hiding in it. Retreating until this present danger passes. My mind is firing like an assault rifle. I try my best to gain control of the trigger, before it puts a thousand holes into me. I dissolve into a small ash heap and now there are tears. Tears to extinguish the flames. I plead with God to douse me down. Please put it out. Please command the winds and the waves within me, and wash me up on the shore. And it feels just like that: waves and billows, crashing over me, quenching the belligerent blaze. And I’m shipwrecked, but alive. I feel the water receding and I can catch my breath for just a moment. I slap my cheeks and rub my eyes in an attempt to come to. It’s OK…it’s OK…you’re alive…you’re safe.