Until the Glass Breaks
by Hannah Madonna
I’m watching the world go by, my hands pressed to the glass, my breath fogging it up as I peer out at the rush of life moving by without me. I thought it would be better to be safe, to be shut away in my own bubble, apart from the rest of the world. The colors are muted now, and the voices are soft, and I can’t feel anything, not really, not apart from the dull, constant ache that has the same shape as loneliness.
Sometimes numbness is preferable to pain. Sometimes the feeling of dullness, of being tired and limp and boring, is easier to force into your life. Because that’s what you have to do, at first. You force it. You ball your feelings tight in your fist and shove them down your throat, to the bare, dark bottom of your belly, where they can’t hurt you. Where you can forget they ever existed. I thought that was what I wanted.
But seeing the rest of the world—knowing that there is, in fact, a rest of the world—makes every moment of bland, static numbness fill my lungs like dust. I’m choking on stale air, half-asleep, dying by inches in a little globe tucked away in the corner where no one thinks to check anymore. What would it be like to feel something, I wonder.
I strip down and step into a room full of steam, ready to wash away all the dust, the water hitting the shower tiles in a soft, gushing patter. The water is hot. It’s so hot it burns me, and after a minute or two of standing there, I start to notice. I feel, I feel, I feel, I scream in my head, my lip between my teeth, crouching down low as I let the water pour down my bare back. All the dust built up sloughs off me, and my pale skin turns red like the shell of a lobster, and I stay there under the water until I cannot stand it a second longer, until I am bare and new and raw.
What a strange, horrible relief it is to feel again.
Now I can feel everything. I’m not protected anymore, and eventually I have to go out into the world I’ve spent so long watching. Something churns in my belly, and a roiling acidic wave creeps up my throat, climbing with tiny, grasping claws. Nausea sits like a boulder inside me.
I feel everything.
Every noise scrapes against me, and my ears ring as I hear a hundred little things all at once. I wince and try to ignore it. The world is too bright now, the film over my eyes gone, every color bright and garish and burning.
I had been so hungry for connection I had missed the world and all the people in it. But now there are people everywhere and without the wooly barriers around me I’m an untethered string, buffeted by their movement and their breath and their noise.
Everyone has a field that surrounds them, an energy. Some people thrive on it, feeding off other people’s energies, mixing with them, talking, collaborating, just existing around the mass of warm bodies in a thrilling, electric symbiosis. Some people—overwhelmed with the shock and buzz of humanity—run into that energy and lose a huge, vital bit of their own. I run into that energy, a cloud with sharp edges, and I start to bleed. I am bare and new and raw, and I am in pain, I am split open, I am walking through air made of sharp, jagged glass, and every moment I am aware is another tiny slice through me. I feel foolish to have left the soft parts of me so exposed.
But this is better, isn’t it? Better than the nothing before?
I sink down onto the ground, small and scared and ready to grab all my feelings and force them back down again. But then. Someone comes up to me and I feel sick and elated. “Are you all right?” they ask, and I look behind me, see the bloody footprints trailing after me. I wait for a comment, an admonishment, but it never comes. They can’t see the tiny cuts all over me at all. Oh, I’m fine, I lie. I’m okay.
They believe me.
I’m waiting for them to go, waiting to be alone, waiting to crawl through the broken-glass world back to my safe, solitary bubble. But a hand touches my shoulder. I recoil, but the hand is attached to a soft, easy smile. “Need help getting up?”
I let them pull me to my feet. Our hands are clasped and it’s hot and awful and so much skin—but that heat seeps over me, spreads through me and covers me like armor. I look at the hand in mine and at the person, the friend, beside me. There’s another little slice but this time I ignore it. I take a step, and feel the sharp edges recede until there is just a scuff, a rasp, a jagged brush against me but the skin doesn’t break.
The hand lets go and I breathe. The new, shiny skin starts to scab over.
Hannah Madonna spends her days working as a reference librarian and spends as much of her free time writing as possible. She talks about anxiety, her cats, and her forthcoming work @hannahwritegood.