space feels like water, usually. more accurately, space feels like part of me. the inside of my chest seems to act like an echo chamber of sorts: it catches even the slightest vibrations in the air and magnifies them. but at the same time, space also feels like cloth. layers and layers of it. sometimes it moves and i move with it. sometimes i move and it moves with me.
i remember being small and having to ask someone at our local deli for macaroni and cheese. i spoke too quietly, and they couldn’t hear me. there’s always this feeling (still now) in the moments before i know i have to try to speak louder, where my head and ears hurt, because they know i have to rip all this soft fabric open with my voice.
and then there are times when the fabric is so tight it suffocates, when it becomes restrictive. loud voices, and eyes watching and feet tapping and pressing expectations covering my mouth. then i scream and the world tears open around me, air flows in and i run to it, free and cold and alone.
at some point in my childhood (probably around puberty, maybe even earlier), i learned that it was not acceptable to break open space for yourself, even space was suffocating you. “there’s no reason to have a temper tantrum” people would say, “we’re not asking you to do anything unreasonable.” air is not fabric, they would say. you can still breathe. you’re just making yourself feel that way. you’re throwing a fit.
i was a logical child, and could extrapolate just fine: if the space around me wasn’t what was making me feel like i was being buried alive, it must be me. i must be not letting the air in. so i learned to tear myself apart in my head.
there are lots of stories from my life (so far) that are really about me and spaces. even ones that seem unrelated are actually about that.
like the many times during my adolescence and young adulthood when i would punish myself for being irresponsible by not allowing myself to buy any food. i actually could not physically do it; when it was my fault that i was hungry (because i forgot to go to dinner, because i spent money on something else, because i couldn’t sit in the dining hall because it was too loud, etc.) asking for more money, or borrowing it from someone else, or asking for someone else’s food…all that is tearing the fabric. it’s irresponsible. it makes no sense. it’s being selfish. going hungry because i made a mistake, on the other hand, made perfect sense. i was taking responsibility for what i did. i was conditioning myself to not make the mistake again.
and the conversations with adults. those ones. where they’re talking to you and telling you about things you need to do or responsibilities you need to take care of. and you can feel with every word like you’re in water, and a weight is pulling you down further and further. your voice is muffled because you know that what they’re saying isn’t bad. it isn’t wrong. it’s normal. they just want you to do normal things. be a normal person. they’re being perfectly reasonable. so you pretend like you aren’t drowning. like the air around you isn’t being wrapped, tighter and tighter, around your body.
i’m learning to break things other than myself again. learning that my world is real. that i make sense. that needing to tear things apart to breathe sometimes doesn’t make me a bad person. that maybe, making a space for myself makes space for others like me.
i’ll be a kid again, but this time, i won’t need to be cold and alone to feel free.
I’m six, and wearing my favorite blue dress with long sleeves (it was soft cotton and amazing) and my dolphin necklace. I’m sitting in a weird hammock chair in a beach-house my extended family used to rent for vacation.