Panic

Behind the windows of my eyes is not a mind, but a limitless pool of chlorinated water. There is no shallow end, no stairs to help me slowly step in – just a pit of infinite depth, filled to the brim. The water is freezing, and though no wind blows and no children splash around, the surface ripples.

At night, when the shades are drawn on the windows, I pace slowly along the edge of the pool, one foot in front of the other, toe to heel. My hair is still wet, my lips are the color of cherries, and the skin on my fingers is shriveled, all from the previous day’s drowning.

I never learned how to swim.

My alarm is what pushes me back in, and the sharp feeling as my body breaks the surface is what really wakes me. I can hear the rush of the water filling the space around me as I lie in bed. It weighs me down, and I have to force myself up.

As soon as my feet hit the floor, I am kicking and my arms are flailing. I’m trying mybest not to inhale just yet, to hold my breath for as long as I can.

I get dressed, my movements slow under water, and I skip breakfast.

By the time I walk across campus, my lungs are burning. I hitch my backpack up on myshoulders and smile at passersby. When I look at them, they don’t know what is happeningbehind my eyes. They see dry hair and pink lips, another girl on her way to class.

Not one fighting to live, to breathe.

The sounds around me are muted by the water, but my heartbeat is loud and clear in myears. When I close my eyes, it doesn’t hurt as much.

Class pushes me under a few more yards, and I can no longer hold my breath. I sit in my usual seat as my lungs fill. My mouth starts to taste bitter, like chlorine, and I worry that if Ispeak, I may vomit instead. I don’t say anything unless I have to.

When I return home, I pull myself together again. I try to get up closer to air, to at least remove the distance that class added between the surface and my chaotic movements.

I spend the rest of the day being pushed and pulling myself back up again. It isn’t until Isleep that I can heave myself up and out of the pool. My hair drips onto the concrete as I pace again, nervously waiting for my alarm to take me back under.

Some days, I call for help. My screams bubble up to the top, and those who see reach in. Instead of pulling me out, though, they often thrust me deeper.

Everyone gets anxious, she told me, you just have to suck it up and do what you have to do.

My eyes reddened and my heart sped up as safety seemed more and more out of reach.

All of the guys talk about you, you know, he said, It’s nothing bad. They just think it’s annoying how you’re nervous all of the time and won’t walk alone at night.

I looked up to find darkness instead of the usual cerulean. I could no longer see the light from above, and safety no longer felt like an option.

Some days I help myself get a breath of air. When I put pen to page or headphones to ears, the water steadies and something gets me to where I want to be.

The characters I made up in my head jump in and tug my near-lifeless body up to their world, a world I can control. The beat of the drums in my favorite songs make me weightless, and I float effortlessly to the top. I lean over the edge of the pool and cough the water out. I gasp and take in as much air as I can before something pushes me back under.

Most days, though, I’m just trying to learn how to swim.

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