I have a friend that no one else can see. Instead of sharing secret hugs and smooches like my handsome invisible childhood boyfriend did, this invisible companion likes to tell me scary stories.
These stories aren’t about vengeful ghosts, killer clowns or 2 feet long centipedes. These spooky tales are about sunny neighborhood walks, grocery store trips and car rides longer than a mere 5 minutes. My friend scares me, and tells me all the embarrassing things that could go wrong. He/she/they plays a highlight reel for me on a dusty projector, shuffling through my worst and darkest moments on an IMAX sized screen. 3D, of course, so I’m adorned with dorky over-sized glasses that nauseate and make my head thump.
There I am stumbling in the dark towards the bathroom while the room violently spins around me. I fall. Hard. Landing in the form of a murder mystery body outline on the cold dingy floor.
There I am in the passenger seat of the car, gripping the dashboard as I struggle to breathe. Orange blinking lights and men in yellow vests fill my vision; inordinately blurry with tears as the car creeps slowly down the street.
My friend tells me I am a trapped animal. Defenseless and small. That I’ll be stuck wherever I go, without access to a glowing exit or a burrow to retreat to. They whisper in my ear that I’ll feel sick and succumb to a variety of symptoms that will mimic the sensation of death. Yes. My friend convinces me I could and will die. I repeat this on loop in my head until my mouth goes dry: You have and will die of dysentery.
Despite knowing this friend isn’t always trustworthy and often lies, I foolishly and eagerly listen. Taking in every word and processing them as my new truth. The more projector sessions I attend, the more afraid I become. As time passes I notice that when I touch the front door knob, it glows red and scorches my hand.
Sometimes the fear grows so immense that I retreat for days, taking refuge in my small condo space. With only the company of a 15 lb cat, an overworked significant other and the voices that seep out of my TV. I watch the newly formed leaves dance through the blinds, as I contemplate never leaving or wearing pants again. The thought of fun, adventure and purpose fade; the terms becoming strange relics of the past.
Somehow, the fear of going nose blind eventually surpasses my fear of going outside. No one visits these days, but I grimace at the thought of some aristocrat catching a faint whiff of a few petrified cat droppings. I slip on my shoes and scoop them from the plastic turquoise litter box, bagging up Wilbur’s daily bounty. As I head for the door, that familiar feeling begins to take over. The feeling Friend warned me about.
My chest muscles tighten, the tension strangling my heart and lungs and throat.
My stomach flips with queasiness, bubbling with uncertainty and high fiber whole grains.
My breathing goes ragged, my inhalations becoming quick and impatient.
I feel that wave of unsteadiness, like my legs are suddenly made of beef flavored Ramen noodles. Dizzy and unsure.
My body contorts in warning, begging me not to leave my plush and comfy chair.
I grip the red door knob, the heat gnaws at the palm of my hand. Leaving raw pink skin that screams and sizzles and crackles.
I push the door open and step outside, my eyes wincing against the warm bright light. Unsteadily I move one foot in front of the other, wading through sinking sand and sticky swamps. Trudging through the muddy thickness until I make it to the looming green dumpster. I feel a fluttering in my chest, as I quickly toss the bag inside. I debate venturing further down the cracked sidewalks, but instead my compass needle points back towards where I came. I blindly follow, counting the steps until I’m back inside.
A wave of calm washes over me as my breathing begins to regulate. The door knob no longer glows red, but is crisp and black. Small pieces crumbling off and falling to the floor like charred snowflakes.
I do it all over again tomorrow.