Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday.

It’s also the one year anniversary of the last time we spoke.
“My wife and I will leave you the hell alone.”
He’s been as good as his word. I wonder if he uses my name or if, like my mom, I’m “Someone” in his stories.

My body remembers anniversaries. I’m trying to speak gently to it, to let it feel what it needs to feel. I’m trying to get through the next two days without another panic attack.

“I never expect my body to remember things, but it does.” My friend gets it. She says what I need to hear. “I try to speak gently to my body, to let it know it’s okay that it’s upset.”

I laughed when she said that. “Really? I usually let it know I’m pissed it’s interfering with my day.” I’m trying her way. I’m trying to be gentle to myself, to let my body have a mind of its own. “We can do this. Two more days. Breathe, girl. Breathe. I’m sorry this happened to you. You are beautiful. Breathe.”

Anxiety attacks are terrible. I’ve spent all week feeling anxious about anxiety attacks. Helpful, I know.

It was cold last week. I got home from work not too late and set about fixing myself some food. My partner had made himself comfortable in bed as I chatted away loudly, voice carrying through our open bedroom door. Drink in hand I wandered in to join him. Mid sentence I faltered. I tried again, repeating the last word and pushing ahead with my story– and stopped. I sat down, took a deep breath, tried again. My story dissolved into pointlessness and tapered out. T looked at me attentively.

“I’m sorry, I can’t finish my story while you’re wearing those.” Unceremoniously and without hesitation I removed his white thermal pants. I hoped I was playful when I tossed them on the floor, but I was afraid it was too clearly a banishment.

“Those were keeping me warm.”

“I know. I’m sorry you’re cold.”

He took a long look at me. “You have…. interesting triggers.”

I love that he knew a trigger when he saw it. It keeps the wounds clean. I tossed my fuzzy blue PJ pants at him. “I didn’t mean to make you naked without asking.”

White thermals: my dad’s go-to in cold weather. Camping, fishing, working, stacking firewood, Christmas tree hunting. They were ever present. They were warm and comfy and rural and sensible. The happy times are triggers now? Great. Didn’t see that coming.

“I’m having a hard time being inside my body.” It was only a few minutes after I’d hurled them away but the thermals were out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t know what I felt, or why.

“What does that mean?”

“That’s… that’s all I’ve got.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I– hold me?” My body took control. It clenched itself into a fetal ball to keep itself inside my skin. He squeezed me, but not hard enough. Not frantically enough. Not like he wanted me not to explode. My body twitched, it sobbed. I didn’t know why my body hated me. I didn’t understand why he didn’t know he needed to save me. I pushed him away hard, left him behind and threw myself onto the couch, squeezed myself into an even tighter ball.

Clench. Twitch. Twitch.
Remember to breathe.
Mindfulness. Breathe. Why do I feel afraid? Why am I angry? There is no danger. There is no harshness. Breathe. Relax. Relax your spine so you can breathe deeply. Relax your fingers. Uncurl your hands. Breathe. You’re so cold. Stand up. Go rest.

Those damn thermals.

I melted back into T’s arms, pulled the blankets tight. He squeezed me hard– loving hard, not world-is-ending hard. Because he loves me, and the world isn’t ending.

Two more days. We can do this. Two days.

I miss my dad.


6 thoughts on “Breathe

  1. Tiffany, you are wise when you comment that you also miss him. In their anger, many people would not see that, refuse to admit it or think that acknowledging that they missed the person who hurt them was undercutting what they are trying to say. It doesn’t. It honors the relationship that we know was supposed to be loving, and sometimes was, in many ways, but that the relationship was also abusive.
    You probably know that being anxious or fearful about the possibility of an anxiety or panic attack is nearly 100 percent of the people who have these attacks on any serious level of severity. But in case you didn’t, please know it’s the most normal thing in the world.
    You are an amazing young woman and I look forward to seeing what your full grown
    “monarch butterfly” stage is going to look like.
    I hope and pray for God’s blessings on your life as you continue to move through the after- effects of emotional abuse at many earlier points in life.

    You are a greatly loved young woman, don’t forget to revel in that as well. 🙂


    • Thanks for reading, and for your kindness. I like to include universal experiences, like the anxiety, so that others who read will know they are not alone, as I learned via others’ stories.

      One point: I’m never going to be a monarch butterfly. Because I’m not in a chrysalis. And I’ll never be other than what I am. This is my life- my infancy was my life, my childhood was my life, today was my life. No part of my life was, or ever will be, solely for the purpose of getting to the next. In fact, this is my life post working through a -ton- of shit already. I am the person now I will always be– a person with a painful past and sensitivity to triggers. My strengths will change and grow, the sharpness will change, my perspectives will grow and change. But I’ll never be finally arrived to the promised land of Over It or Healthy. I’ll be in a different place on the same journey. Holding tight to that is part of reveling in being beautiful an loved now.

  2. I am sorry you have to experience the pain that these triggers bring. I am praying for you. You and your brother and sisters have always had a special place in my heart. Your mom is amazing and I am glad you have found a love to hold onto.

  3. These days every freaking thing feels like a trigger. Everything has all this symbolic weight attached, like nothing can just BE what it is, but it also carries all these shadows with it, all these different permutations of itself. I broke down yesterday over a Kindle. Or not the Kindle itself, but its badly-applied excessively floral cover, which, now that I think about it, stood for so much of what I hated about my mother. But then I looked through her library and saw hundreds of books, saw her passion for reading that she passed on to us, saw how many of them she would never finish, and then I saw the volume of Nietzsche’s goddamn collected works.

    I keep wondering if it’s healthy to hold on to so much of the physical stuff of hers. Because of all those shadows weighing down everything from a pillow to the wonderfully well-made furniture that now dominates our living room and bedroom. I’m sleeping in my parents’ bed and I’m not a superstitious person but it feels like I’m inviting demonic forces into my life, even though it’s a beautiful set, nicer than anything I would ever buy for myself, and perfect for us. I want it to lose its double-meaning; I want to get to the point when looking at that Kindle case won’t make my chest tighten and my heart race and my head fill up with unspent, panicky tears. But I don’t know how long that process will take and now it’s more than a month since she died and I still can’t even walk into her apartment by myself.

    Anyway, this is all to say that I suddenly realize why people have developed rituals to bless and purify a house. And I miss my mum.

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