An excerpt from the new book I’m working on:
You are dying. We are driving home from a car dealership in a nearby town, when suddenly- your leg starts to thump, that’s how I know. It’s my signal, my auditory cue. The thumping starts slowly and softly at first, like a slow clap. Your body begins to rock, slightly. Streetlights click on around us and the orange of the sunset dims to pink. We are in the dark.
“You need to get me home,” you say.
“I know, I know,” I answer and press down on the gas pedal.
But my acceleration and half-hearted assurances cannot stop the madness in your veins. The streetlights are streaks now as I speed down Route Six and into Scranton.
“Please, please, get me home, I need to go home.”
“I’m trying, Babe, I’m trying,” I say.
I reach out for you and you pull. You cling to me like I am air. It becomes hard to drive, and I think about pulling over against the blackness of the woods lining the shoulder, but time is of the essence and I know I need to go on. We need to move forward.
“I’m dying, I’m dying, please help me.” Four years earlier, this phrase would have alarmed me, sent me into a panic as well, but I’m becoming familiar with your death, and I react like a woman who has left something in the oven too long.
“You’re not dying honey, you’re not. It will be okay, I’m getting you home. Close your eyes, take a breath.”
Amazingly, you attempt this.
“I can’t,” you snap, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
It’s either the heart or the head, always, a heart attack or a brain tumor, I prepare for both.
“Here, let me check.” I slide my right hand across the fabric of your shirt. My touch is magical, it calms you. The thumping slows, the pumping of your blood under my palm is the only sound in the world right now.
“One, two, three,” I count aloud as the car wisps around darkening corners.
This is our song, the thumping, the push of blood against arterial walls, the rush of your breath, the hush of my voice. This is the rhythm of us, the melody between us.
There was a time when I thought our song was Heaven, by Bryan Adams. We made out to it in the back seat of your friend’s car about a week after we started dating. You pushed your tongue hard into my mouth and cupped my face with your large hands. It was early spring, and the windows fogged easily. A boy had never kissed me like that before, with such desperation. But the song disintegrated quickly, and we forgot the heat of that night. Now, our song is medicinal, born out of fear and need, much like the story of us.
“Seventy-four,” I land on a final number as the headlights swipe across the front of our apartment building. We are home and your heart rate is normal.
Later that night, we curl into bed together, a rarity in our lives. But your panic has been especially bad in the weeks and months following the terror attacks, and you’ve needed me, even at night. For a long time after the towers fell, we watched together as the news channels played an endless loop of horror: planes into towers, towers disintegrating into dust, people running from dust, a plume of smoke and dust rising from the belly of Manhattan. That’s what I remember the most: the dust. But these images bother you. The worst part is the falling, you tell me one night while we are wrapped together in bed. My hand still covering the space where I believe your heart to be. Those people jumping, that is the worst. Your heart quickens and the room darkens around us. Now, we watch old game shows to calm your panic. Your heart is slow and steady like the dripping of a faucet, and I lay pressed against you like a dam.
“I’m so sorry,” you whisper one night and pull my arms around you.
“For being so fucked up.”
“You’re not fucked up,” I whisper, “you’re perfect.”
Did I really say that? If I didn’t, I’m sorry, I should have. The jumping bothered everyone. I should have said that too.