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A House, Not a Home

by Alex Nova 3 days ago in anxiety

hypervigilant childhood

Silence is deafening. I listened to the quiet, snuggled under my covers, ignoring the sweat dripping down my body. The soft breaths of my little sister above me came out of her like a wisp of air in her sleep as she slept deeply although not peacefully. I reached up to the base boards of her bed, lightly running my fingers along the wood so as not to get a splinter. The hum of the fridge in the kitchen was deafening, it hurt my ears in the silence of the house.

The creak of a bed on the upper floor drew my attention as my body tensed, my heart racing. My breath softened as I concentrated on the slight noises in the bedroom above me; two feet hit the floor, creaking the weathered floorboards above. It was getting hard to breathe, my inhales were not bringing enough air into my lungs, but I didn't dare try to draw a deep breath.

"Just go to the bathroom, the bathroom, the bathroom," my thoughts were racing quickly, preparing for what I could and hoping for the best although expecting the worst. I didn't need to worry yet, all was quiet again on the floor above. I heard the telltale flush of the toilet and its accompanying harmony of the running water in the sink. I felt my body relax into my mattress, although my heart was still racing and it was difficult to bring in more air.

"Heavy footsteps on the stairs," my mind rationalized and my body complied as it stiffened and grew silent. I heard her cross the dining room and wander down the hall towards my bedroom. Her footfalls were distinctive, marked by a heavy tread of someone in control. However, she was clumsy tonight. I heard a profanity slip from her lips, and then she was in my doorway.

I forced myself to relax and mimicked the soft breaths of my little sister above. The semi darkness disguised her vision of my face, the harsh light from the hallway falling into the middle of the room, crossing over my legs and feet hidden beneath the blankets. She leaned against the door frame, heavy breaths were pulled from her as she struggled to breathe.

"You awake?" I didn't answer, terror sealing my lips shut and my body stiffening. Another word slipped from her mouth, she had regained her breath. She ventured into the room, leaning above me in my bed in order to stare into my eyes. My eyes were shut, softly, as though I was still asleep, but the distinctive smell of alcohol came off of her as if she was sweating it.

She reached for my arm, "Yes I'm awake," I whispered, terrified to let her touch me but too stubborn to allow her to wake my sister. "Up." I obeyed, silently placing my feet on the ground and following her through the doorway into the light of the hall.

"Well, we are both insomniacs, we aren't too different you and I," she smirked and though my stomach tightened, I nodded in agreement. "Let's sit and talk." She motioned to the chairs in the dining room, taking a seat at the table still filled with the dishes from dinner. "Make me some tea, will you?" A command phrased as a question. However, I complied, my mind numb, and a voice that was not my own responded with a cheery "no problem!"

As I prepared the tea, she started rambling, not completely following a single train of thought and requiring the occasional response of affirmation which I readily supplied. My body craved sleep, a wave of exhaustion running through me like a chill. My eyes were burning, but my mind was sharp although unfocused.

"You aren't even listening to me." The tone change made my heart race, my body stiffening at her words. I replied quickly, summing up her last few sentences. "You're talking about training plans for track since it starts up next week." "Yeah, I'm talking, you aren't responding." Her tone was raised, screeched more than spoken, enough to wake up my siblings. I tried to speak but her words flooded over me like an angry merciless torrent of water.

My mind adapted to the flow, ebbing along with it, picking out nothing of consequence from the screaming. She walked towards me down the hall as I had walked slowly out of the kitchen towards the bathroom beside my bedroom, and her hands were in fists. I just watched, allowing her anger to pour over but not in me, separating myself from where I was and traveling to the part of my mind that no one but me could ever access.

I was there when I heard the shatter of glass as her fist went through the middle of the bathroom mirror. She screamed a few more profanities as she tread back to her upstairs bedroom where my father lay waiting. I reconnected to my world, my eyes traveling over the shards of the mirror that lay broken in pieces scattered across the floor and counters of the bathroom.

A million versions of me stared back in the shattered pieces that lay on the floor. In each I saw a different day, a different memory, more moments of terror and despair. My eyes were burning, threatening to release the tears I always fought back, and I drew in a deep breath to steady myself. The images in the shards of the mirror disappeared, leaving me once again in a lonely bathroom marked with holes in the walls.

I gathered my bearings and squatted down to pick up the pieces strewn across the floor and counters. I piled them in my hand, barely noticing the blood that slowly began to drip down my arms. I threw away the last load of shattered glass into the kitchen trash and wandered back to the bathroom with a broom.

Under the counter, I found one more sharp shard of glass, hidden by the cabinets. I stared at it in my hands, gazing into the versions of me that could have existed. The worlds I had built so many times in my head played out like a record before my eyes in the shard of glass. Happy worlds, beautiful things, or the happiness I had once believed I could achieve.

I couldn't take it anymore. I raised the shard of glass to the base of my neck, the edges cutting into my palms, and just barely grazing through the first layer of skin on my neck. I squatted there for an unknown period of time when a soft voice interrupted the emptiness of my mind.

"I'm scared." I quickly hid the shard in my fist, rising slowly and turning to look upon the pale tear stained face of my little sister. "Hey, it's all good, I cleaned it up and nobody is hurt." She looked in my eyes, at the face which I had once again replaced with a mask, a different one than before. I beckoned her towards me with my other hand and enveloped her in my arms. "It's gonna be alright, we just have to hang in there, okay?" Although she was sobbing silently into my stomach, I felt her nod. My mind was racing as I slipped the shard into the back pocket of my pajama pants and wiped the blood on the inside of the back of my shirt, hiding all evidence of my moment.

"I love you, you know that, right?" She straightened up out of my arms, nodding, her tears still silently rolling down her cheeks. I grabbed the end of the towel, dampened it in the sink, and patted the tears away and dried them with the other end. "Let's go back to sleep, okay?" She responded, her voice still swollen from crying with a soft okay. As I tucked her back into bed, I removed the shard from my pocket and laid back down in my own after hiding it underneath the mattress. "We are gonna be okay." My mind repeated my words, as if taunting me. I allowed myself to disconnect, allowed admittance once again into the bliss of my mind's own safe space.

anxiety

Alex Nova

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