One night before I left for New England for the summer, I woke up with something sitting on my chest. In the last filmy remnants of the dream, there had been something living, exotic even- some type of small zoo animal. I'd been enjoying playing with the creature until it crawled up onto my lap and rammed its head between my breastbone, bearing down into my chest until I had to fight against its weight in order to draw a breath. That's how I woke up, gasping and gripping the comforter, and when I did, the thing was gone but the pressure remained, invisible and searing.
The next few moments felt cliched, as if I were a character in a movie who suddenly grows purple and keels over while mowing the lawn: I gripped my chest with both hands, eyes wide, quick forced breaths and completely helpless, wondering how long to wait until I did something- but what? Call 911? Get to the car? Get in a bath? (My answer to everything.) David was in Costa Rica and I was alone in the house.
I was sure I wasn't having a heart attack; even with my anxiety and hypochondria that spikes like a fever any time anything interesting happens in my life, I knew the odds of that were pretty slim. Was I fighting for breath or had I just worked myself up to the point (in my sleep, somehow) where I felt as if I were fighting for breath? I kneaded my fingers up and down my sternum, feeling the xylophone bump of each rib, and found myself beginning to calm down. But the pain, the feeling that something was crushing my chest into my lungs, did not alleviate. What the hell is that? I wondered. And then I had the same thought that comes with every new symptom my body invents: how long will this one last?
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To their credit, every person we passed was more than agreeable, giving me a pat on the head or a companionable slap on the back or letting out a supportive cheer, but what made me the most happy was how Pauline danced around me in the street, making such a fuss, making me feel so special. "I forgot!" I exclaimed to Kelli, who had linked her arm in mine. "I forgot how fun it is to go out! I never go out! We should do this all the time!" Kelli tucked a piece of my hair behind my ear and said, "Absolutely. All the time."
Bands of bridal parties roamed the town that Friday evening, always in the same formation: a gaggle of women in florid dresses loosely surrounding the one in the middle, who had a cheap veil like medical gauze drawn over her face and was usually a bit stumbley, hoisted up from the shoulder by one of the sturdier ladies in the pack. When we passed another tribe we'd cry out, pump our fists in the air- isn't this grand!! or, later in the night, exchanging embraces that were quick but warm, always with the element of cheerful confusion that accompanies the latter hours of these types of events.
My friends, a handful of girls and Yonton, kept the tempo speedy, which I liked. One place, one drink, one song, and onto the next. Let's keep it moving, people. Someone bought apple-pie shots at The Southern and we danced alone on a dusty stage. Then we were in a basement with some type of artificial fog piped into the air, a laser show of bouncy neon squiggles landing on our faces and stereos blasting excruciating electronic music, and much later I found myself posing for a portrait on a very elaborate victorian theater set, in a bar I'd never heard of before even though I'd walked passed it at least forty times.
It was a steam-punk speakeasy, I think, although don't ask me to explain to you exactly what that means. Everyone had feathers on their hats, creamy gloves and sharp suspenders, plum colored gowns and eye glasses two inches thick, and certainly belonged to some thing, or some order or some understanding, that me and the hearty remnants of my party (some had already dropped out, gotten lost, or slipped away between bars) did not belong to. This did not bother us in the slightest. I sat straight backed in my crushed velvet chair, sipped a ginger whiskey drink through a tiny star, and gazed solemnly into the old fashioned black box camera with a look of great dignity. Someone behind the half curtain surrounding the camera looked confused, or maybe it was annoyed, but she gamely took the photo anyway, or at least pretended to.
That's the last thing I remember.
David said when I came home that night (Kelli treated me to an Uber) I announced my arrival by stepping squarely on the dog, who let out an almighty squawk, and then I plunged face first on the bed and remained motionless.
I believe that the term "living hell" was coined to describe my condition the following morning. "Leave," I said to David, desperate, limbing my way across the hall to the bathtub, aware that the most unpleasant of fireworks was about to begin and that he had not signed up for this parade. "Leave- run- don't come back- don't come back until nighttime!!" It took very little convincing. He grabbed his kayaking things and sprinted out the door, and not one second too soon.