The following day, after Mildred had left, I drifted around my apartment like a ghost. I had no energy, no will to do anything important, or even take care of myself. Less than an hour after I got out of bed, I was back and trying to will myself to sleep. It’s like a ‘soft-death’ to sleep, I thought. It’s as if I’m not really here at all. That was the only place I wanted to be — nowhere.
When Mildred was with me, my sleep was dreamless. But as soon as she was gone, my dreams were back. They were as vivid and haunting as they ever were. And whenever I fell asleep, I was back at the door.
That night the desert seemed to yawn around me. The air moved fast, whipping my hair around my head. The wind was stronger than ever, and the night was cold, and cloudless, with a silver moon. I looked down at my feet, and soft, white sand hugged my toes. I could feel every grain, it was so real. When I looked at the door, it was still made of the beautiful, intricately carved mahogany that had replaced the rotting door I'd seen that first night. I could feel the warmth radiating off of it. The wind began to blow a little harder, so I started toward it with my hand out, intent on grabbing the handle. Once there, I pressed one palm into the warm wood and put the other on the handle. I could smell burning cedar and cinnamon butter wafting from the other side. My mouth watered and I was reminded of my grandmother. She always burned cedar incense and baked apples in her fireplace. I immediately longed for her. She had died a few years back, and when she passed, I felt like a part of me had been stolen. As a child, my grandmother had been the only adult in my life who ever seemed proud of me and loved me for who I was. My parents loved me for what I could achieve, but not her. She loved me because I was me. I miss her so much, even now. In my dream, I could feel my chest aching the way it did whenever I let myself think about her in the waking world.
I woke up.
I was lying on my back when my eyes opened. I stared toward the ceiling. In my mind’s eye, I could see my grandmother's hands working at her fireplace, pushing logs with a poker, placing foil-wrapped apples in the fire. I could hardly remember her face, but I deeply remembered how she made me feel. I closed my eyes and focused on it. She made me feel loved, safe, and accepted. She taught me everything as if I could understand the entire world if I tried. I wished so hard that I had been able to see her when I was asleep. I scrunched my eyes shut and wished I could have a dream where she was right there and I could reach out and touch her.
Tears began to squish out from beneath my clenched eyelids. I opened my eyes again and they stung with tears. Every time I thought of her, the fact of her death washed over me as heavily as the day of her funeral. I was never going to see her again, I thought. There had been times in my youth when I thought she was the only person who would ever love me, and she was gone. I closed my eyes one more time, and warm tears streamed down the sides of my face. I lay there without wiping them away, somehow comforted by the wetness of my own tears on my cheeks and pooling in the creases of my neck.
When I finally got out of bed, it was almost 9:30 p.m. That might sound bad like I had wasted the day, and maybe I had. But I was so exhausted — not tired, but deep down drained — that lying there in the dark had been all I could do to keep myself together.
I managed to take a shower and make a sandwich, which felt like herculean tasks on their own. Eventually, I was on the couch with the television on. Some kind of gameshow was playing on the screen, but I was hardly paying attention. I was focused on forcing myself to take small bites of food, but it was torture trying to chew them. Every single bite felt dry in my mouth no matter how much water I drank. Every grain turned to ash on my tongue, and swallowing was nearly impossible unless I washed down each mouthful. Once I’d forced myself to eat half a sandwich, I placed the plate on my coffee table and sat back. There, I had done it. I ate something. I felt a little bit triumphant, as I could have gone all day without eating a bite of food if I’d let myself.
The door in my dream had appeared multiple times now, I thought, and each time I felt like I was getting closer to whatever was behind it. But it seemed like no matter how close I was, I always woke up before I could open the door and see what was behind it. I could tell that the door was significant. Every time I looked at it, felt it and smelled the air around it, I knew it was my door. I was meant to walk through it. For some reason, my mind wouldn’t let me get that far.
