It was a Thursday night in February. It really wasn’t all that cold outside, not warm, just pleasantly uncold; warm enough to make me feel guilty for enjoying climate change. We were the only two in the apartment, my roommates were all out at various unspecified locations for the night. His demeanor was so candid, he was relaxed and perfectly content with whatever happened and whatever I needed to do. I remember him sitting on that old couch that came from my parents house, with my dog snoring in his lap. He so easily could have been thrown off or scared away that night, God knows in his shoes, I would have been.
I’d been completely fine all day, better than fine. I’d actually had a good day and a great evening with him. Not a thing had gone wrong. We’d managed to make homemade macaroni and cheese together without burning the whole building down, laughing and playing around in the kitchen. We sat across from each other and we talked, and we ate. We ate without caring about how we looked, so comfortable with each other that getting food on my face would just be another thing he’d brush off and we’d laugh about together. Relishing in the moment, I thought about how lucky I was to have the man who was sitting right there in front of me.
Then that’s when I felt it, that dreadful sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, dragging my lungs down with it, drowning me within myself, making it a struggle to breathe. My talking ceased and my eyes became fixed on the hanging pictures and the corners of the walls, just staring off into oblivion. That’s when he knew to ask, that’s when he always knows.
I wanted to be okay, I so badly wanted to be okay, in that moment to sigh, and breathe out and away every feeling of suffering.
I looked down and away from him saying “I really want to be… I’m trying so hard to not collapse into a panic attack.”
Those words are the ones that always get the strangest of looks, because people without mental disorders usually don’t understand that there aren’t always triggers, there isn’t always a pinpointed reason that lights the fire and causes you to resort to old, debilitating, painful behaviors. But his charismatic look wasn’t fazed.
He looked right at me with his bright blue, compassionate eyes, and responded, “Do what you need to do, I’m right here for you, but I can leave if want me to.”
I said “Don’t go” as I attempted to literally run from my problems and isolate myself. Alone, the only way I knew how to face the anxiety building up within myself.
Alone in the bathroom, I sat down on the cold porcelain seat, feeling sick to my stomach. I tried to breathe slowly through the burning in my chest, into my abdomen as I was taught.
“I hate this.”
My eyes filled with tears and my brain was stuck playing the thoughts of self-hate and internal questions over and over.
“Why does this happen to me?”
My legs were twitching and my feet were tapping, my palms were sweaty as I looked down at my phone.
“I hate myself.”
I unlocked the screen and opened messages, where his name was; right at the top of the list.
“Why does this always happen?”
My shaking fingers clicked on his name and I began to type; texting is so nice when you can hide yourself and from yourself behind the safety net of an iphone screen. The words “I’m sorry this happens to me…” stare back at me in the text bubble, and I hit send.
The word “Delivered” ate me alive, gnawing at my chest, chewing at my heart through each beat. Three little dots popped up on the screen, pulsing like my heart, yet unable to keep up with the hurried tempo killing me yet somehow keeping me alive. My thoughts were spinning, inconsistent and irrational, terrified of him being annoyed by or judgemental of the nature of my problems.
Within the little grey bubble:
“Don’t apologize. I love you, all of you. It doesn’t matter that this happens, it doesn’t matter how many times this happens, and it doesn’t matter when or where this happens. This won’t ever make me look at you in a negative light. I promise.”
My mind was relieved, but my body couldn’t reboot or relax back to a normal state of existence. I wanted to be in the other room with him, comfortable and content without a single anxious thought or feeling in the air. I stood, feeling dizzy and lightheaded. I forced myself to regain a presentable outward composure. Although internally, I still felt broken. With a deep breath, I opened the bathroom door and went back out in the open, vulnerable. He’d moved from the kitchen to the main room, sitting, sprawled out on the grungy old couch that the dogs have always slept on. In his lap, my puppy laid her head, sound asleep and curled up. He had Drake playing softly from his phone and was stroking the long, fluffy ears of my dog. It took him a moment before looking up to see me walking in.
“How are you doing?” he asked, his voice deep, yet bright, confident, and extremely compassionate. By the way his clear blue eyes looked at me and into me, I knew he honestly cared.
“I’m surviving.” I said, sitting down next to him, curling up like the dog on his other side.
He looked over and down at me. His soft, warm lips momentarily rested on my forehead as he kissed me, letting me know he was there. I was still shaking, panicking without a reason because I felt safe sitting beside him.
“I want to cut” I exclaimed, in desperate need of something to help alleviate the pain. I could feel his heart break behind his ribcage, underneath me.
He paused, “I don’t know what to say to that…”
I didn’t expect him to.
He went on talking, I think saying reassuring things to me and about us, and how my anxiety would never be a reason for him to walk away.
I was not paying any attention to the words he was saying or to the message behind them. I was trying to pull myself back to a stable existence and sense of reality. I heard the sound of his voice, the soothing hum underneath each vowel, and the love within each pause; the repetitive sighs of the puppy inhaling and exhaling; Drake’s seductive yet somber lyrics. I felt the weight of his hand and fingers touching my leg, the shaggy carpet between my restless toes, and the expanding of my chest and stomach with each breath I took, I felt the cold air against my damp skin, and the soft fabric of his university sweatshirt against my cheek where I rested my head. I saw the dimmed ceiling lights above my head, the khakis he loves so much even with the peanut butter stain near the pocket.
His voice changed and he turned off his music and offered to play the playlist I have to relax me. I nodded, and he stood up to turn it on the big speakers. He sat back down as a duet remix of an Of Mice and Men song, way better than the original, began to play; acoustic and harmonized. I exhaled. In that moment, with him sitting right beside me, my breathing steadied and my chest relaxed. The female vocalist began to sing and my limbs tingled, finally regaining oxygen after being deprived. I stood up and walked to the speakers, turning the volume up as high as it could go without the neighbors complaining.
I walked the perimeter of the room and I sang, I sang loud. I sang to let all the negative energy flow and flush out, down my spine and out my toes. I spun around in circles with my arms spread out, around and around I went like the earth on her axis. He stood and took the male role, singing all the words wrong and embracing every mistake. I stopped spinning when he came over to me and put his arms around my waist. I reached up for his neck, wrapping my arms around him, singing into his shoulder, and melting in his embrace. Together, we danced through the room, knocking papers off the tables and standing on the furniture; we sang, screaming to up the heavens and down to the bottom of the sea. We danced and we sang away all of the pain.
The song ended, so he played it again; he played it again and again on repeat, until he finally found the right words. In that apartment room, with my pup on my parents old couch, and my roommates nowhere to be found, I fell in love.