The world was churning, churning, churning. Not the real world, but the world in my mind. The world where things appeared a thousand times more grotesque than they really were, the world where every thought latched itself onto the previous one, until my every thought became one more bar in nightmarish prison of my mind.

My rapid inhalations made my teeth tingle and I wanted so badly to shut my eyes—tightly, tightly, tightly—but that would only accelerate the construction of the iron bars of my mental prison.

So many things to do, do, do. So many people to see, see, see. Places to go. Go, go, go. That’s what the blinking cursor on my blank Word document was cackling at me.

What did I have to say about the Mayans, when I hadn’t done the readings for this class for weeks, because I couldn’t keep my eyes open; when I hadn’t been to a lecture since the first week of classes because most days I couldn’t bear to get out of bed. Even if I had been a proper student, how could I possibly focus on the significance of Mayan culture in modern Mexican society if I had to do the dishes, walk the dog, polish my résumé, call my mother to ask how her chemo was going, going, going.

With every blink of the cursor, my thoughts churned faster, more powerfully, until they were a whirlpool of panic. I sighed shortly and slammed my laptop shut, holding my face in my hands. I was too exhausted to cry, so my shoulders shook and my throat rasped dry exhalations.

My roommate, Candace, looked up from her bed, where she was watching Netflix on her laptop. She pulled an earbud out, asking me what was up. I began to tell her about the churning, the prison, the Mayans, the dishes, the chemo.

“I’ll do the dishes,” she said placidly.

“It’s my day to do them.”

“So? I’ll do them.”

“You’ll do them.” Do them, do them. I bit my tongue to hold back the echoing utterances. So hard that I drew blood, blood, blood.

“Hey, um, John and me are going on the roof tonight. He’s supposed to be here in just a couple minutes, actually. Come with us.”

I protested—I couldn’t bear to third-wheel. I felt lonely enough, just being inside my own skin.

But John did come over just a couple minutes later, and he and Candace literally dragged me out onto the walkway outside our apartment. The crisp autumn air embrittled the iron bars of my mind and the whirlpool slowed a little. I was able to climb onto the roof by myself, tightly gripping the cool metal railings. The gravelly rooftop crunched satisfyingly under my Chuck Taylors. The faint, syrupy scent of weed mingled with the underwhelming dusty smell of autumn air. The night was quiet, save a siren wailing somewhere in the distance.

But the crunching, the smells, the quiet of the night—none of that stilled the ceaseless churning of my mind. It was the twinkling, twinkling, twinkling. Not of the stars above, but of the little amber dots as they blinked across the Bay Bridge. The cars were all kinds, I imagined—little Coopers, big semis. But from that rooftop, they all seemed so small and slow.

Small and slow. Small and slow. Small and slow.

— Elise Cox, BFR Staff

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