I’d been married for two years and trapped in the house for nearly as long. I’d withdrawn from school again because I couldn’t be in public. For one, I was a real nuisance in class. Teachers would have accommodated me, and students would have done the same.
But I wasn’t there mentally. I couldn’t handle the stares. I couldn’t answer the questions.
I couldn’t make eye contact. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t hold a book still long enough for my eyes to turn the letters into words.
I was only 23. I was in constant pain and too self-conscious to laugh it off like I’m sometimes able to now. It was all questions, no answers.
I had no hope. No reason to think things would ever change. But even in that sorry state, I got bored and stir crazy sitting in the house. I needed to get out, to move, to walk. To prove that I existed outside of my own mind. Outside the walls of 855 Stratford Avenue.
One day I walked out the front door of our apartment and started walking. I kept my head down when I passed people. I apologized to the air each time I screamed.
I was soon hyperventilating with the futile effort of trying to squash the tics.
I kept my head down and walked faster and faster. I am going to walk three more blocks and then I can go home I told myself.
About one block later, I took a long, deep breath. I was alone on the street. My house was less than one minute away. It was early autumn and the leaves were falling from the trees, drifting, swirling down to the sidewalk where they landed silently.
They fell at such a rate that I wondered how the trees weren’t all bare after one hour. And yet, the leaves would fall for nearly a month.
I held my breath, trying not to break the stillness of the moment. Then I realized that the moment wasn’t nearly as placid as I had thought. My own noises had drowned out the absolute pandemonium taking place in the air around me…
Every dog within what sounded like a mile was either barking or howling. At me. With me.
The difference between the world as it was and the world as I would have it was so profound that if I had been able to see the abyss that separated my simple wants for my bitter reality, I might have gone mad.
Wobbling. Weak. Barking. My ragged breath in my ears. Hands became fists that cramped and whitened. I fell to my hands and knees on the sidewalk. The tics returned. I looked up and across the street. On the other side of a chain link fence, three golden retrievers stared at me while they ran the length of the barricade.
“Sor–” I began to say.
They looked happy. No need to apologize.
I made a harsh noise. They barked back.
The hair on my neck stood on end. They think I am some big, weird dog, I thought. My eyes watered. Ah, to laugh or to cry? If I start laughing, will I be able to stop? Will I ever come back?
The dogs in the neighborhoods all around me got wilder and wilder as I got to my feet, my own noises filling the air as I let it go without restraint.
“I’m not sorry.”
I began to laugh. I walked across the street and put my fingers through the fence. The dogs licked my hands while I scratched their heads.
I laughed harder. I looked at the sky. Everything was the same. Nothing was the same. My apartment came into view as I walked. I stopped and stared at my front door. Behind that door was a couch with the permanent imprint of my prone body.
In the bedroom behind the couch was a bed that was rarely made anymore. I was always in it.
I listened to the dogs. My friends. My pack. My stomach ached constantly with the dead weight of misery it was so accustomed to carrying. Now it hurt because I had laughed more in five minutes than I had in the previous year.
I turned and walked away from the house. I walked with my head up. My neck ached from the unfamiliar alignment. About a mile later I entered a pet store and bought a giant bag of rawhide dog chews. I took the long way home, passing out favors and “thank yous” to my new friends.
I walked until the bag was empty.
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