At that very moment, I decided I had to find a way to open the door. Perhaps I didn’t consciously decide it, but I knew. For the following few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every breath that I took seemed to exist only to allow me to think about the dream door. I thought about how it smelled, its connection to my grandmother, its connection to me. It was impossible for me to avoid it. Each night the door would appear, and each morning I would wake up just before I could swing it open. After a few days, I came to realize that simply waiting for my dreams to last long enough for me to open that door wasn’t going to work. I had to think of some way to get it open myself.
As soon as Mildred arrived, I deflated and collapsed into her arms. We stood at the door like that for a while. She held me and I just hung on her like an old t-shirt over the back of the chair where you throw all your dirty laundry when you’re depressed.
She walked me into the living room and sat me down on the couch, and then she walked into the kitchen without a word to begin making tea. I felt like I had been holding myself together for so long, seeing her had allowed me to release. I felt empty, numb, and void of any thoughts now. All I contained was a dull sense of dread in the darkest corner of my mind. I stared at the carpet, but I didn’t really process what I was looking at. I couldn’t think or even see what was in front of me. In my mind’s eye, I began seeing the tidal wave of babies from the dream. It played on repeat. Or maybe it was more like a broken record, unable to play more than that one horrifying snippet.
When she came back, Mildred had a cup of Earl Grey for me. She slid one of my navy blue leather coasters toward me, then she set the teacup down on top of it. I looked from the carpet to the cup to her face.
“I’m pregnant,” I said, finally breaking the silence.
“I know, honey,” she said.
She left and came back with her own cup of tea. Once she had a coaster and had set the cup down, she turned to face me on the couch. She was wearing a fuzzy white sweater and black leggings. Her sweater was so fluffy and it made her look like a stuffed animal. I reached for her arm and touched her sleeve, enjoying the softness. She let me touch it for a moment and then she took my hand into her own.
“It’s going to be okay though,” she said. “You know that, right?”
“Hah,” I said. “I mean, that’s easy for you to say, you’re not the one incubating a crotch goblin.”
She laughed a bit. Then she took her hand from mine and used it to tip my chin up so I had to look her in the face.
“What I mean is, whatever happens, I’ll be here for you. We’re best friends, that’s what best friends do,” she said. “If you keep it, I’ll help you figure it out. If you decide not to keep it, I’ll help you get through that too. It’s genuinely going to be okay. Okay?”
I looked at her for a long time before I said anything. Mildred was always the nice one out of the two of us. She was beautiful and gentle. She had long red hair and light green eyes that made her look angelic to me. Even in middle school, when she was one of the most popular girls in our year, she was so kind to me. I was the weird kid — the artsy kid who wore too much black clothing and heavy eyeliner to be considered conventionally pretty. I wasn’t all that nice either. I had a chip on my shoulder and my mother said it, “Took the grace out of my face.” I think she was trying to tell me it made me less pretty to have a foul mouth. But I always knew I was pretty, plenty of people often reminded me of that. It’s just that I’m a hard kind of pretty. My features are angular and dark. Mildred is soft and light, airy and feminine, like a wildflower or a butterfly. She’s non-threatening and warm, I guess that’s why she always makes me feel better.
“Okay,” I said. I did believe her. At least, I believed she would be there with me, even if things weren’t actually okay.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” she asked.
We were sitting facing each other on the couch, both of us with our legs crossed. I felt exposed by the intimacy of how close we were sitting. She leaned toward me and the way she was looking at me was so attentive, and I started to feel uneasy. It was because I didn’t want to tell the truth. I knew I should want to tell her everything, but I didn’t. I put my arms across my belly and hugged myself. Instead of only telling her how it was when I found out, I should have been trying to tell her how it happened too. But even though I knew telling her the truth was the right thing to do, I also knew it was impossible. It felt like telling someone about how this baby was made would somehow taint everything about them. Maybe it would make the baby evil, or it would make the circumstances surrounding their birth so sad and dark, that none of us would be able to love them the same way as we would if we’d never known. If I kept all that inside me, I thought, then no one could look at that baby and see a reminder of the horrible way it was forced into this world. Maybe even I could forget.
