June 1, 2015 by The Citron Review
by Demeter Vaisius
How white the snow is and cold. Cold in my hands. I pull up the dirt with my nails as I claw at the snow. Black in white.
“Please, don’t go, don’t leave me. Please. I’m scared. Don’t go.”
Tears and panic choke me. Make me beg. I feel my guts turning inside out in shame and fear. Begging my mother not to go to work because I am too afraid. How did it get to this?
It is hot that day. August sticky sweet heat and sunshine. We wait for it all summer. Me and my brother, Boreal. For the end of summer fair. The rides. I love them. This year is different. It’s the first time I am old enough to go just with Boreal. I’m happy. I feel grown up. Like a teenager, even though I am only ten. We start out early. Get our money and head for the festival. Deafening. Though what it is that is deafening is hard to tell. Music and people. Crowds packed. Talking, screaming, laughing. Colours, blurs of whirling bright. It’s exciting and terrifying.
We get our wrist bands and start trying to decide which of the rides we want to go on first. We end up on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I’ve been before. But this time the Tilt-A-Whirl makes me feel nauseous. I am dizzy trying to hold it together. The sickening green and purple colour of the cars makes me close my eyes, but when I do the movement only seems amplified. Finally it is over. I get off reeling and sick to my stomach. But I shake it off. I want badly to have fun. To prove I can run with the big kids.
Boreal takes care of me. With an arm around my shoulders he steers me through the mass of strangers. I want to try again – a ride that isn’t as fast. So we head for the Sea Ray, a gutted pirate ship filled with benches. It swings like a pendulum. It’s one of my favourites. We board and are squished onto a seat with a number of other people. It starts. I raise my hands at the highest point as everyone else does; try to ignore the twisting, dropping, lurching in my stomach. But I can’t. I want to be okay. But I can’t. The feeling won’t go away. My breath is quick, uneven. My heart is racing.
The ride feels like hours. I grip the bar in front of me – cold metal. The roar of the festival is in my ears. High pitched screams of people on the rides. They seem to be enjoying the thrill.
This time when I get off the ride I am shaking. My hands tremble. I can feel my heart beat in my ears and chest; it seems too big for me. It is over and I made it.
Boreal asks me if I am okay. I nod. I don’t want to open my mouth. My stomach is still uneasy. He asks me if I want to go somewhere – to another ride? Or home? I shake my head. Then he asks me if I will be okay if he goes on another ride. Can I wait? I nod. That is what I want. To be still. Maybe then I will feel normal again. He leaves me. Standing next to a bench and disappears into the crush promising to be back soon. I stand and try to breathe. What if this feeling doesn’t go away? What is happening to me? Why can’t I have fun?
I turn my back on the Sea Ray and look up at the sky. So blue and clear and beautiful. Quiet. Peaceful. I take a breath, bite the inside of my lip to stop the tears.
Before me is the Skymaster. Two cars on arms that swing backward and forward and gradually go so far as to go all the way around. They slow when they are upside down, holdings still for a moment before crossing and falling back to earth.
The cars are suspended at the apex. In a silhouette against the perfect blue sky, I don’t understand at first what I am seeing. Then I do. I don’t understand why it scares me so much. But it does. Suddenly all feelings are black. The shaking, the fear. I can’t breathe. I feel sick uncontrollably scared. I turn in the crowd suffocated by all the people. I don’t know what I am looking for. Coming through the throng is my father, looking as he always does. Steady, comforting. Behind him my mother. I run to them in tears. I crash into my mother’s arms, hide my face. I am delirious. Shaking and crying, gasping for breath. She asks me what is wrong. I can’t say it. Shame fills me. It is stupid.
“I . . . I saw someone . . . throw up.” She doesn’t say anything. She pulls me close and holds me until I can breathe again.
Ever since that day things are different. Even now with all the words I have to explain what happens in my body and mind, I am lost. Hard to understand. But once it’s felt, it’s never forgotten. At the beginning of school all the other kids talk about the fun they’d had at the festival. But I’m silent.
I once loved gym class but now I am terrified of moving, scared that running too fast will make me throw up. I don’t like spinning. Riding in cars. I am scared of being hugged too tightly, scared of eating meat, scared of eating. Scared of spending time with other kids. What if they get sick? Soon enough I am scared to leave the house. One thing after another. It somehow seems to connect.
Some nights I rock back and forth and cry. Desperate to stay awake because I am too scared to sleep. Too scared that I will wake up with the stomach flu. It doesn’t make sense. I know that. I know that there isn’t anything I can do to stop myself from getting sick. Not really. But it doesn’t matter. No amount of sense can stop the shaking, the racing heart, the thoughts that spin into endless, vicious circles. It has been eight years of hiding, of fighting. Pacing, digging my finger nails into my palms to steady my thoughts, using pain as a focus. Years of barely making it. The last two have been marked by changes. It is getting better. I’ve broken some of the habits I formed. The circles. But it’s hard. A daily fight. So when Boreal calls to tell me that he is in the hospital because he’s been having heart palpitations I hold my breath. I listen to his symptoms, his thoughts and I recognize it. Recognize the patterns of self destruction. When he calls back later he sounds relieved.
“So I know what’s wrong.” He says. “It’s anxiety. I’m in the same boat as you.” When I hang up I sit down. I start to cry. No, I think, no, not him. I live like that. I know what he will face, because I’ve faced it. It won’t be the same forever. It changes. But I never want anyone to go through what I went through, and most of all not my brother. I know it’s not all dark. He will smile, laugh.
I’m so much better at letting go now and yet make the same mistakes, same choices. I say I want to be free while I turn the key in the lock. It’s hard to stop before it happens, but sometimes I do, sometimes it is better. I smile, laugh. I do the things I want to do. I sleep and wake up and sometimes I have moments of clear, perfect, blue sky. An unbroken and peaceful ride.
Demeter Vaisius is a young woman living in Morden, a town in rural Manitoba. She has been writing about her experiences with fear, sexuality, gender identity and religious intolerance since she began to encounter them as a teen. Demeter has been published in the local newspapers as well as the Winnipeg Free Press. She hopes to one day become a voice in the larger writing community while learning from authors and engaging with readers.