The indoor water park was warm, spacious, and exactly what I needed after a long time cooped up in Sydney’s house, unfamiliar with the area. I was expecting a crowd, of course, but there were so many people. Absolutely too many people. There was more than enough space spanning the park, but everyone seemed to gravitate towards me, pulled by a current to the gravitational center I created. Like the moon around the Earth, children spun around me either not noticing or not caring about my presence. Inner-tubes bumped me. I got an elbow in my back. A foot to my side. Artificial waves pushed us all around, moving everyone through the water in synchronized chaos.
A wave crashed over me, catching me off guard. For a moment, all I saw were bright green tubes rolling above me, chlorine burning my eyes and water stinging my nose - people were indiscernible, just limbs. I knew which way was up, but I couldn’t get there. I was trapped. I was stuck. Another wave rolled and pushed me up, the water taking mercy on me - finally letting me catch a breath.
Being above the water was hardly better. The crowd suddenly felt much closer, pushing in at me from all sides. I didn’t fit in the space that they left me, my body too big, my need for air too large.
I needed to leave. I told Sydney through burned lungs.
“Want to get food?” They replied, completely unphased by my request, used to my quirks by now. They knew food calmed me, anyone could probably tell just by looking at me, and I silently thanked them for it.
I stumbled, unable to form words as the crowd pulled closer again. Nothing on my mind but escape. “Food sounds good.” We hid behind the drinks shack. I shook as time passed, sipping a grape soda until I felt normal again. Normal enough.
I hadn’t given blood in over a year. I forgot to eat beforehand and ended up sick. A year seemed like enough time to be able to try again. I was better at remembering than I was back then. My university was doing a blood drive with free food and I had an hour between classes. I told myself it would be fine. The woman at the intake handed me a granola bar and a water bottle. The bar was gone by the time I was seated at the medical chair, but I wanted to keep some water for later. I placed the cap of the bottle next to my leg for ease of access, willing to just hold the flimsy plastic.
I didn’t feel it as they slipped the needle in. I didn’t feel my blood draining. Instead, I felt the rhythm. There was a thump, thump, thump in my head. Not quite like a song, but like footsteps marching across my brain. I squeezed the small heart in my hand, the drum of my body’s own natural beat. This was the closest I could come to the rhythm of the Earth. I was fine. I had nothing to be worried about.
Until something twinged. My arm, my wrist, my fingers stuttered. I lost the beat. I couldn’t squeeze anymore, the pain was too overwhelming all of a sudden. I realized that I was tied to this spot, unable to move, unable to flee, unable to leave if anything happened. My eyes faded out. My hand had no strength to squeeze anymore. A twinge pulsed in my brain and I lost all grip. I spilled my open water bottle and with what was left of my consciousness. I cursed myself for not closing it. I wanted out of my clothes. I wanted out of my skin. There were too many layers, my clothes, my skin, my blood and bones. My soul couldn’t escape.
The nurse finally came over, helped me squeeze the little heart in my hand, and kept me going. My eyes came back down from the ceiling. He told me I could finish the bag. Told me to hold on, not to waste all this blood. He told me to keep my arm down. I only then realized I had raised it to get his attention.
He was the teacher, I was just a student, terrified of speaking out of turn. Don’t put this on my permanent record. Don’t call my parents. Don’t send me to the principal’s office. I’m not a bad kid.
The haze around my brain cleared. It took a while to formulate thoughts other than wet, embarrassed, and heavy. My clothes were too heavy. I was too heavy.
The nurse whispered when he told me that I had had “an accident.” I saw pity in his eyes. Like I was a child that had wet the bed. But I knew what happened to my water bottle. He only assumed. Doctors always assumed.
“I spilled my water,” I said. I could still feel the water on my knuckles.
He didn’t believe me. The pity on his face creased his brow. He thought I was lying to save face. I don’t think he ever would have believed me. Why would he? He’s the doctor and I was just a problem in a chair, taking up too much space.
I called my mom to bring me new pants. The receptionist could see the tears well in my eyes. She gave me a look. Pity.
I felt everyone’s eyes on my back as my mom led me out.
The weight of embarrassment about my soaked overalls was nothing compared to the snake coiled around my lungs telling me I couldn’t breathe until I got out of there, away from their eyes, away from my mistakes.
I took some snacks with me, plain crackers and kid sized granola bars. I laughed the whole thing off to my mom in the bathroom, but when I got to my next class, I cried.
I had only ever been vaguely afraid of flying. I had flown round trips twice before and it had gone alright. That’s how I knew that it was not the heights that made me think that I was going to pass out, it was the lack of an extender. There was over an hour left in-flight and I was starting to dip in and out of consciousness. We were somewhere over Idaho. Maybe. I couldn’t check. My eyes wouldn’t stay open. It didn’t matter anyways. I was going to throw up. My heart was pounding even louder than the pressure thumping in my ears. I reached down to unzip my boots and my seat belt tightened, stealing the last of my saved air. I could have asked the attendant for an extender, but this far into the flight it felt too late. I didn’t want to be a burden. My sweater was too hot. I was sweating so much I could feel it drip past my eyelids. I couldn’t take my sweater off without elbowing the person next to me. I was afraid to wake them. I was already halfway into their seat because of how wide my hips were. I didn’t want to be any more in their space. I needed more space. I was too close to space. I took up too much space. I closed my eyes, holding down my stomach by tightening my throat.
I passed out. I woke up. I passed out again.
The final time I came close to chucking my guts was in the descent. I felt myself dropping, the Earth pulling on me, calling me back. Taking off had always been easier than landing, but this landing had my eyes spinning.
The plane landed and I clawed my way onto the tarmac like a wild animal freed from a trap.
I breathed. It still took an hour and a half to get home from the airport and I didn’t feel safe until I was in my room, tight clothes off, wrapped in a blanket. Away from everyone else to just be myself.