“I was feeling sick — really fuckin’ sick, for like a few days — so I went to the doctor. He acted like an asshole.”
“Sounds like doctor behaviour,” she said.
“Then today they called me and they told me I was pregnant. I threw up on the kitchen floor,” I said. “I think it was my body trying to expel what I had just heard. Like it could get rid of the pregnancy through my mouth if my stomach heaved hard enough.”
Mildred smiled a bit. I think she knew I was trying to joke about it because I was scared. She took my hand again.
“Do you know who the dad is?” she asked.
For some reason, I had imagined her avoiding that question. Naive, I know, but I couldn’t help but engage in some wishful thinking, because the last thing I wanted to do was tell her who the father was. She hated the father — and she’d hate him even more now.
“It’s him,” I said.
“Him?” she said. “Like, him-him?”
“Jesus. No. You said you weren’t going to see him again.” She looked so disappointed in me. Almost on the verge of tears, really. I knew all too well why she felt like that about him, and why she’d look at me like that.
“I wasn’t going to, but he said he wanted to apologize. He said he just wanted to meet and talk about how things ended. He said I deserved some closure and he wanted to apologize to my face for what went down on the final night I was there. And then…I guess…”
I could feel how tense my forehead was, and I realized I had a hard scowl on my face. I tried to relax my brow intentionally, but I found it difficult. My brows just wiggled a bit. I’d have to surrender to the scowl.
“What?” she said. She sounded worried. “What happened?” she asked.
“One thing led to another,” I said. I tried to instill my voice with a tone that asked her to drop the subject. She wouldn’t. I knew that.
“And?” she said.
“And we did it,” I replied.
She stared at me for what felt like forever.
“What are you not telling me?” she asked. “You have ‘something’ face.” She pointed at my face. “There’s something else.”
Then it was my turn to stare at her.
“What is it?” she repeated.
I continued to stare.
“Nothing — it just wasn’t good. He was too rough again, and so when it was over, I just left.”
“Too rough, what does that mean?” she asked.
I pulled my hand out of hers slowly and carefully. The idea of what had really happened, and the intense way she was staring at me, made me feel like I didn’t want to be touched.
“It means he did that weird thing. He tried to choke me during the whole—the whole thing, and I didn’t like it. So, when it was over, I felt uncomfortable, and I left before he could apologize.”
She looked at me as if she didn’t believe me. Her eyes evaluated me with benign skepticism, and even when I looked away I could still feel the weight of her gaze on me. If I’m being honest, I hate disappointing her. Of all the people in my life, her opinion means the most to me.
“That’s what happened?” she said. She didn’t sound convinced at all.
“That’s it?” she said. “Nothing else happened?”
Another long pause.
“Well, I’m glad you got out of there before anything got too serious,” she said. But it was obvious she trying to bait me into telling her something serious did happen by pretending she thought it wasn’t a big deal. “You shouldn’t see him alone. If you ever go and see him again, please bring someone with you.”
“I will,” I said. She was obviously right. I should have brought someone with me. Really, I should never have gone to see him in the first place. But, it’s not that simple. You don’t just tell someone like him no. He’s more dangerous when you deny him something than he is if you just give in and let him have it. Like a child. You take away his toys, and he has a temper tantrum. Except when a toddler gets violent, you’re usually not in any real danger.
“Sorry,” I said. I looked down. I knew I looked ashamed and I did. And I also felt like I was to blame for what happened. I hadn’t made him do it, I knew that, but I had chosen to go there.
“You don’t have to apologize to me. I just want you to be safe,” she said. “He’s not safe. Especially for you.”
“I know. I won’t see him again,” I said.
When she dropped the subject I was so relieved that I couldn’t help but let out a heavy sigh. I put my face in my hands and started rubbing my eyes as I tried to relieve the tension that was building up in my forehead. She had bought the story I had given her, I thought, and she had let it drop. That was all I could ask for at that moment. The very last thing I wanted to do that day was get into the drama of the truth. I could save that for my deathbed, when telling her would have no consequences and I could escape her wrath immediately and forever. She was never mean when she was disappointed or angry, but seeing her looks of disapproval made my stomach ache.
