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Friendship People of Color

Content warning- panic attack

I must have swallowed a snake, somehow, because I can feel it winding round and round my ribcage, squeezing my lungs. It's getting harder to breathe by the minute, and I try to calm down, get the snake to loosen up because, pleaseI need to breathe.

In out

In out

In out

It's not enough. I'm wading through the crowd, falling apart as I go, trailing essential bits and pieces of me like oil from a leaking tank.

I'm looking for the bathroom, which I'm sure is somewhere near, where I can fall apart properly, instead of here, in the middle of the darkened dance floor. Everything which I love about this place only agitates me now. The strobing, head-splitting lights. The noise, of people laughing and shouting, of clinking glass and alcohol being poured from bourbon bottles. All of them, which helped me unwind and relax, knead my eyes, ears, painfully, turning them into jelly, making it hard to be.

I want to escape. Get away, as quickly as possible. From the smell of pungent wine and sweat powdered with talcum, from the dank, chilled air around me, slipping down my shirt like a cold, dead fish. I look at the floor, at the silvery light being sprinkled from the spinning disco sphere above. Like a snow trail. I keep moving, pushing through bodies, as the crowd sticks to me like slime.

In out in out. There’s brackish water filling up my lungs, that snake can smell it, it's even more excited to crush my chest and squeeze everything out-

My hands close around the shining washroom handle. I swing it open, choose a stall, and slam the door shut. Then I sink down, head in my hands.

In Out

In Out

In Out

My head feels light, like it's been filled with helium. I hold it tighter, afraid it'll float away. My chest is heaving.

I take my phone out, fumbling. It takes me a full minute to make the call, but I finally do. It rings, goes on ringing for a long time, till at last, Khair picks up.

"Yo fuckface, I told you to finish that essay before you go out, if you didn’t I'm not saving your ass from the teacher again-"

She rambles on, her voice annoyed and grating. I hold the phone and close my eyes, just focusing on her voice. I can almost believe I’m not here. Almost.

"Hey, you listening?"

I hear a tap dripping what seems like miles away, the soft plopping sound only making the sound of my heavy breathing grow, get bigger.

"Hey Chen." Her voice is softer now. "You alright? What do you need?"

"I want to go home." I can hardly get the words out, choking and gurgling; the snake stretches for my throat, threatening. My eyesight begins to go dark. I've been holding my breath. I inhale, ragged, and then exhale.

"Alright, I'm coming, alright, don't hang up Chen, keep on the phone. Breathe. In, out. In, out. With me, come on."

In Out

In Out

In Out

"A little slower."

In, Out

In, Out

In, Out

"That's better. Yo, you're at that club right?"

I have started shivering. "Yeah."

"Do you want me to keep talking with you?"

"Please."

"Alright." I can hear rumbling in her background. Starting up her car, probably.

"Remember when we dressed up for Halloween in 2nd grade? I wanted to be the Good Witch, but you did too. So you threw a hissy fit. Typical of you really. But Mom told us to share, so I tore up the costume. You wore the skirt bit and the wand. I had the top and the crown."

Khair rambles on, all the embarrassing stories that comes from being best friends with the same person for the past thirteen years. I press my head into my folded legs, trying to keep the memories there, warm and vital. I can’t yet begin to reassemble, so I try to just be. I absorb her voice, crisp as autumn leaves, keeping me awash. I try to remain there, holding on. Or maybe that’s wrong. I’m waiting, for everything to stop, or something to happen. Just waiting.

I hear the door open and footsteps down towards my stall. They stop before my stall.

"Can I touch you?"

The voice comes from my phone as well as from above, echoes around the white-tiled room. I jerk my head. A hand presses into my shoulder, lifting me up. My legs have gone numb from sitting, but it doesn't matter. Khair was always stronger than her five feet suggested.

The sickly lighting from the fluorescent lights makes her skin seem pale and washed-out, like sun-bleached bones. But even that cannot take out the shine out of her dark auburn hair, brushed up in hasty buns. She taps her foot as I remember how to walk. She would look annoyed to an outsider, but I can see the worry in her eyes.

We push past the crowd, her hands steady around me, outside, the sky starting to fill up with stars. She gets me into the front-seat.

I sit, silently, as she gets into the driver’s seat. The air conditioner rattles, blowing lukewarm air towards me. The seats are split open in some places, revealing yellow sponge. Khair loves it. She got it second-hand, and ritually sprayed lemon air freshener in it, to ‘keep it fresh’.

She wraps a blanket around me, pressing the pepper candies I love so much into my hand. I fumble with the wrapping before getting the bright red candy out. Chewing, I sit, inhaling the lemon spray in the air and feeling the sharp tang in my mouth.

Khair hugs me. I rest my head in her hair. It’s wet.

"Were you showering?" My first words which didn't sound like they'd been gutted out of me.

She laughs, bright and sharp. "I was. I got out before your call."

She tugs the blanket around me tighter. "Let's go home alright? We’ll order something, and then we'll binge Netflix. You can choose the movie." She revs the car up.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

The water begins to drain out of my lungs. The snake finally starts to uncoil, trying to get away from the warmth.

"OK. Let's go home."

July 29, 2021 11:49

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