I open my eyes in the cold, dark, still water, and my arms fly out from my sides as the weights in my chest expand and balloon; I tread water as I look around, frantic, turning this way and that, struggling to understand why, where, what, how, when, who. I open my mouth to suck the air in; black water flows into my lungs.
This feels like drowning.
I flail, violent now, as violent as my need to breathe, for things to be normal, for one breath to follow the other, in and out. In and out. In and out.
I fall out of bed, the falling, the drowning, the sudden stopping at the end.
And I wake up.
I sit on the floor beside my bed, my knees hugged close to my chest, my arms around my knees. I am rocking. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Breathe, I tell myself. You are not in the water. You are in your own room, in your own bed, in your own house. You are safe now. Safe now. Safe now. Safe. Now.
Start at the beginning.
Why. Because this has been a recurring nightmare for a long time and I usually dream it when I feel hopeless, mired, adrift, lost. Floating freely.
Where. Home. Home now. Now home. It’s okay, pet. It’s okay. It’s fine. I’ve got you, and I’m me, and I’m you.
What. Not water, but air. Not nothing, but everything. Not something, but nothing. Not now, but then. Not then, but now. This.
How. I don’t know. I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me. I wouldn’t have believed you. I still don’t believe you. I still don’t believe me.
When. Now. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Before. After. Then. 3:09 am.
Who. Awanthi. Awanthi. Awanthi Vardaraj. Awanthi Vardaraj. Awanthi Vardaraj.
I hear a noise in the room, and I know it is me; I am crying. I use the back of my hand to brush my eyes and it comes away wet. Water and salt. In me. Out of me. Salt and water. I lick the back of my hand. Salt.
Drowning feels like this.
I stand up, naked, dressed only in my skin, and lean against the dressing table mirror, one finger pulling at the wisp of hair curling around my round face; my brown eyes look for the familiar light of the clock on my bedside table.
I pull all my hair back and let it go again; waves upon waves upon waves of soft black caress my upper back, the sides of my face. My eyes go back to the dial, the light in this darkness.
I go back to bed; I lie upon it, tense; I turn my head away from the light and move to the right side of the bed, curling up on my right, drawing my knees up, cold now, but I can’t pull the quilt up around me yet to tuck tight around my body. Little mouse.
“But you do remind me of a little mouse, you are small, with a very cute button nose, your wide brown eyes, and that dimple that I think should be a pool that people could dive into and come out happy. Little mouse.”
I pull the quilt up around me and I sigh; it is a release; I exhale, completely. I tremble but I don’t know if it’s as cold as all that, or maybe I’m just coming down with something, or maybe one trembles when one is drowning because it is cold, and I am afraid.
And I have drowned spectacularly this year, I have ceased, I have sunk, I have clung, hopeful for redemption, but always fighting for that next breath; I have sought clarity and found none; I have been left bereft; I have wondered how it is that one could lose so much and still keep on walking; I have wondered why nobody fights for anything anymore; I have wondered how one walks away from deep true love because I know for a fact that it is the worst thing you could possibly do to yourself; I have asked how to go on from the death of someone who should have lived; I have asked how it is possible that it should be like this; I have screamed questions hoarse into the abyss; I know you’re not the only one living with the consequences of your actions because I’m living with them too; I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you.
I don’t believe you.
And I cannot, I cannot, I cannot, I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.
I will try again in 2017.