Mildred spent the night with me that night, and I was happy not to be alone. I didn’t get any sleep — I have an impossible time sleeping when someone else is in the bed with me — but just being there with her, knowing someone cared enough to come and stay, was better than sleep. It was the first time I hadn’t felt alone in months — I would have traded any amount of sleep for that.
My dream that night was different. I was standing in front of an arched doorway in the middle of an empty desert. It was night, and it was cold enough that I could see my breath. The door was broken and warped. The large grey bricks that made up the frame were chipped, broken, and of course, all but missing. I mean, it was a doorway in the center of a desert. No roof, no walls, just a door. Looking back on the dream now, I wish I could have walked behind it to see what was there. Instead, I just stood there staring at the rotting wood for a moment before I reached for the rusty doorknob.
I remember feeling so cold that I was shivering. All I wanted was to get warm. I felt like there would be fire on the other side of the door but when I grabbed the enormous, rusted metal doorknob and turned it, the door wouldn't open. I looked more closely at the door itself. It smelled like mold. I pressed my frozen cheek against it instead of being frozen, it was warm. I passed my fingers over the wood, and there were carvings all over it that I could have sworn weren't there before. The wood had turned immaculate, waxed and polished. I slid my finger over a large loop in the carved design and as I touched it I felt the door move inward. I looked down at the knob. Where the rusty doorknob once lay there was now an ornately caste golden handle. The delicate design reminded me of something Elven. The mounts on the top and bottom of the handle were like roots that spidered out over the rich mahogany of the door. It was beautiful. I stopped shivering. I took the handle and pulled the door open.
I woke up.
I was vaguely aware that my alarm was going off.
Beep, beep, beep...
I turned over onto my back and opened my eyes. They burned so I closed them again. When my hand found my phone I pressed the side buttons until the alarm shut off and then I tossed my phone away. Does your alarm ever wake you up from a dream at the worst possible moment? That's how I felt. Every fibre of my being wished I could close my eyes and go back to that exact moment again. I lay there with my eyes shut for a long time picturing the door, but I never fell back asleep. Honestly, I never do.
When I finally got out of bed, I grabbed my phone and stumbled into my hallway. I looked at the clock - 7:10 a.m. I turned the screen off. My mind was still brimming with that dream. Everything from the feel of the carvings under my fingertips to the warmth of the wood against my cheek. Whenever I closed my eyes I could feel it again. It was so real.
After I got dressed - I wore essentially the same thing I had worn the day before, except I'd adorned a full-length black velvet dress rather than a black t-shirt and pants - I began to make breakfast. I still felt nauseous so I opted for dry toast and a banana. At some point, I heard my phone ring and when I looked at the caller ID it was the clinic. I stared at the ID for almost too long and then swiftly answered it before time ran out.
They confirmed my identity and explained they had my test results back.
"Oh..." I said. "What are they? What is it?" I asked.
"You're pregnant," the nurse said. "Con-"
I felt like I'd been hit with a stun grenade. My vision felt blurry. I could hear a faint, tinny echo somewhere in the distance as the nurse tried to speak to me. I couldn't breathe. My stomach tightened painfully. My chest caught every time I tried to take a breath.
"Hello..." said a distant voice.
My head felt tingly, woozy, blurry. I couldn't control my fingers. I dropped my phone. Then I was on my knees. Then I was throwing up. My stomach heaved. I heard the sound of stomach acid and bile hitting the floor but my mind was too foggy, I couldn't see it. My esophagus burned, and my stomach twitched and threatened to heave again. I steadied myself. I tried not to move. My stomach heaved. My body tried to throw up and nothing but a bit of saliva and acid came up. I couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't open my eyes - I don't know how long I stayed on the kitchen floor. When I finally opened my eyes again, I was crumpled forward on the ground, my face against the cold tile. My head was pounding against the back of my eyes. When I pressed my fingers into my eye sockets it felt a little better, so I laid there and applied pressure to my face for what felt like a long time. When I sat up and looked around, my hat was on the ground away from me and there was a puddle of bile on the ground next to where I had laid down. Seeing it made my stomach churn so I looked away and pried myself up off the floor.
