“Alright, alright! I see that it’s green! I’m going!” I yelled as if the driver in the car behind me could actually hear. In my rearview mirror I could see him shaking his fist, and mouthing a series of colorful phrases in my general direction. I grumbled a few choice words of my own over my shoulder as I hit the accelerator, fresh snowflakes splattering on my windshield as I sped off. I shook my head to clear it, and exhaled deeply.
“Just got to keep it together until you get home,” I muttered to myself, turning the radio up. It would be nice to spend my week long vacation (or stay-cation, rather, I wasn’t going anywhere) relaxing at home instead of in a hospital. For such a small town, the roads were awfully congested on a Friday afternoon.
I was more than ready for spring. Being January, however, I still had a way to go, but typically I was ready for the end of winter by November. Winter was always a hassle, in my opinion, and people in my little hometown seemed to lose the ability to drive during the months from December to March.
A catchy synth-pop tune from the 80’s sounded over my radio, and I thrummed my fingers to the beat. The chorus line was all I recognized, so I could only sing along to part of it, but it was enough to keep me focused on the road. Not on the nausea and accelerated heart rate that often accompanied one of my episodes.
I’d never had an attack while driving before, I realized, during an instrumental break in the song. They’d happened at home, in the grocery store, at parties, or at work -most often at work, actually. Typically they started while I was sitting down, or with a nearby shelf to steady myself, but never in the car. Not where other people could be involved.
A shiver ran down my spine despite the heat being on full blast. I decided it was best not to dwell on it, not now anyway. It seemed thinking too much about one of my attacks often brought on another one. It would have been especially unfortunate to wreck my car when my apartment complex was just in sight.
I thumped my forehead on the steering wheel in exasperation as I waited for an excessively long chain of cars to pass. I lamented that the way home meant making a left turn into my apartment complex. Funny how this street was never congested if I was just going to the store, or when I was on time, but on the rare occasions that I ran late to work, or was anxious to get home, it seemed half of the town chose this moment to take a leisurely drive down my street.
“Oh dear God…” I groaned into my dashboard. “What could you people possibly be doing in THIS town on a Friday night? The city is in the OTHER direction…”
Eventually the traffic broke, and I eagerly cut the wheel to turn into my complex. Moments later I was shivering in the alcove of my second story apartment fumbling for the keys in my purse.
“C’mon, I know you’re in there,” I grumbled. My fingers were made clumsy by the gloves I wore, which although bulky did a poor job of keeping my hands warm. With an exasperated groan I stripped one of them off, plopped my bag on the damp concrete and rummaged through its contents with half-numb fingers.
“I hate winter…” I spat through gritted teeth.
January air sinks into one’s bones. Even in dry, well-heated apartments, like mine, I always felt damp. Not the pleasant dampness that accompanies finding shelter in the middle of a summer rain, but more like the grayed clumps of snow, on the side of the road, that seep into even the sturdiest of boots. Sometime in April I’d finally feel warm and dry again.
“Ah ha!” I exclaimed when at last I located my keys. Of course trying to unlock a deadbolt with frozen hands, one gloved and the other exposed, typically results in dropping one’s keys at least once. I rolled my eyes, and sighed sharply before I bent over to pick them up. Naturally they’d fallen into a small pile of snow.
Shaking them free of flakes, and with my brow furrowed in determination, I managed to get the lock open and all but fell through the open door. I took a deep, contented breath, as I was bathed in the cozy, inviting heat of my modest home.
“Honey, I’m home,” I muttered to the quiet apartment. “Oh I forgot. I’m not married…” I’d always found Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman so relatable, and as a result this phrase had become my daily mantra.
I shrugged off my heavy coat and placed it on a hook near the door, not even bothering to shake away the snow. I’d mop the floor later, or maybe not; maybe I’d lose all motivation and just let it evaporate. My purse I dropped on the little stand next to me, and I paid very little attention to where my shoes landed when I flung them off my feet.
Crossing the living room with heavy foot falls I melted into my squashy recliner. The day before a vacation always seems longer than all of the days of the week preceding it, combined. But as I raised my feet with the pull of a lever I could feel Monday through Friday steadily melting away, just like the snow on my wool coat.
The thought of falling asleep in my recliner did cross my mind. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d passed out after a long day in this worn, but undeniably comfortable, chair. As tired as I was, however, I didn’t want to sleep my evening away. Perhaps I’d start out my night with a hot shower –as hot as I could stand it. It would soothe my aching feet and back, and rid me of the remaining chill of this dreary January day.
