Consciousness of Being Alive

My first  and unique anxiety attack happened in my grandparents’ house a certain number of years ago. Truth is, I can’t remember the year. I couldn’t say which time of the year it was either. It was not Summer, because the cicadas were silent. Maybe the late fall, or the very end of Winter. A Sunny day, a beautiful day. I remember the sun on my face, gently warming me up, healing my puffed up eyes, caressing my skin irritated by the flow of tears. I’m posing for a picture and my cousin is the photographer. She’s learning how to use her brand new camera, she wants to make  portraits with a blurry background. I’m posing, docile. I just want to stay still enough to feel the sun warmer and warmer on my face and arms, until it burns me. Maybe it’ll go deeper, pass through my skin and help me shine. She needs the sun too, my cousin, for her picture – that ray of light will look so good on the photo. She must know I have been crying, but she doesn’t ask the question. Maybe I just look very tired. I feel exhausted, drained. Too exhausted to even feel the terror that filled me moments ago, unshakable. My brother, who’s the other model in this improvised photoshoot, doesn’t know what I just went through. Only my father, who is walking with us, knows.

Earlier, in the house, I played hide and seek with all of them. That day a glimpse through the half open door of my grandparents’ room moved me in a way I didn’t expect. It was the sight of my grandfather, lying on his bed, so frail, his eyes closed, his mouth half open. Then it was the thought of my grandmother taking care of him every day, knowing. It felt like I had just understood it. I was going to die. My grandfather was going to die and one day I would, too. I must not have known. How could I have, and not felt the way I was feeling now? When I understood I couldn’t just look away and change room whenever I heard somebody’s footstep coming closer, I looked for my dad. Or did he find me? I can’t remember. “I can’t breathe”. That’s all I could say.  And I can’t tell you, I can’t – or you’re gonna know too and you’ll feel like me – How could it be any other way? I can’t remember what my thoughts were really. But I  remember the feeling of pure despair. How it seemed to make my body break down, my throat getting tighter and tighter and a dark glue starting to fill my lungs, my brain, my entire self. In that moment, I genuinely thought I was never going be able to feel any other way, for the rest of my life.

But I did tell him, feeling terribly guilty for bringing him down with me, because now he would KNOW too. He calmly explained that he could listen to me and take care of me without being contaminated; that he had felt that anxiety, maybe in other forms, at other times. And that he knew. But at that moment, he didn’t feel the helplessness I felt. He could anchor me and slowly bring me back. And he did. I don’t remember the other things he said that day. But this became one of my dearest memories of my dad.

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