Once in a standing position, I made my way to the sink to find a vessel for water. I grabbed a mason jar, filled it, and I drank the entire thing. Then I filled it again and drank another. I took a deep breath and placed the jar on the counter, then I looked around for my phone. I could see it on the ground. The nurse had of course hung up.
"Oh my God..." I muttered to myself.
I was pregnant. I remember continuing to mutter things to myself. My mother was going to be furious. My father was going to judge me silently without saying anything. There was no way I was getting away from that conversation without being handed an ultimatum. Echoes of their voice in my head began threatening to take away my tuition money, the funding for my gallery show, and my invite to the family trip - I realized I was more afraid of telling my parents than I was of being pregnant.
By the way, when I say silently judge, it might sound like a normal kind of judgment. Maybe you have a judgmental parent in your life, too. Someone who doesn't understand you or your life choices, and decides to act like a prick because of it. Well, my father is a cut above your regular prick. If he doesn't like something that you've done - it could be me, my perfect sister, my mother, the mailman - he will make sure everyone he knows is aware of how distasteful he finds you. That might not seem like a threat, but my father is a well-known reporter and his connections run far and wide. He has his nasty tendrils in everything from finance to fine art, and he seems to enjoy scheduling get-togethers simply for the purpose of ruining uninvited rival's reputations. He gave me a gallery show, and he could so easily take it away.
Once I had my phone in hand I went into my living room. I have to tell you, my living room is the best room in my house. I have a Victorian antique sofa that was refurbished with blush pink velvet. It looks so luxurious, and it's actually quite comfortable. You couldn't sleep on it, but it's excellent for reading magazines and staring wistfully out the window.
Sitting on my couch, I looked around at my plants and other furnishings. It usually makes me feel better to look at my decor and be in a space that I love, but in that moment I felt fed up with it. Everything around me seemed so pointless and empty. What good was having a beautiful living space when you were soon to have a child running around putting their sticky little hands on everything?
This is probably a good time to tell you that I'm not all that fond of children. I don't hate them. Some people make their whole personality hating children. But on a general level, me and children just don't mix. They're loud, they smell weird, and they're always saying rude things that you're not allowed to get upset about. The idea of being pregnant, having to baby-proof my home, and getting a stain-resistant couch made me feel queasy all over again.
I picked up my phone, navigated to my texts and found Mildred's name.
"Omg," I typed. "Dude, no."
It took a few minutes, but she responded.
"I'm fucking pregnant," I replied.
"I'm coming over," she said.
A feeling of relief washed over me.
When I got home, there was a moving van outside of my apartment building. The side of the van read Big Help Moving and Storage in large orange lettering. I drove into the parking lot, found my space, number 13, and parked. As I opened my car door, I felt extremely aware of my appearance. I hadn’t seen who was moving in, but the idea that they would see me made my chest tighten up, just like it had at the doctor’s office. I closed the door and looked at myself in the window. I combed my fingers through my hair slightly and adjusted my clothing so everything looked perfect. Thankfully, the black Lincoln Navigator my parents gave me was tall enough that when I primped, no one on the other side of the car could see me. Once was I satisfied with my appearance, I began to walk toward the main doors.
The doors were propped open. My chest tightened up even more and it was hard for me to breathe or think. I felt like I was walking through a suffocating fog. Some part of me wanted to see who was moving in. The much louder, more anxious side of me didn’t want to be perceived by another human being even for a moment. I made a b-line through the doors, walking as fast as I could while hoping to appear natural. In a split second decided to take the stairs. I only lived on the third floor, and I knew that whoever was moving in would be using the elevator. It only took me a few strides to reach the stairwell door. When I pulled the door open, I could hear the sound of people descending the stairs. My heart jumped and brought me along with it. I know soundproof stairwells have a purpose, but I wish they didn’t exist. I would have chanced the elevator over walking up a stairwell while a stranger was descending.