Other than the boxed pizza resting in my freezer I had no other plans for the evening. That is, nothing that involved me keeping my make-up on, which was already smudged and crusty from workday chaos. Washing away heavy traffic with perfumed soaps, and dismissing passive-aggressive notes from co-workers in the fluffy sleeves of a fleece robe, would be a nice closure to my day, and a pleasant opening for my evening.
With a little heave I abandoned my recliner and started towards the bathroom. I switched on the light and smiled at the modest, but attractive room. About a year ago I insisted that the landlord let me repaint the bathroom, and the rest of the apartment, which resulted in a six-month-long redecorating project. After years of dorm room stalls, and shared space with roommates, I wanted a bathroom that felt less like a closet and more like an oasis. Hence I chose a relaxing aquamarine color, and a tropical fantasy motif…
Okay, fine. It was a mermaid-themed bathroom. I had a mermaid shower curtain, a crab-shaped bath mat, and a Flounder soap dispenser from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Hours of my life had been lost to Amazon browsing for the mermaid figures along the sink, and the similarly-themed décor that lined the walls. I had hung artificial seaweed from the top of the mirror, so no matter how bad a hair day I was having, I could at least pretend I was an ocean princess.
A visiting coworker had giggled at the sight.
“But… isn’t it a little… oh… juvenile?” He’d said.
I pointed out to him the not-insubstantial amount of paraphernalia around the room depicting topless mermaids. Said coworker was a likable character. He got along well-enough with most everyone at the bank; he liked watching baseball, and playing disc golf and a number of other things I had very little interest in. Other than idle chit-chat and an exchange of waves we didn’t really speak much. So I was surprised when he asked me to have dinner with him one night especially when I, in my baffling inattentiveness, didn’t realize it was a date until after he paid for dinner.
Although the conversation hadn’t been particularly engaging, and my feelings towards him were lukewarm, inviting him up for coffee still seemed like a polite gesture. His smug look in response to my lovingly designed mermaid bathroom, however, made me regret this decision. I followed his comments by suggesting the bushes outside my complex as a suitable alternative to my under-the-sea lavatory, and that quieted him for the rest of the evening.
There wasn’t a second date.
I peeled off my loose-fitting sweater, and black leggings directly into the clothes hamper. Tugging my damp socks off took a certain amount of effort, and me falling to the yellow-tiled floor once, before I sat on the toilet and wrenched them off my feet. My freshly-washed robe, printed in blue with bright yellow rubber duckies, was already hung on the back of the bathroom door. I took my time getting the water to just the right temperature, but stepped hastily into the shower when it was ready.
Calescent streams rinsed away the hours spent on my feet, and the horde of obnoxious Friday afternoon customers. A contented sigh escaped my lips as I tilted my head back into the spray. I reached for my shampoo, and applied a liberal amount, smiling as the scent of daisies wafted into my nostrils. It was my favorite shampoo, but a little more expensive and harder to find than the brands I could easily grab from my local department store. But as it always left my hair smooth and shiny, it was a small indulgence I didn’t mind taking.
My bliss was soon interrupted by the feeling of water rising to my ankles. I groaned thinking that the drain must be clogged again. An unfortunate disadvantage of having long hair that seemed to shed worse than a Persian cat. Looking down, however, made me realize I was about to face a much bigger problem.
Quickly I grabbed hold of the shower handle. My breathing became labored as if I were trying to get an entire lung’s breath through a drinking straw. My collection of shampoos, and soaps lined along the tub blurred, and I felt as though the room were spinning while I stood perfectly still. This was the way all of my episodes started.
Around me the bathroom grew darker, and my shower slowly ceased to look like a shower at all. The items along the tub were steadily fading from my sight. As my heart thudded in my chest the water rose from my ankles to my knees and turned a murky green color. I wondered how far the water would rise, as I already felt like I was drowning.
I struggled to steady myself as the non-skid tiles beneath my feet turned to slippery pebbles. In a desperate attempt to stop my attack, I gripped harder to the handrail in my palm. Sometimes, but only sometimes, I could stop my attacks by focusing on something tactile; something that would reassure me I was still at the grocery, in the work breakroom, or in the shower. Soon however I felt the smooth, plastic handrail dissipate beneath my fingers. I was left staggering in freezing, waist-high water as a fierce current pounded my head and back from above. Another episode had taken hold.