The compression upon my chest is paralyzing and the heaviness of it moves me in slow motion, as if I were so deep underwater that there is nothing but darkness, a perpetual deprivation chamber.
I keep finding myself on the floor. I'm never really sure how I get there, until I have been there long enough that my tangled limbs register their discomfort with dulled pins and needles, as if my nerve endings are keenly aware that my ability to handle great sensation is severely stunted. The coldness of the ground upon which I lay is the only real comfort, the only thing that grounds me while I wonder if I will ever move again, feeling the tiniest of minuscule muscles try to fire and fail as I search the middle distance for anything, anything at all.
I have been here before. Cold, hard surfaces have always been my solace, in tiny corners and hideaway spaces I should appear too large and gangly to squeeze into, yet I am remarkably capable at making my body reflect the deafening smallness I feel inside, the invisibility I wear in plain sight.
A tiny hand so very carefully brushes the tears from my cheeks.
Deep breffs, Mama. The thing I say to her as when she spirals out of control in a tantrum.
I am not spiraling.
I was her age when my mother swept me into her arms and openly sobbed into my tangled hair, gasping for the air she couldn't breathe, reaching beyond the crushing blackness that would weigh her down for the majority of my life.
My own eyes, miniaturized, search my face with concern and confusion and I am speechless, unable to answer her inquires.
You sad, Mama? You hurt? Oh, is okay. You have boo-boo?
Deep breffs, Mama.
She leaves the room and I muster a deadened strength to pull myself off of the ground, brush the cat hair from my pants while the oldest cat, the one older than this life, watches intently. She has watched over me before, her wide, innocent eyes reminding me that life is short and she, too, someday will be nothing but a memory I cry over.
I make myself something to eat and choke it down around the abyss in my chest and will it to stay in my stomach. She returns and smiles.
You all better Mama?
I nod, and she giggles her infectious giggle, and I take a deep breath.
I have no choice but to do this.
He tells me, in the dead of night, that the last time he loved me was when she was born. The words tangle themselves in my throat and slowly constrict, slowly leeching the air out of my lungs whispering none shall pass, none shall pass and I realize that I was no better than the others, the ones he wasn't married to, the ones he says he didn't love either. I'm just the whore he lived with, the most accessible with the least effort.
The weight grows heavier on my chest and none shall pass, none shall pass.
He takes them, my children, alone, to a birthday party. I stay behind as I have to return to work, the gravity of my employment and my ability to earn an income no more severely paramount than now. I watch them drive away after I whispered be good, I love you, be good, I love you over buckled seat belts and closing car doors. I watch them drive away and I wave, from the place I always watch them leave on the school bus, but this, this is so very different.
This is the beginning of a new normal I never wanted.
They go away and I am left behind. They are making memories I will never be a part of but he gets to and there is nothing fair or karmic about this, that I have given everything only to watch them drive away and have all of their happy memories be away from me, without me.
The weight is crushing and I hang my head as I pass the neighbors on their porch, barely nodding my acknowledgement of their inquiries, in defeat.
The air struggles through my throat, none shall pass.
I am sure I will die in that spot, watching the green leaves twist and turn against the unseasonably cool breeze in the white-blue sky with this dog beside me, looking for the family that isn't mine anymore to come save us.
And I am just as instantly aware that I am finally having a panic attack after longer than I can remember of not.
And I can't let the dog suffer and perish for her loyalty.
I get up, slowly, and walk towards home, head only up enough to make sure that if death truly does wait for me on this trail, I will at least see it coming.
They are ecstatic to see me when I return from work, babbling on about their adventures as the tweets from my friends -- my friends -- roll in and try to fill the gaps, to acknowledge my absence being duly noted from the event at hand. He tries to translate, talking over their flurried voices and I hear that he met some woman, whose child played with mine but was not one of my friends and I can hear nothing over the buzzing in my ears, in my brain.
Unexpectedly, they throw themselves on me, giving me the realest hugs I've ever felt from either of them. It is akin to the adult hugs I occasionally find when someone is brave enough to acknowledge my hurt at close range and they are growing up too fast, to be hugging me like this. They've both been talking of being sick and their stomachs hurting and I know that they can tell, neither of them are oblivious. And we three, we hug, and they spontaneously tell me they love me and I force the words back out through the blockage in my throat because they, they are why I keep standing up and moving again.
They are all I have left of this life I thought I had.
When they hold me and I them, the space expands ever so slightly in my throat and chest and I do as she says, deep breffs, and I breathe them in as much as I am able.
I am devastated. I am devastated to being devastating them, to have failed to be enough for their father or have been able to save him from himself and to be unable to pantomime for their immediate benefit. The weight of all of this falls on my shoulders and settles into my chest and without them I would surely lay down and never get up again, but for them, I will try.
I have no other choice.