Instead of doing the smart thing and turning around to take the elevator, my body went on auto-pilot and I started ascending the stairs in a state of panic. I couldn’t focus on anything around me but my breath, and as I put one foot in front of the other, I tried to breathe along with my movements. I was staring at the steps as I marched upward when I became aware that the other people were close. A smudge of colour entered my peripheral vision. I looked up and saw him.
He was so beautiful, it hurt to look at him. Shiny brown hair, bright blue eyes, and the kindest smile I've ever seen. As we passed, he smiled at me. I just stared at him and kept walking. You can’t know how hard I kicked myself after that. You know when a stranger smiles at you, and you’re trying to process the fact that they’re even looking at you, and before you can smile back they’re gone? Well, when I finally reached my floor, I had to stop on the landing and actually look up toward the ceiling, as if toward the Gods themselves. Why couldn’t I have just smiled back? Embarrassment washed over me.
Upon reaching my door, I took out my keys and began to sort through them. There is a large jumble of them — they’re easier to keep track of that way — and as I looked for my house key I realized I had never seen that guy before. As I turned my key in the lock, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was the one moving into the building. Despite the awkwardness of staring him down when he smiled at me, I still hoped he was the new tenant. Maybe I would see him again, I thought, and finally be able to act like a human. He had been with a couple of other people, but they were a complete blur to me. All I could see in that moment was his face and his gorgeous bright white smile. I continued to kick myself as I entered my apartment and closed the door behind me.
That night as I lay in bed, I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. It was a refreshing change, really. I had been thinking of my ex for so long that it felt good to think about someone else. My best friend, for the sake of the story, let's call her Mildred, always tells me that I need to focus on something other than romance. She’s probably right.
The room around me was dark, and the silver light of the moon was flooding in through the window. The light cascaded over my bed and stopped just before my waist. I pulled one of my hands out from beneath the blanket and reached toward the light. Somehow the air the moonlight touched felt cooler than the air around it. I glanced up toward the window and I could see the dark navy blue of the sky. Looking at the sky always makes me feel small, and makes my problems feel just as small as I am. It helps me relax when I feel insignificant. Things that are insignificant don't need to be worried about. I closed my eyes and imagined myself floating in space, completely weightless. No air, no light, no sound, just endlessly moving through the cosmos. I wondered if that was what death felt like — just energy moving through the universe. Eventually, I fell asleep.
My ex could be a real asshole. There weren’t a lot of days that we went without arguing, and when we did, it was because I was doing my best to conform to his expectations. As I sat in the doctor’s office, I was overcome by a sudden feeling of fear. Thoughts about my ex always made me feel anxious, but this was different. It occurred to me that there was a possibility I was pregnant. I immediately felt like I wanted to throw up.
If I felt a little nauseous before, I felt offensively queasy now. My heart began to race and my chest felt tight. I stared at the linoleum on the clinic floor and tried to focus on what I saw. If I could pull my mind away from him, away from the possible things that could be wrong with me, and focus on the tiles, I could clear my mind. I counted them.
One, two, three, four…
And I took note of their colour.
Black, white, black white…
After some time, my heart finally began to slow down and the hard clenching in my gut returned to a dull hum of discomfort. When I looked up, the chairs near me that had once been filled were empty. I tried not to let my mind go back to him while I waited. So, I took note of the white walls, the grey front desk, and the forty-year-old brunette behind the counter with a sour expression. Thankfully, when my turn came, my mind hadn’t floated back to the bad place.
“What can I do for you today?” the doctor asked when he came into the treatment room.
“Oh,” I said. I paused for a moment. “I’ve been feeling sick?” I said as if I wasn’t sure.
“What are your symptoms?” he asked.
“Nausea, constant nausea,” I said.
“Any vomiting, diarrhea?” he asked.
“I felt like vomiting, but none of the other thing.”
“Any allergies?” he asked.
“Alright then, let’s have a look.” He stood up and motioned for me to lie down on the treatment table.
