Tag Archives: anxiety

Folding Chairs

old folding chair

 

The pickup lurches a little when I put it in gear, and there’s a rattle I’m starting to fear is coming from the water pump. If it’ll hold for the next two paychecks I’ll be able to have it replaced.

It’s October and warm for the afternoon. I steer to avoid smashed road kill and a deputy notices that I cross the center line. I see him in my rearview mirror, debating whether or not to hassle me. He never pulls out, though. I’m at my pop’s house in twenty minutes.

He gives the dogs free reign inside, which gives the house the suffocating odor of musk and hidden dog shit. I make a mental note to set aside a weekend to help him clean.

He’s sitting at the kitchen table, a fat boxer sitting over both his feet. Two disassembled pistols are on the table, and he’s cleaning them with oil and cotton balls. The guns give off a sharp odor that I hate worse than the smell of the dogs.

“Hey, Pop.”

He’s let his hair grow since retirement. He keeps it tied back but he doesn’t brush it enough, and it looks stringy. I can see patches of his scalp between the vines of gray hair. He turns, slowly. “Hey, kid,” he tells me, looking almost stunned. He runs a hand over his unshaven face. “How’s work?”

“It’s work.” I grab a nylon folding chair from against the wall and bring it to the table to sit. The whole tabletop is overrun with mail and small tools. Mom always hated this. “I wash dishes. I fry eggs.”

He nods gravely, like I’ve said something worth pondering. “This is that .357 I got you that one Christmas. The one you left behind when you moved out.”

“Oh, yeah.” The gun is somewhat obscene in size, and I can’t imagine ever being in a situation where I would practically need it. I do carry a gun, though, sometimes. A little .38 I’ve always been fond of. Pop bought it for Mom but she never much cared for it. He’s something of a lone enthusiast under this roof. I doubt the dogs care about guns at all.

Roscoe, a rickety old brown pitbull, comes hobbling over. He’s got bad knees, and watching him sit down or stand up makes me wince. But he’s a sweet old thing and I scratch him behind the ears.

“I oughtta take that gun back with me one of these days.”

“Well, I can hold onto it for ya,” Pop tells me. “Keep it safe till ya need to come home.”

I moved out five years ago. I’ve been taking night classes the past two years. The nest is old and covered in cobwebs.

“You ready to head out?” I ask him.

He turns and checks the time on the microwave. “Yeah, I guess we should go.” He stands up, takes a moment to steady himself against any joints that might yell out. He grabs his cane, an oak branch with a handle shaped naturally like a duck’s head, and I stick close in case he loses his balance. He doesn’t. He shuffles his feet loose from the boxer and we head for the door.

 

***

 

“Sean’s here, too.” Pop waves at me, standing by the door.

“Oh,” Mom says, sounding unsure. “That’s nice.”

“Hey, Mom.”

“Come on in, kid,” Pop says, obliviously.

“I’m okay, Pop.” The only thing she remembers about me these days is the rage I used to inspire in her. Last summer she swung at me with a plastic fork. Pop sits alone across from Mom.

“Me and Sean are heading out today, the way we used to when we all had Sunday off.” When she shows no interest he asks her as casually as he can: “Would you wanna come with us sometime?”

“Oh. No.” She turns to watch hummingbirds out her window. Her roommate mutters in her sleep.

Pop reaches out and squeezes her hand. “I miss you, baby.”

Her arm doesn’t move. She doesn’t pull her hand away or hold his tighter. The knuckles sit there, unflinching.

When we start to leave Mom is still looking through the window. The nurse at the desk tells her she’s been more lucid than usual lately. This nurse always says that.

 

***

 

Pop and I dig a fire pit. Really I dig it, but Pop sets out the can and lays the charcoal inside. A grill is balanced, and sausages begin to sweat alongside hissing potatoes in foil.

We drink bottles of water pulled from a cooler. “I almost miss beer,” Pop says after a quiet moment.

“You ever miss it much?”

“I said I almost miss it,” he reminds me, then lights a cigarette. Putting the lighter down makes him wince.

“You alright, Pop?”

“Back,” he mutters. “My fuckin’ back.”

The aluminum armrests of the folding chairs scrape together when we move. Pop chews his food loudly, smacking and sucking at his teeth. I’ve learned to not let this bother me. Conditioning makes it hard to ignore, though. Nothing used to irritate my parents more than when my sister and I smacked our lips at meals.

“You’re doctor’s kids,” Pop would say, in that tone he used during lectures. “Behave like it.”

The old man in plaid and faded denim wipes his face with a dirty napkin.

It’s getting cold. We sit under blankets and sometimes talk about Mom. At some point I notice the wheezing breaths he takes when he’s fallen asleep. I put my arm around his shoulder. There are stars out tonight. Moonlight shines against the armrests of our folding chairs. I hold my father while he sleeps.

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Break

Break

 

We’re smoking and laughing, and I’m surprised that I’m staying awake despite the fact that I’m going on hour forty-three of being awake. The woman I have a crush on is bumming smokes from the pack I leave between us on the thin plastic table. I’m chain smoking, a habit that’s becoming more regular every time I drink. The drinking’s becoming more regular too.

The day started warm but ended cold. December only ever remembers it’s a winter month at night when you’re this far south. My fingers brush against the woman’s as we both reach for a cigarette. We laugh over the shared addiction, then all four of us laugh over how we’re all lighting up at the same time. Misery loves company as much as it loves cliché.

It happens when I light up. The little flame seems so bright it practically sparkles. My neck has felt stiff since I got here but like an idiot I ignored it. If I’m lucky it’s just a migraine.

Then my legs lock, and I realize I haven’t lit my cigarette yet. The flame is so bright I feel like the image of my friends is burning away. I take a quick puff and light my smoke halfway before tucking the lighter in my pocket.

My legs lock up. I have to clench my teeth before they’re loose enough to bend at the knee, and before things get bad I mumble something about grabbing another pack from my car. The three of them nod and drink and keep talking. The woman I have a crush on gives me a quick look of concern, but that could just be me worrying that they’ll notice.

I get in the car and drop into the passenger seat, and as I lock the door my body seizes and I curl into a ball. The intense aggravation I felt as I walked has blown into full-scale fury, and I tuck my head between my knees to fight off the urge to scream.

I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, and like an idiot I look to see who it is. A girl I used to love has texted me: “I miss you.” In two minutes the message will melt my heart, but right now I want to pull the phone apart in my hands. She saw me like this once. She lies, but doesn’t mean to. She could only miss something fixable.

I fight off the urge to roll out a pill and crush it in my teeth. It’s a short-term solution with long-term consequences of growing intensity. I’m doing good. I breathe and tighten myself. My legs and back are screaming from exertion but I stay still. If I rock the car they’ll see, and if they see they’ll know.

I’ve only dug my nails into my scalp. I haven’t left any marks. I take deep breaths, and my flushed skin now feels like ice. The adrenaline that roared through me makes me shake a little. That’s okay. It’s chilly. I’m supposed to shake a little.

The urge to be alone is still there. The urge to turn everyone away and just drive off will last until dawn. But it wasn’t that bad this time. The regular pills did their work. I didn’t hear whispers this time.

I calm down, grab another pack of smokes, and walk back to the garage. I send a text to another state: “I miss you too.” The woman I have a crush on smiles as I sit back down. I light another cigarette and listen to a joke one of our friends makes. I laugh even though I just want to yell.

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