When I was small and Mom went out of town on business trips, I spent the nights vomiting until blood vessels burst on my cheeks and forehead, little spots of fear and rage broken, visible on my skin.
Sometimes Dad would come and sleep in a sleeping bag on my floor. I’d listen for his breaths and watch the fabric rustle up and down in rhythm just to make sure he was really alive.
When I was small, my babysitter used to call me her shadow because I would never leave her side. If she was upstairs making my bed I was with her, or downstairs watching telenovas I was there too.
When I was small, and we moved into a two-story house in a bigger and nicer neighborhood, I asked my parents to make noise each night after they put me to bed. See, I needed confirmation that they were still there. And sometimes, if I couldn’t hear them, I’d creep down the stairs and listen for the voices on the TV. And sometimes, if those couldn’t reach me, I’d yell “Mom!” all panicky and garbled, waiting, waiting for the patient, calming, seemingly life-saving “Yes, honey” that drove all the nausea away.
While I strove to be independent, my body would not agree. Alone was not a word that came easily to me.
Because alone was where the thoughts would find me. Much as I tried to run away, they took over, and I found myself thinking I’d be alone forever in this big house, big street, big world, forever. And even if I ran into other people on the street they’d look at me with confusion when I told them my story and nobody would know me, believe me, or love me.
I couldn’t let that happen. I needed always to be surrounded. And first it was just my mom that could soothe me but slowly, my world expanded as I told more and more people the irrational fears and anxieties that swallowed me up. I was still a hermit until eighth grade, when my friends would ask me why I wouldn’t sleep over or how come I couldn’t make it to their birthday parties. I couldn’t tell them that I wasn’t sure if I knew how to leave my house anymore and what if when I was out I started to get sick and what if I couldn’t reach my mom and what if the world started closing in and I couldn’t think too far past that and what if and what if and what if.
When I was small, the world was all what if. And though it still often is, I find safety in the ticking minutes at night that I know will bring daytime. I find comfort in every 24-hour restaurant I see because it means someone, somewhere, is always awake. I find peace alone in my bed, knowing that even when the world is quiet, it lives.