What I’m trying to do is obliterate the self; I start at my front door. At first, I feel foolish because the neighbors can see me decked out in my sports bra and tight pants, with my stupid earmuff and my stupider ponytail swishing in the wind. I start sprinting, just so I can get down the block and out of their sight, and so I get a stitch in my side as I round the corner by the gas station. I slow to a trot. It’s been two minutes and my asthma is kicking in. (When I started, I couldn’t even go for thirty seconds without developing shin splints.) I’ve always been keenly jealous of people who can make their bodies do things for long, ecstatic stretches.
I’m mad at myself for the sprinting and the stitch, and my brain is picking away at this anger. I feel myself bouncing up and down, the way that each landing on the pavement sends a jolt all the way up my spinal column, my cold feet, the moisture that’s gathering on my skin, the wheezing. I experience the sensation of all these things happening through and on me, but I’m not really in my body yet.
It comes just as the stitch starts to leave, a seizing in my chest. I’ve made it past the gas station, and the pizza place next door to the gas station, and the vacant lot next to the pizza place, which cuts into a graveyard. I’m surrounded by tombstones, each of my feet sinking just a little bit into springy humus as I work my speed back up, and then—with no warning—my ribcage constricts. Someone else would topple over, but I make my body keep existing. I put one foot in front of the other as fast as I can manage, and I hope I don’t run into anything. Step, I think, and the person that was me ceases to be. Step step step step step.
When I do run into something—a tree—I stop. My nose is bleeding but not broken. I remind myself that this is good for me. Someday soon, I’ll be able to go for five whole minutes. I sit on a tombstone and let the wheezing take over. A man in a tracksuit stops to ask me if I need an inhaler. I shake my head. I can tell he’s worried I’ll pass out, so I give him a thumbs up, which is probably not convincing because I also gag onto the dirt at the same time. He leaves anyway. In ten minutes, when my brain works again, I wipe the blood off my face with my earmuff. Then I go buy a latte.
At some point during the night my earplugs slip out and fall onto the floor. The cats chew on them. You’d think the chewing wouldn’t make so much noise, but the cats exhale loudly, gurgling, as they eat the foam. Nate rolls over in his sleep, a rustle. Then he groans. He isn’t awake, but I am, usually, by four or five.
My bleary noises, which are somehow not drowned out by the whirr of the fan or the buzz of the space heater, include: the squeak of mattress springs as I sit up, the almost imperceptible click of the buttons on my phone as I check the time and my emails, the thump I make on the floor because, although Nate is trying to sleep, I am too exhausted to control all of my limbs, to walk quietly on tip-toes. Nate grabs my pillow and puts it on top of his head to block out the sound. Every time he does this I worry he will suffocate.
I go to the bathroom. The sound of water landing in the toilet—but I don’t flush because I’m scared to wake up my Alina—and the sound of water landing in the sink as I wash my hands and face. A series of soft clinks as I futz around with my makeup. The cats claw at my feet, mewling, and I whisper, “Shut the fuck up! Shut the fuck up!” Also: “Ouch!”
Some dragging noises as I open dresser drawers. If I’m very lucky, Alina sleeps through all of this, and I can get dressed—but getting dressed makes more thumping noises, because I haven’t had coffee yet and I’m too clumsy to put on clothes without falling over a little.
She’s invariably wailing by the time I work both my feet through the ankle cuffs of my pants and zip up my fly. I don’t mind; I don’t know why anybody would mind.
“Mawmee!” It’s the first word she says every morning, when she calls to me.
Cady Vishniac is a former human statue and current copy editor studying creative writing at UMass Boston. She has work out inLiterary Orphans and Sporklet, among others, and was a finalist for Cutthroat’s Rick DeMarinis Short Story Award (2014).