The scent of the sewage works is sliding around the window. Not exactly offensive, just faintly organic. A nasal weathercock that signifies an easterly breeze.
It’s raining on the shed below (and, unsurprisingly, elsewhere), and each drop has its knees bent up, arms wrapped around for maximum velocity, and is making a satisfying thwack-splat on the plastic-wrapped roof.
Through the collisions of kamikaze rain come the sounds of planes, every takeoff and landing a slow, deep rumbling sigh in the contented chest of the heavens.
I can feel all those sounds in my bones, the smells trickle along vertebrae, and that grey light – so often loathed – offers a soft cloud buffer between the world and me.
I’m a little raw today.
Last night, I unlocked one of those boxes I keep in my head and spilled its contents out, despite my brain’s best efforts to squirm and wriggle out from under your mercilessly gentle spotlight.
And under that light, the shadows of the Dread Shame might have faded a bit.
So I’m wrapping myself in greys and rumbles, bathing in the faint scent of sewage, and hoping I’ll have a while before doubt wheedles its way back in.
There’s a kneading in my chest, a drawing out, a punching in, a folding over. I’m not quite sure what the end result is meant to be (and I’m doubtful it’s worth all the commotion). My lungs are doing their best to press on despite the surrounding churn, thin breath in, thin breath out, a constant battle against diaphragm.
Shoulders are corded tight, ratcheted two clicks past comfortable and tugging up toward my beleaguered neck. They too, appear to know something I don’t.
It slithered in from somewhere, maybe alongside that dream last night with all that frantic dismemberment and panicked swipes of fingerprints. Maybe it came in as I drew away from the present and slid toward the past without shuffling my thoughts into order first.
It’s refusing to answer questions in any case.
This feeling is the one that wants to consume everything in sight. Fill all bodily cavities until there is no room for churn or movement or tightness. There is only the sturdy counter press of repletion.
It always passes, sliding out of my skin and into another’s without any pattern or cause. In the meantime, this mound of flesh I call ‘mine’ will continue to jitter and jolt its way onward, desires and motives entirely opaque.
I feel this need to gobble things up. Consume them before they disappear from existence, seize them in a spasmodic clutch that crushes as much as it holds.
Why the rush?
I suppose the future feels empty in its uncertainty. The potential it holds seems like so much Fool’s Gold when compared to the sure gleam in the seam of the present. I seize the day, uncaring that my clumsy grasp might cause a hundred futures to wink out, wriggling threads extinguished without a second’s thought.
I get told to relax a lot. Chill out. Go with the flow. See what happens. It turns out that this doesn’t really have any effect on a mind outraged by the paucity of knowledge available when told to make decisions.
And so I hold onto today like the Earth might turn its back on the Sun, refusing to bring it back around. I feel everything now, in case the future is a burnt out carcass hosting only maggots of misery.
Sometimes my grip releases. Hands go slack and shaky with the fear that those terrible futures might mean that there’s no point in consuming or clutching. There’s no point in holding on.
On those days, when my brain coils tightly around itself and digs its jaws in deep, I need someone to slip their hand in mine and clutch me as though the Earth might spin no more. As though those future threads mean nothing compared to the need for a clumsy grasp today.
And on those days I’ll realise I don’t have to rush alone.
It’s the tenderness of a piglet’s belly, the nestle of warm sheets, the helpless puddling of ice cream in summer sun.
It feels like I’ve only just realised how stabbable I am, how all these knotted organs are wrapped in flesh rather than the spined armour I always assumed I wore.
Like the Emperor’s new clothes, once I realised it wasn’t there, I was left naked and flinching at how easily a word could slip between a rib to puncture or nick.
Fear wraps his arms around me, holding me immobilised as I see your words approach. But they slip over my skin, loosening the clutch of those bony fingers and soothing the bruises beneath. They glide over ribs with the softest of pads, slow and gentle until the tide of anxiety is reversed.
Fear returns the next day, and the next, and yet your words never sharpen with impatience. A disgusted part of me watches the floundering and shrieks for me to weave back the armoured illusion I once wore.
I have a box in my mind labelled ‘Mouth Fail Recordings’. The lid is lovingly worn from the number of times I’ve rummaged through and replayed, ad nauseum.
I am not good at being put on the spot. My tongue tends to flap and flop like a beached whale, spewing the absolute crap that my brain frantically throws at it from its blowhole. A delighted part of my subconscious grabs popcorn and records it all in high definition, preparing for inevitable slow-mo reruns.
My brain reacts to most unannounced phone calls with a violent urge to flee for the hills and throw the buzzing grenade as far away as possible. I don’t have any extra information to stop my brain from short-circuiting: no warning, briefings or body language. So mostly I ignore the call, gird loins, and call back… Which I also loathe, because phone calls involve interrupting someone, shouting (or vibrating) into their lives unannounced. It just feels rude.
I would possibly have been better off in an era that relied on handwritten missives. And networking by carrier pigeon.
I’m also a bit pants with on the spot face-to-face interactions. It took me a long time to be able to interact with cashiers or bus drivers without an ‘I carried a watermelon‘ moment. And then they introduced contactless payments and self-checkouts, so I assume the future is on my side. (Though they’ve also introduced recorded video interviews, which seems to be even more whale-tongue inducing for me).
Technology has yet to throw pouncers with clipboards onto the scrapheap of a bygone era. I get that charitable causes need people to donate and need to find a way to make themselves visible, and I also get that most people aren’t me and probably don’t have a problem with the whole thing. But clipboard holders feel like lions in the long grass. I get stalked because I look approachable, and then I get savaged with guilt because I’m too polite to cut short the spiel.
I assume the only people donating to charities are the really nice ones who can’t get away. Ditto with cold-calling. Which doesn’t seem all that charitable.
I don’t know if this kind of anxiety is heritable or a learned behaviour, but I’m not the only one in my family who views innocuous interactions with abject fear. And I definitely did have a toy telephone as a kid, it didn’t help.
Aside from exposure therapy, my only recourse is to await the development of mental grenades that can obliterate that box of mouth fail recordings, as well as those other boxes labelled ‘Social Awkwardness’ and ‘Shameful Misdeeds’.