“2 South!!! Let’s go!” The drill- sergeant lady with the buzz cut was rounding them up to go back. They began to form a line and file out.
“Well, pleasure to make your acquaintance. Hope to see you again; Though I hope I don’t see you again, for your sake.”
He grabbed one last cookie, saluted with it, and joined in the disappearing line. They called 2 West and it was another afternoon as usual- the clock ticking once for every two or three seconds, the invisible tension, a thousand thoughts, four more cigarettes, and a two-hour long group full of everyone’s demons crowding in beside them, and suffocating my skin.
Evening visiting hours eventually came, and I sat in the basketball cage with my guitar, waiting for Alex for over an hour. Halfway out. Maybe I won’t have to see anyone after all. I still just didn’t feel right- even for me. Since I couldn’t focus at all, I mindlessly ran though all the same old songs of muscle memory, focusing on the next breath; telling myself just five more minutes- but I’d been telling that for the last year or two and the end of those five minutes never really came.
Soon after, a familiar face appeared in the doorway; he stood looking around for a minute. I got up to wave him over, gave him a quick hug, and sat back at the farthest table.
“Wow. I’d still be just standing there like a turkey in the rain. I would not have even recognized you..”
“Yeah, I get that a lot..”
I’d been significantly underweight my entire life and had somehow just gotten up to a more normal weight. Somehow being I honestly had no idea how. My hair had gone from being short, straight copper red to jet black, wavy, halfway down my back. Even my facial structure had somehow managed to change in subtle ways. Old friends walked right past me in the supermarket, and I didn’t mind at all. I was tired of the questions, the comments, the reminders of the life I no longer had and the person I no longer was. I guess I didn’t want to recognize me either.
“What’s it been- three, four years since we’ve talked? Tell me everything I’ve missed. How are you? Are you working now? How are you and Emily doing?”
“Yeah… Sorry about being an ass and ignoring you all that time. I’m finally doing better. Not able to work yet, nearly died of sepsis in the hospital last year, and Emily left me. No warning, no reason, no nothing.”
“Holy hell….I’m so sorry Alex…”
“I was surprised and saddened to find out from your brother about what you’ve been through as well, in that time. This turn of the century’s been a real bitch huh? If I had known, I would have tried to do something to help. Would talking about it help?”
“Thanks, but not really. I don’t want to talk about me. I’ll be fine as always.”
For the next bit I did everything I could to remain as engaged and attentive as possible, but the foggy, detached feeling- the inexplicable presence of some unnamed doom kept pressing at me, demanding with a more violent urgency the more I tried to ignore it and focus on what Alex was saying. What the fuck was it? What did it want or need? Or did I need something?
Alex was talking about an album he had recently discovered and had been going through, but at some point soon after I realized that his lips were moving but I couldn’t process anything he was saying- all I could hear was a deafening high-pitched din in my ears. The low grade dizziness I’d grown accustomed to now completely blurred his face, the pain radiated throughout my body, up into an excruciating stabbing between my temples, and I could feel my stomach threatening again.
Attempting to stand up, I had the intention to say that I was sorry but just really didn’t feel well, but wasn’t sure if any words even came out at all, as my legs collapsed beneath me. I caught myself on edge of the table before Alex reached out, with an expression as confused as I felt. The sensation of the ground was missing from beneath my feet, but I somehow managed to stumble in the door and down the hallway to my room. The familiar, but now frighteningly intensified experience of spacial disorientation gripped me as I again sat down by the corner of the shower stall, stomach again emptying itself of its meager contents.
With shaking hands, I pulled myself up to the bathroom counter and looked myself in the eyes. I’d always heard and seen that the eyes were the window to the soul; somehow learned that we have to be our own help, our own source of strength and comfort. Maybe if I could just see- I would understand what was actually going on with every reoccurrence of these episodes of increasing violence. But I could see nothing but two completely blown, black pupils; nothing but everything that I felt inside.