I took his lead, and soon I was lying down. He began to touch my stomach, first on one side, then the other.
“Any pain?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Any chance you could be pregnant?”
I didn’t say anything.
I wanted to say something. At first, I wanted to deny it. Then I wanted to tell him I’d been dreaming about babies. Finally, I decided that I had been silent for too long and had to say something.
“Maybe,” I said.
He stepped back and helped me sit up. He looked at me for a moment as if he were assessing me.
“I’ll assign you a pregnancy test,” he said.
“Okay,” I replied.
I wanted to say something about how he’d looked at me. He’d spent time touching my bare stomach, now he’d looked me up and down, and it all made me feel like he was judging me. Did he think I was too young to get pregnant?
“I’m 21,” I said.
“I’ll be back with the test kit,” he said. He walked out of the room without saying anything else.
It was moments like this in particular that made me hate seeing doctors. He’d left the room, and I was now alone, free to let my mind wander to all the worst places. I probably should have been thinking about the idea that I could be with child at that very moment. Instead, all I could think about was whether or not it seemed like he had thought my stomach was too fat, and if that was why he thought I was pregnant in the first place.
Once I left the doctor’s office, I stepped out onto the sidewalk and looked around. It felt good to be out of that oppressively white and grey place. The rain had slowed, and I started to walk back to my car which was parked a few blocks away. As I walked, my mind walked with me and it led us both straight back to thinking about him.
My ex really was the worst kind of person. He would make comments about my body that were so innocuous that I never questioned why he said them. But each and every time he did, I would find my mind flooded with insecurities. For hours after I would be reeling at the thought that he might not think I was perfect.
One night we were sitting on the couch and my legs were draped over his lap. We were comfortable, laughing at the jokes on the television, and having a great time. Sure enough, a commercial comes on and he starts looking down at my legs.
“How thick are your thighs?” he said. “Like in circumference. Do you measure that?” he asked.
“What?” I asked. My body had stiffened up. I had long since learned by this point that whatever was coming when he asked these kinds of questions, I should brace myself.
“I was noticing how big they looked,” he said. “And I thought maybe if you measured them, it would be like encouragement.”
I started to slowly pull my legs off of him and reposition myself on the couch.
“Uhm…” I didn’t know what to say.
I was dumbstruck if I’m being honest. How was I supposed to respond to something like that? I wanted to tell him he was being a jerk and ask why he thought it was acceptable to comment on another person’s body unprovoked. Somehow, I couldn’t open my usually wide-open mouth. He’d commented about my body, made it clear he thought my thighs were big, and suggested I might need encouragement to change that. He’d framed it as a simple curiosity, and a light-hearted piece of advice. But after that night, I had gained a deep new insecurity. Every time I passed a mirror, I would stop and check my thighs. I would squeeze, and jiggle them, and I would wonder if they looked big in the pants I was wearing. For a few weeks after that night, I switched to wearing skater skirts just to avoid highlighting the biggest parts of my legs.
“Just a thought,” he said. “You don’t have to get weird about it.”
After he said that, I felt guilty for being offended. He made it seem like I had made a big deal out of his comments before I’d even had the chance to reply. I went quiet for most of the rest of that night, but my mind was louder than ever.
There were so many things I didn’t know that autumn. Everything that I had planned to do the following year was in jeopardy. University, my gallery show, the yearly trip to Scotland I always take with my family at Christmas. It was as if I was standing in front of a moving train with no way to stop it, or even notice it was coming closer. Once it hit, everything would shatter apart.
For weeks I had been having dreams about babies. I would fall asleep, and every scene would be invaded by them. There were babies inside of my dryer, inside of my shower, on my counter, my bed, my coffee table, and I never knew where they had come from, only that they were mine. I would pick them up and carry them everywhere I went. The only problem was, when I arrived at my destination, I would find the baby was missing, and I didn’t know where I was.
My alarm went off that morning as usual.
Beep, beep, beep.
