Bad Days

The bad days still come on fast as summer storms—violent and unannounced. They might be beautiful if I could find shelter. The air clings to me like drying blood, the empty edges blur and the space around my body shakes. My breath comes in gasps, no longer natural, but consciously made. Each inhale is a decision to live. Have you ever felt a code red in your bones?

The triggers are innocuous, or cleverly disguised, lunging for the throat from the corner of my eye—a street name or an ingredient for a meal I don't make anymore. I've been broken by circles on a map, overheard conversations, and the feel of certain sweaters on my skin. And then I spiral, as that single trigger sets off all the alarms I've set, deafening me down. Blood pounds in my temples. Sweat leaks free and my gut tightens like a noose. My heart curls into a fist headed for my own jaw. I slam the doors, drop the shades, abandon the groceries, stop the car, close the atlas and try to seek silence. But the thunder comes. It's faster than me and I can hear it through the walls. Have you ever tried to outrun your mind?

The storm shatters the sky, racing in angry and cold from over the horizon, where it was growling and brooding, waiting for the winds to change. I turn away and the tempest follows, hungry, knowing which roads I'll take, blocking every escape that has worked before. It licks the back of my neck and thoughts boil over like poison making an escape from my blood. Words I would never speak echo beneath the folds of my tongue. Things I would never do unfurl like a grim home movie, cigarette burns and all. Each scene spiderwebs to a dozen more, a hundred, impossible to follow or contain, ravaging my defenses with the cruel quickness of lightning, finding every weak spot in a blink, pulling me under, back, before. I stop breathing to see how long I can last. Have you ever drowned yourself in a memory?

The squall hits fast and low, but fades slow, dissecting my time with a dull blade, severing the branches I've bent into a basket, a cradle, a womb. The trunk of my tree is rain-slick now, harder than ever to climb, so I slip down among the roots, to a temporary haven where I can check for vital signs, where no one can find me, where I can stop the bleeding. Have you ever hidden from yourself?

When I finally crawl out—minutes, days, hours later—the sky is empty and innocent, yet my nerves are soaked and I can't wring them out. They stumble my steps and fill my nose with the trace memory of mildew and rot. I rub dirt over the new scars and plead with each hint of wind to blow me dry and home.