Don’t drop the mask

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I wanna scream.

The food is good enough to bring me back to the present, which has the undesirable side effect of reminding me just how uncomfortable I am in my own skin. Delight turns to disgust so suddenly that I am forced to repress the urge to spit what I was eagerly chewing just a second before.

He feels it, of course. We’re spend so much time together these days, we’ve fused into one being.

“Just need the loo.”

The alcohol was a bad idea. My eyes follow my head as I stand up slowly. Watch your bag on the floor, don’t get your heel caught in the strap. There’s not enough space and too much noise. I have to shuffle and lean to avoid knocking over the heater. My limbs are a bit heavy…

Shut door, lock, sit, head in hands, doubled over. Rock a bit. Ugh. The noise abates in the bathroom, but not enough. It’s making me nauseous. Certain words especially. Is this what synaesthesia feels like? I don’t envy them.

Where are the tears? I could feel them a minute ago, pulling at my smile, pushing at my eyes. Come on. You can drop the mask for just a few minutes, can’t you? Nobody’s here, let it all out. I hiss a silent scream into the palm of my freezing hand, but the tears remain in my stomach. I feel sick. Consider vomiting. Consider cutting. I’m not bulimic and I’ve never been a cutter, but for a second I can understand both. You have get it out somehow. Get those thoughts out of your head, feel something else, think something else, anything. Please.

If I dwell on them, will they come? Why can’t I feel enthusiastic? There’s hope, he’s been talking solutions, and all it does is upset me. I thought we were over this? He said you should wait before taking the mood meds again, you know they’re not good for you anyway. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to him. Why now? We were making progress, weren’t we?

It’s ok. It’s a bad day, that’s all. I know he said we should go home and do all that important stuff, but you need your bed. It’s ok, hon. It’s ok. He knows. We’re practically telepathic by now. He’ll understand.

But he’ll worry?

He knows what it’s like when you’re in public. He knows how important the mask is. You’re both dysfunctional, after all. It’ll be fine.

Get up. Take a deep breath. Breathe out, slowly, entirely. Breathe in again. Fill your lungs. Calm down a bit. Enough to repair the mask. Good. It’ll be ok.

Wash hands to buy some time. Gain control. Mirror: smile intact, eyes tired, desperate, hopeless, but not red. You just have to think of something else.

Back to your chair.

“You alright?”

“I need to go home.”

“Oh…” That frown, that hand reaching for mine, nearly disarms me completely.

Smile. My eyes on the wall behind his ear. “Talk about something else.”

“Are you sure…?”

“Yes. Talk about something else. Please.”

“Can I eat the rest of the bread now?”

Giggle, a bit too loudly. It doesn’t matter.

“You’re allowed bad days you know.”

“Go ahead and eat it. I’ve had too much.”

“You wouldn’t let me before,” he says, finally playing along. I know how hard it is to not comfort, to forget, pretend with me like I’m alright. I know and I’m sorry. And grateful. So grateful.

Small talk, digestive tea. Steal a mouthful of dessert. You really have eaten too much. It wasn’t all that much, though. I’m not anorexic. Body image is the least of my problems.

Keep smiling. Keep up the small talk. Smile at the waiter. That’s it. Now we’re in control. Just until we get home. Hang in there. Just until we get home.

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