I threw my hand on top of it and my fingers wiggled aimlessly as I tried to find the buttons on the side. I found one and pressed it. The alarm turned off and I yanked my hand back and turned over. I’d been sleeping on my front and my neck was sore. So, I rubbed my neck with one hand and I reached up and grabbed my phone with the other. I checked the time.
I really hate mornings, and I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day, so I sighed and turned off my phone screen. I let the phone and my hand fall to my chest. My stomach was churning. By that point, I had been waking up depressed for a few months already, so I attributed it to my mental health. Depression always brought anxiety, and anxiety always brought stomach aches, I thought. So I sat up and looked around the room. It was still dark. I laid back down.
My phone went off again, but it wasn’t the beep of my alarm, it was the chime of a text message. I tossed the phone to the side and turned over, then I pulled my covers up around my ears. There were only a few people the text could be from, especially that early, and I didn’t want to hear from any of them.
At some point, I fell back asleep. Despite all my dreams being flooded with cute little babies — imagine, if you will, a tidal wave of babies crashing in through your front door — many of them had been nightmares. Not traditional nightmares, like the ones filled with ghosts and clowns you can never outrun. The ghost in my dreams had only taken one form, my ex-boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been in a relationship that haunted you in your sleep, and you can understand how I felt. It was like a wound being torn open — pulled apart after it had only just begun to heal, only to flood with blood that bubbled up from inside as the raw flesh was exposed again. It’s difficult waking up after a dream like that.
That morning I didn’t get out of bed until 10:30 a.m. I might have felt guilty about it, but I didn’t have the energy. I fell asleep, and when I opened my eyes it had simply been 10:30. I must have needed the rest, I wasn’t going to apologize for getting it. Whoever had texted me could wait. It was Sunday, besides. And who could be expected to answer a text at 7 a.m. on a Sunday?
I hauled my ass up and put my feet on the floor. I had never felt so heavy. Each one of my limbs was like a brick and to pull them along was a genuine strain. I felt like an octopus attempting to move its tentacles while wearing a cement overcoat. I dragged myself up off the mattress and grabbed my phone as I went. As I stumbled into the hallway of my apartment, I looked at my notifications. When I saw his name, my heart shriveled up and trembled behind my ribcage. Why the fuck was he texting me this early in the morning? He hadn’t texted me for six weeks, and now there was his name sitting there on my phone screen as if he’d never stopped replying. It’s not easy to describe the kind of rage you feel when you’re too tired to feel anything. It was as if a wave of empty exhaustion crashed over me, and I swiped the notification away with it. As the wave passed, I had a lingering feeling of anger that he would contact me. But as the wave drained away, so too did my emotions.
I continued with my day after that. I managed to shower, and even eat breakfast. When I was done and dressed, I realized it probably wasn’t normal that I couldn’t stop feeling sick. Despite the dissociation I was experiencing that morning, I could still feel the nausea that had been clinging to me like a curse. Seeing a doctor is one of my least favourite things in life, but that day I had a feeling I should go to a clinic. I had gotten dressed in a pair of black flares and a loose-fitting black t-shirt. When I looked outside it was raining, so I added a pair of black platform boots, a black trench-coat, and a wide-brimmed black wool hat. Whenever I feel like death, I enjoy dressing in black as if I am attending my own funeral.
When I stepped outside, the rain fell heavily around me. I stood on the front stoop of my apartment building and stared up at the dark grey sky. The sound of the rain encouraged me to breathe deeply, and the fresh air filled my lungs, cool and wet. The scent of petrichor relaxed my body, and the muscles in my shoulders, my neck, and even my face all began to loosen. I stood in the rain for almost 5 minutes just enjoying the sensation of rain falling on my body. Every time I filled my lungs with clean air, blessed by rain, I became a little more aware of myself. A soft feeling of contentment came over me, and I didn’t want to leave the moment behind. Then I remembered where I was going. I knew I should see a doctor, and so eventually I left.
Story fanatic. Published in the Camosun College literary journal Beside the Point. Former Senior Staff Writer at The Martlet. Current and future freelance writer.