Have I locked the door? The door is locked. Pull the handle, once, twice. Doesn’t budge. Now push it in so the latch clicks. Click. Thank god, I’m home. There’s a roast chicken sitting on the counter. Who doesn’t refrigerate a chicken? Has that just been taken out or has it been sitting there for hours like the dishes sitting in the sink? The floor is sticky. The stovetop is crusty. I cleaned last week. No one thanked me. Did I lock the door? Look back. It’s locked. I’m exhausted. I need to rest, but that will take up an hour of my evening. My nightly ritual takes an hour and a half. Studying takes up three. If I do all of it, I’ll be getting in the shower at 10 and sliding into bed at 11:30. I can’t rest, but I’ll lay in bed while I study. When did I last wash these sheets? I wash them weekly, but they feel dirty. I feel dirty. I feel guilty. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not enough.
1, 2, 3.
For each of us, the symptoms are the same. The rushing heart, the twitchy little fingers, the swirling stomach full of nausea. I remember my sister telling me what hereditary means. “You’ll get it too.” And I did, I do, and I will until I don’t anymore. Most of the time it’s only a nuisance, gnawing at the frayed corners of my nature. When the conditions are right, its hooks sink in deep. The women in my family have taught me many methods of eradication. Watching her baby’s chest rise and fall in its sleep calmed my mother. Gardening gave her a sense of control in a world that wouldn’t love her for the right reasons. For my sister, exercise and routine quelled the pent up rage that comes from being silenced. I have yet to create the algorithm perfect for my own body, but I have been working on piecing it together. Free writing allows me to scratch off the thickened skin of my uncertainty. Warm water soothes and tames and washes away anything I can’t acknowledge just yet. Epsom salts and scrap paper come together to create a papier-mâché coat to shield me from myself temporarily. I can’t say that it’s a cure-all, but I’m so relieved to feel warmth again.
The living room was always dark and warm and safe; mom kept the lights in the living room turned off. Thirty minutes before I woke up, she’d turn on the heating unit to “get the chill out” for me. She let me eat my breakfast on the couch with a tv tray. She didn’t let my siblings do that as children. My love for my mother knew no bounds. I remember crying, begging, pleading to stay home with her. Each morning, tears filled my eyes as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger until my cries turned into hoarse hiccups. Sometimes she’d hug me and laugh at my “big crocodile tears”. Sometimes, with a fist clenched around a whisk or a ladle, she’d threaten me to keep crying. Sometimes she’d humor me, roll her eyes, and let me stay. I know she thought I was faking, but the pain was excruciatingly real. Like clockwork, my stomach would twist into a mass of tangled knots every morning. I was expressing my emotional pain the only way I knew how. Physically.
I was always troubled, wound up tight, and confused. I thought it was normal to have achey muscles from the constant tension of dealing with not only life, but also the barrage of self doubt. I thought it was normal to think about what this place would be like without me. Is that what would finally show them that what I’m feeling is real? I don’t want to die. I never have. “It’ll get better” is stuck deep in my ribs and I want to see what better is like. But there’s a point when you’ve been so overlooked and so beaten down that you wonder, “When will someone notice on their own?”
Every morning, my roommate and I roll out of bed forty minutes before our first class. Foundation is blended, cheeks are blushed, and eyelashes are curled. We take turns looking for a suitable outfit in the closet where we can barely fit our massive combined wardrobe. She nestles bobby pins patiently in her hair; curly hair requires a forgiving hand. I spritz perfume along my neck while absentmindedly pawing through my collection of earrings. We’re often asked “Why do you look so cute today?” Why? We do it for ourselves. Spending time with myself every morning while I get ready is my personal form of meditation. I’m readying myself for the challenges of the day that lies before me. It doesn’t matter where I’m going or what I’m doing. I’m gonna look good and look good doing it.