Shower because you haven't in a couple days. Don't try to eat, you'll puke. Short-sleeves or long-sleeves? Long.
Breathe in the silence. Talk yourself through what might go wrong, things that have gone wrong before, things that will inevitably go wrong again because you can't learn from your mistakes.
Queue the lowlight reel.
Remember that honest text that you sent that one time to a friend who sent it to someone else and exposed a piece of your heart like a raw, unabridged nerve? You trusted back then, you let your guard down. Stupid.
Remember that time that kid in high school called you a "f**got" in front of half the class and they laughed? And you just sunk deeper into that pastel colored cafeteria stool, practically spilling into the floor because there was nowhere and no one to soothe the heat flushing into your cheeks. Four years to go.
Snap out of it. Look at your phone. Scroll through your news feed. Refresh. Scroll through your news feed again. That hollow feeling is starting to sting your temples.
Listen to her breathe through her nose before you leave. Smile. Pull the strand of hair out of her face and tuck it behind her ear. You've always liked her ears, the feminine way they curl into her jawline. It's okay that she doesn't understand the storm; she hushes it anyway.
Get in the car. Stuck behind the bus again. You waited too long. You're going to be late. You've probably already blown your chances at a promotion anyway. You're outdated. There's a line of people waiting for you to slip up, smarter people. Innovators.
Remember that time you dropped the ball on that report last November?
Stop. Focus on the road.
Stop. Focus on the road.
The bus is turning to pick up those kids on the corner. Check out the one with the football cleats slung over his shoulder. I bet he has a lot of friends.
It's your fault. You had limited athletic ability and lack of social skills. Your big nose, your oily skin, your bony frame, gravity pulling your head to the ground. At least you knew the degree, the length of the hypotenuse, retina to pavement. Pythagorean Theorem. A sorrowful triangle.
You kept your head down where the pretty girls wouldn't see. They only wanted the guys with their chests painted up in the bleachers every Friday night anyway, the guys with the football cleats over their shoulder.
Grow up. You're the only person on earth thinking about that, the only one dwelling. Those days are over. No, those days are lost.
The reflection in the glass on the office door makes you look like you haven't slept in a week. To be fair, you haven't slept in a week. Not truly.
"Hey, man." Hold the door. Fake a smile. Your voice sounds like a prepubescent child. The base of your spine tingles. The heat comes back. Inhale. Exhale. The backs of your ears emanate soreness, high-pitched ringing accompanied with a keen awareness of the insignificance of this moment.
Is this your life now?
Your phone buzzes. "Good morning, baby." The heat subsides. She always knows what to say.
A friend greets you by name. Another stops by to talk about their weekend. Another catches you by surprise with a hug in the hallway. Your muscles settle. Your fist unclenches.
Crack the shell. Fill the space around you. Allow yourself to feel...safe.
That one coworker that seems to get along with everyone rolls his eyes when you speak. What's wrong with you? Tell a joke. Try to be kind anyway. No response. It's your own fault.
Your fingertips soften to paper, your fingerprints ink. Your pockets bleed black. Keep your hands there. Graze your jagged index nail with your thumb. It stings where the nail should be, chewed below the quick. Keep shrinking. Look at the clock.
Why did God make you this way? Question the path you're on. Question the career you're in. Question if you'll ever be successful. You won't ever see six figures. That's who you are.
Don't do it for the money. Do what you love. You love this? I love her.
She's beautiful. She'll find someone else. Maybe they'd be proud of you if you made six figures. Maybe the demons will stop whispering. Maybe God will give you a purpose.
A purpose. God gives everyone a purpose.
Not you though, not people who doubt. People who don't pray enough. "If you prayed more, you wouldn't feel this way." If your faith were stronger, God would take this sickness from you.
But it's a sickness, an illness. No, this is who you are.
The heat rises in your throat this time. You swallow. It settles in your stomach, grips the lining, stirs the acid. Grit your teeth. You need to work.
Look at the clock. You don't have plans. Ask someone to hang out. Keep your head down. It's a beautiful day. But you have work. Wonder what she's doing now. You shouldn't have skipped church this week. The whispers are always loudest around this time. Did you take your medicine?
"There's power in prayer."
"It's in your head."
"Have you tried Xanax?"
"Those drugs alter your personality."
"Have you tried exercising? Eating differently? Going to bed earlier?"
Is this...sin? Your saliva thickens. You taste red. The heat is back again.
It's time to go home. You really should sleep tonight. The rest of the day is yours. The day is almost over. You can still smell the office on your collar.
Get in the car. You feel the past 10 hours of sweat and dust settle, matted on your arms and that strip of ankle between your sock and the hem of your jeans. Your legs are too long. That's genetic. Chicken legs.
You turn on the radio to quiet the noise. Chicken legs don't belong in football cleats.
Remember your old boss? "You aren't leadership material," he told you. "You're just not." Static. The radio isn't helping. You call her. The dial tone resounds along the curvature of your ear drum. Four. Five.
Voicemail. Your lifeboat sinks.
Shadowed faces start to fade in and out of the dead space between your peripheral and your consciousness. You were there for them. They turned on you anyway. They swallowed the birthdays and the moving vans and the tears. They breathed out the dust from the rubble. They built again.
Together, without you. Can you blame them?
Home. The sun kisses the fringe of the trees across the street. Inhale. Just oxygen this time.
Your heartbeat synchronizes with the rhythm of a softer memory. She runs her hand across your forearm. The noise clings to her palm. You pull her closer as the sky bleeds a pale orange. Turn on that show you like. You're lazy. The glow fades, darker now. You can't ignore an itch.
Why are you angry? She sees you for who you are, you know. Rage chisels a block of tension into your jawline. If you could freeze this moment, you would. Stop the cycle at the crest. Your eyes water. Yawn, convince yourself that's why.
Your head sinks into the pillow. Silence. You run your fingers between hers. Smile. For the first time all day, you exhale first. She talks. You talk. You both fade.