Phone vibrates. I see the text with his name: “good to see you chose to wear shoes today”. Frantic glances around me. I don’t see him. 5 open floors above me. Crowds of people pushing and tired eyes standing in the coffee lineup at the hospital. I strain to see. Nothing. Unfamiliar faces. A homeless man pushing his wheelchair wheel in one hand and his IV pole in the other, white coats, green scrubs. I can’t find him. Heart pounding in my ears. Face is hot. Legs shaking.
Another buzz. “I like your shirt”. I duck my head down and order. “Venti Americano please”. I try to catch my breath as I struggle to put the lid on my hot coffee, spilling it all over myself as my hands shake in fear.
What am I afraid of? Why is he watching me? Where is he? I feel like I can’t breathe. Images are flashing in front me of me like horror movie. Sweating. Pain. Tears. Begging to stop. I can’t see. “God please help me” I mutter under my breath. I duck into the gift shop, safe from inquiring eyes. Elderly woman behind the till, questioningly peers at me over her glasses, salt and pepper hair perfectly set with her apron on. I hear hymns. Hymns? Am I hallucinating?
I wander farther into the store to see a small crowd gathered around 3 teen Mennonite girls singing hymns in the back room. “His eye is on the sparrow” seems to fill the whole store washing me with a sense of peace and safety. They are singing as if it is a chore, completely expressionless, but their voices sore with perfect harmony unaware of lifeline they have thrown. For a moment I’m taken away from this horror story; I’m running free through a field, carefree, pure and without barriers.
“Are you ok? Do you need a tissue” I’m snapped back into reality. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there. Blankly frozen holding a package of lifesavers with apparent tears streaming down my face. I quickly wipe them away, getting my salty tears all over the package. “Are you going to buy those?” Well, I guess I have to now that my body fluids are all over it. I nod, pay and quickly pull myself together, put a smile on, shoulders back, lifesavers in one hand, coffee in the other as I head up to see my mom.
It comes in waves. Usually during the daylight I can push him out of my mind, block out the flashbacks with being busy or music or long country drives. The night is the worst. I can’t control the nightmares, the waking up in a cold sweat yelling, crying and shaking. Sometimes I thrash around so much that I find myself sitting upright or wake up on the floor as I’ve launched myself out of bed. This isn’t me. It’s not me to be afraid. To scan parking lots and restaurants for his face.
Pull yourself together. Smile. No really. Make it convincing. Lighten the tone of your voice. Breathe. Staring in the mirror of the bathroom, I’m coaching myself. Struggling to not let the storm stirring in my soul from erupting. It hurts. Physical pain pulsing through my body. My arms ache from clenched fists, my chest feels tight and I’m struggling to breathe. But in moments I will walk into my mom’s hospital room with a smile on my face, life savers in hand with a light hearted story of how the elevator was backed up.
Dim lights of a hospital room. She looks so small in her bed. Unwashed hair standing up. Tube through her nose suctioning her insides. She’s sleeping. Thank God. I’m not ready to talk to anyone yet. My phone continues to buzz; I scramble to turn it to silent, juggling my coffee cup – again spilling. Fuck. She wakes up. “Who’s texting you?” Ashley. I lie. “Why were you gone so long?” Bull shit story about a broken elevator, trying to control my shaking hands as the texts are streaming in.
They read: “I can clothe and feed you while you’re here. I even have a couch ;)” Pictures of his crotch, feet, and alluded couch. My heart is beating so fast I can’t see. “Why are you ignoring me?” Her voice snaps me back. “What? Oh sorry, just dealing with something with work.” I shimmy my chair closer and grab her hand.
“I don’t even know why you’re here if you’re not going to talk to me, please just put your phone away”. I swallow back the tears from erupting. For the love of God I cannot bear one more thing. “I’m here” I whisper. But I would do anything in the world to just disappear.