Everything was orange. The entire night glowed with the light from the street lights. The shadows were long and opaque stretching over the concrete sea across from the football stadium. It was if we were the only car in the parking lot. Yet, we were surrounded by dingy Civics and hatchbacks stuffed, to their torn headliners, of personal belongings - backpacks, plastic bins for organization, homework. The seats inside her all black 2002 Toyota Tocoma were grey with little blue and red pinstripes. There was nothing particularly flashy about the little truck. It had four doors, all worked accordingly. The seats were used but not torn or dirty - except for the cigarette hole in the passenger-side backseat. I am still unsure how it got there, whatever memory responsible for creating that blemish had been forgotten since I had entered her world. We both shared the front-right seat. Half cuddling, half crammed between the opposing armrests, the window, the center console, and the glovebox. This was not a space built for two people. Her head was nested in that little pocket between my arm, shoulder, and chest. In those moments we felt like the only people in the world. That moment felt eternal. Time was neither happening nor had happened. We simply sat there and endured.
It was quiet, but it was not peaceful. It was as if observing a Haitian earthquake through a soundproof building, set aside on foundation that will feel the effects of the shifting plates, and in the end will simply leave with the memory of the event. Free from the calamity of physical destruction that such a natural disaster brings. Free from the floods and debris that crowd the streets. Free from the cloud of dust and rubble destined to follow that fill the sky and blot out the sun. Free from starvation, darkness. Fee from the war zone that is the city, that reaches its way into the future; beaten, bludgeoned, and devoured from nature’s destruction. No, you do not have to experience any of it. You are separate. You are not the earthquake, but neither are you the relief. You bring little comfort. You simply walk about the remains, touching what life you can, wishing that you could share in the pain because the feeling of being totally alien troubles your soul. But, you have no reference. No empathy. No ability to comprehend the memories shattered; the holes gouged out of the center of her being. There are no shared experiences that could have prepared you for something like this! You have no recollection of weight so heavy you feel as if your very heart could be crushed simply in the act of breathing. You have never felt the entirety of your being try to claw its way out of your esophagus only to be dragged back into the void without so much as a yelp. You cannot comprehend what she is feeling. You can’t and never will. So, you sit.
First, her breathing changed. Nothing major. You don’t notice, but over the next several years you will grow increasingly sensitive to such subtle changes in the wind, for example: the length of individual breaths. It is initially negligible, like how the tide creeps across the shore. Each breath becomes sharper. They don’t taper like normal. There isn’t the gentle intake of atmosphere into the lungs, nor the delicate release of space back into the world, but rather a sort of staccato. As if a harsh close to each and every furtherment of life. The gaps between such attempts shorten. Each breath brings less and less oxygen with it, so more breaths are needed. As the time between breaths decreases, so does the duration. Eventually the need to inhale overlaps the attempts to do so and it is as if she is not breathing at all. At least her mind believes so. The fear for oxygen becomes palpable. Her blood races through her cardiovascular system. Her red blood cells do all they can to bring the little oxygen they carry to her fingertips, hands, toes, chest, heart... Her lips turn blue. He pupils dilate. Her fear rises. The constant rush-hour coursing through her capillaries builds in temperature. You can feel it in your hands. Her skin grows hot and flushes. It is as if she is beneath a heat lamp but it is just you and her in a parking lot, at a college. It is a Tuesday. Nothing spectacular has happened. You are just sitting in a truck, in a parking lot, in Florida. While the sweat builds on her upper lip. Her forehead is beaded with stress. You are sweating now too. You ask her “are you okay?” “what can I do for you?” She doesn’t respond. No, she can’t. At this point, as some sick joke or defense mechanism her brain has left her body totally alone. She is not here anymore. She is gone. She has hidden the most precious parts of herself somewhere far away in a distant reality; some alternate dimension dreamed up in science fiction where she can control her lungs, and her blood isn’t boiling, and her head doesn’t hurt, and her body is under her control. She will not remember this. And then, as the love of your life lay in your arms, not lifeless - no, lifelessness will come, but not yet; right now, she is still very much alive - the earthquake begins.
It is odd, as destructive as earthquakes may be, they are not violent. They are almost elegant. You can feel the rumble beneath your feet but cannot pinpoint its origin. You cannot point to an earthquake, nor bottle it. You cannot drive to them, go see them, or touch them. You see how the world and its inhabitants react. The earth simply wobbles and we come falling down. She begins with a foreshock. A subtle twitch in her leg. Her breathing has slowed, but the heat beneath her skin continues to rise. The twitch could be mistaken for a neurological misfire whilst sleeping. If it were the case you would be pleased for she would have finally found rest after this internal natural phenomenon. But, to believe such would be a heartbreaking misdirection. Another spasm in her hand. Her body knows this drill. It does not like it. Her fingernails dig into your arm. She holds your right hand still from before the onset of cortisol in her veins. Her hand tightens around your knuckles. Both your arm and hand are in pain from both her appendages coping with the terror in her bones, but you obviously cannot wince or retreat. In comparison, how are you to complain? Her teeth start to grind. Her jaw clicks as she rubs the enamel off her molars. She furrows her brow, and the crows feet from her eyes jet out from their corners as she lets out a painful whimper. Barely audible, but human nonetheless. She hurts. A tremor shimmies across her entire skeleton. Just for a moment the entirety of her shudders. It stops. Then another. Her bones transform into an orchestra. They all vibrate at once. The melody has no rhythm. Individual instruments buzzing, humming, and crashing on different counts. The band erupts and continues, and continues, and continues. She lays there shaking from the inside. Wincing and groaning. There is little blood left in your own hand from the grasp she has on it. Her fingernails have now left indents on your arm and show little sign of retreating. Sweat has accumulated all over her body. Her shirt is damp. You are terrified. Do you call 9-1-1? Is this normal? What is even happening? How often does this happen to her? Do her friends know? Do her parents know? Does anyone know what the hell is happening!? You contemplate how to proceed as she continues to shake and convulse in your lap. You can see it is tortuous for her. Her muscles are growing weary of the strain. What started as psychologically driven tremors, by your estimation have now turned into physiologically driven cramps and spasms from pure exhaustion caused by the event. You wonder how her body could take much more? What happens when it can’t take anymore? What exists at the connection of an immovable object like complete and total exhaustion, and an unstoppable force such as whatever the hell is causing this? What happens if it doesn’t stop? Does she die? Does she simply cease to exist? If her muscles can no longer contract, and her lungs fail to breathe, and her mind can no longer protect her from this pain, and she can no longer keep these events contained to isolation and her control is lost forever, will this human being in your lap die? She believes so. . . Then it stops. All at once. As if it never began. All the air escapes her lungs slowly but completely. Her chest is flattened. Her weight sinks lower into you. Her hand, which moments ago was cinched around your snow white knuckles, releases all of its tension at once. The finger nails dug in your forearm slide out of their self-made crevacess. It would not be incorrect to say it felt as if in that moment all life left her body. The only indication that a person’s soul was still housed inside of this corpse depleted of all energy and resource was but a soft breeze that occasionally escaped her small nostrils. She was asleep. Or, as you would later learn - unconscious. And these states of being are very different.