And then our conversation took it's natural course. . . the turns and new directions conversations are wont to take. And as the road curved, serenely, in front of us, the conversation bent with it.
Suddenly, the old tightness was in my chest. If you've never experienced it, it feels like this: the muscles all across your chest have pulled so tight, they're pressing on your heart and it can barely beat. Every thud radiates through your body when it finally does, until your ears ring vaguely. You can't breath, because you can't expand your lungs enough. Every breath is a half breath, and there isn't enough air to force your tightened chest to expand, or to loosen your seizing, lump like heart. You know if you're pulled any tighter, or if someone startles you, or if anything at all changes, your going to split right down your sternum. Your muscles are that strained. And I said it appeared "suddenly." Thats only because I didn't expect it. The tightness is creeping, like a monster stalking the edge of your vision. It sets in slowly, like a fog that rolls in and pulls a curtain across the day. It settles in, like a creeping chill. And it presses your heart and it pulls at your lungs and it's tight, oh my god it's so tight and if you didn't expect it, it's as sudden as lightning.
The funny part is, the tightness doesn't register on your face. That stays totally calm and normal. You may even be able to laugh, laugh pleasantly as you wonder if this is what a heart attack feels like? Really? Before I'm even 25? You converse normally with people, trying to keep your eyes from darting around, looking for an emergency exit.
The problem is, there is no emergency exit from your body.
So my chest tightens (I'm sorry to be so repetitive. I'm out of ways to describe it, out of words to transmit the feel of it to you). And Boyfriend can tell the conversation has gone into sensitive areas. But he can't steer it - not the conversation, not my heart, not the thoughts, not the memories that pulse in the back of my mind, waiting for a crack to slip through - like he can steer the car. I am in the curve of conversation now, and there is no going back.
And then it happens, like a flash. The way they show you memories in movies - a little white light, a snip it of far away sound, the feel of the cold metal in my hands. And for a few seconds, my stomach drops and my heart is free falling and I am maybe seven or eight years old, crouched in the playroom under the table. The cold metal in my hands is it's round central leg. My sister is two years younger than me, and crying. We were kicked out of the kitchen, and she left her banana behind. I know she doesn't actually want the banana. I know why she's really crying. She can hear the swears, and the screams, and the threats. Oh my god, he's going to hit her again. Sister wants her banana. I don't know where Brother is. Or do I just not remember? He was little, a year or two old, no more. He must've been napping. Can he sleep through this? Sister wants her banana. He's going to hit Her again, and I'm not supposed to see. . . so I move quickly, and I run into the kitchen. Screams. I think they're at me to get out. They are. They're also at my mother - you stupid cunt, you're making me look like a monster.
I grab a banana, and I refuse to look anywhere but at the counter, and I leave again, and he demands to know what my mother thinks she's doing, making him look like the fucking monster? What the fuck was I doing? He throws the bananas. I'm small. I'm quick, and he didn't mean to hit me, he was just throwing them. I hustle. And just as I slip from the room, a plate smashes. I hope it didn't hit Her first.
I hand my sister the banana, the stupid, stupid, stupid banana. I hate bananas, they taste like mush. I hate her crying. She's crying like mom and I hate that sound and won't she just stop it?!? Why did I have to be so dumb and go and get it for her? I made it worse. I made it worse. He's going to hit Her again.
My sister calms as she eats the stupid yellow thing. The noise in the other room doesn't. Is the baby still asleep? What am I going to do with the peel? I can't go into the kitchen. I'm scared of how loud it is, and I know I'm not supposed to see. I end up throwing the thing away in the trash barrel next to us, the one that is only for paper and wrappers and never ever for things that "decompose" which means get smelly and make mom have to wash out the barrel.
Now the barrel is going to stink. And mom is going to be mad. And the noises will never ever ever stop. . .
And I'm back in Boyfriends car. I was only gone for a second. I cry and we talk and he asks me questions, and I answer them. My face is hot with tears that run down my cheeks like shame, cutting into the facade. It's been awhile since I cried about this. I tell him things I remember, and things I forgot I knew. All the while, the noises are back in my head. The shouting, for hours and sometimes days. The breaking of bowls and plates and tipping of chairs and the dull, resonate, impossible-to-duplicate sound of punches finding their mark. And screams, of pain and of fear. And whimpers - mine, my siblings', the dogs. Screams. Of rage and terror and pain. Personal thoughts, fears of my "badness" being discovered, my fighting over math and arguing with my sister and did I remember to give the dog his can of food? I'm 20 years old. I am not a child. I am not bad. I am 20 years old. . . My chest tightens further, so tight now I'm amazed I can breathe. And I'm not sobbing, not hysterical - my voice is shaking and the tears are pouring down my face, but the monster that squeezes my chest won't let me sob. Not now, not as a child - the tears run and Boyfriend squeezes my hand and brings me home as quick as he can.
The road straightens a little (it's a winding back road in Maine. Sometimes it can feel like you're stuck on a corkscrew) and there is a stop sign. Boyfriend flicks on the lights, gives me a tissue, kisses my hand. I take a deep breath, and the tightness is gone again, for a little while.
Who knows when I'll cry again?