I come home from class in Raleigh. I’m tired, and when I walk in the door there is my spouse holding my bathrobe.
“Put this on.” It isn’t a request. I ask what’s happening. Apparently I am being recruited into one of his childhood Christmas memories, no matter that we haven’t discussed it or that I’m exhausted and don’t want to. I acquiesce grudgingly–I don’t want to be bullied into unchosen holiday rituals, and I also don’t want a fight over it.
I’m standing in a massive line at the airport. It’s 5 am, crazily loud and bright, and I’m wildly anxious and hyper vigilant. Every wailing infant, every dog barking, every thud of heavy luggage onto a scale has me gasping and jumping, trembling and weeping. I shrink from every man in my vicinity. The ones with military haircuts make me hyperventilate. The Christmas music gives me nausea.
This Christmas was going to be different. I was supposed to be flying to Kevin. We were going to meet each other’s families. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” comes on. I cover my face with one hand, bowing my head to hide my silent sobbing. I was going to stop taking the benzos since I got nervous about my developing tolerance for the highly addictive controlled substance I’ve been prescribed, but my heart is racing, I’ve just stopped myself hyperventilating several times, I’m exhausted and I’m not even in the security line yet.
I hate everything, I think, tearing open the foil wrapper. I miss him, and I hate everything. The clonazepam dissolves under my tongue. I feel just the slightest sense of the edge coming off my anxiety…there’s still a lot left. I consider taking a second dose. I will not take a second dose.
Going through security, my anxiety spikes again. It’s noisy and crowded and a man stands too close to me. My abs clench and my chest grows tight. I gasp for air, hand over my pounding heart. The screener catches my eye; “You ok, miss?” I tear up and nod, my lips tight. I look at him and hold up my hand and then turn away and choke a little.
I’ve always loved takeoff; I think it’s super freaking cool to be in a giant metal object lifting away from the ground. On board the airplane, I look out the window while the plane takes off. This time I’m indifferent; I weep more over my apathy and then drift off into a fitful sleep, dreaming about Kevin.
The second flight is harder. I instantly dislike the big man who sits next to me, his elbow crowding my space. I cringe and make myself smaller. When we arrive, an announcement welcomes us to the city where Kevin’s family is–where he is right now, and my face crumples. Sitting between two insouciant humans, I cover my face with my hands and break down again. When I get off the plane I avoid eye contact with the flight attendant who is dressed like a goddamned elf.
Everything in the airport sets me off; I stagger through it crying bitterly. I remember last time I was here my abuser walked beside me, then somehow I’m both desolate and revolted. I hate the Christmas music and the local team’s apparel. There are a lot of men with the same haircut as Kevin and each one takes my breath away. It was supposed to be better this time. Why didn’t I cancel this trip? Because my mother was so excited to see me for the holidays–I couldn’t break her heart. Mine is fucked regardless.
My parents pull up and I can’t even manage a smile. I begin to cry again on the ride out of the city where I’d planned on staying with Kevin. I close my eyes, dissociate, and pass out again.
My childhood bedroom looks very different from childhood–but not so different from the last time I was here with my abuser. I am unnerved to sleep in this bed I shared with him and toss for a long time beneath the weighted blanket, a pillow over my head, crying myself to sleep.
I dream of Kevin and wake bitterly disappointed and anxious. I cry some more in the middle of the night. In the morning I’m nauseous with more anxiety and lie in bed worrying about everything. I’m cold and miserable. To spare myself additional discomfort, I set my timer and meditate in bed beneath the down comforter and my weighted blanket.
When I rise and raise the shade, tiny flecks of snow float down outside. My heart hammers and I feel like I might throw up. For a moment I stand there with wide eyes, immobilized by my terror. I am pummeled by my sense of being trapped, the terrible memories of the last Christmas with my abuser–and my grief.
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” I hear myself protesting in a whisper. Then there is a soft, firm insistence from deep within me; Run, Laura! I promised myself I would never ignore that voice again, so with tremendous fervor I dig through my bag, whipping packing cubes on the bed. I clothe myself in a frenzy and practically run for the front door and my trail shoes.
Outside it is dead silent. I take off ferocious, intent on saving myself. The snow falls around me, but out here on my feet it feels less threatening.