Well. Maybe not. But somewhere in my mind, I can't quite convince myself. So instead of spiraling, I shove the panic away. I prepare.
But can you really be ready for something you can't predict?
Once, I felt like death was more of an abstract idea than something that was real. Something that could affect me. The universe soon assured me that it could, smirking at my innocence.
My dad was young. And he was in great health, until he wasn't. Until words like 'heart attack' and 'blocked arteries' were flying over my head, and all I could do was stare at him in the hospital bed, hooked up to beeping machines and more vulnerable than a daughter should ever have to see.
I won't bore you with details. I don't understand most of it myself. But after ninety minutes, your chances of surviving plummet. In case you're wondering.
It's just, people will say that someone can never leave us if we remember them. I heard that a lot in the days afterwards. But all that I could think was that that was stupid, because eventually, I would die too. And so would everyone. And therefore, so would the memory. Someday, there wouldn't be a soul in the world who knew that I'd had a Corgi named Sasuke and that my favorite cereal was Lucky Charms. Someday, sometime, I would cease to exist. All the memories I'd ever made, all the A's on science tests and crappy art projects, would disappear, lost to the cycle.
What scared me was that I had no control over what day that would be. What hour, what fleeting second. Humans were just smart enough to understand this, to know that it was coming. I envied Sasuke, who had no idea of what was to come. The saying 'ignorance is bliss' is horribly true. Knowledge is pain. And while I know that, while it's always floating somewhere in the back of my mind, I can't stop myself. Can't stop my mind from wandering, can't freeze my fingers on my phone screen as I scroll frantically through the news, my chest rising and falling too fast, my eyes flicking across headlines. Shootings, nuclear bombs, terrorism. Starvation, global warming, AI control, while I curled into a ball, wide eyes reflecting the text on the screen. News that sent me into a spiral instantly were shootings. Because they seemed so... realistic. So horribly possible.
I shove the thoughts away, but even the mention of one has me fighting back a panic attack, breathing
"It won't happen it won't happen-" Over and over again. Even now, scrawling this in a notebook, I'm picturing it. A popping sound in the hallway, confused voices turning to screams.
To my therapist, if you're reading this, I'm doing this for you. Writing it out. You said it would help, in your calm, therapist-y voice. I sometimes wonder if you had to work on that voice or if it's just natural. Either way, I don't know if it's working. I don't know if it will. But I'm trying.
I, apparently, have generalized anxiety disorder, which means that I feel excessive and/or unrealistic worry for no reason. I disagree. I think I have plenty of reason to be worried. After all, look at the screwed up world we live in. But Kaede says that sort of thinking is what sends me into a spiral.
After my mom found me, gasping, curled up in the smothering silence of my closet, she took me to see Kaede. Or "Doctor Morton", if you prefer, which she doesn't. Kaede prescribed anti-anxiety medications and told my mom to keep me off the internet. She also said that at least ten minutes of strenuous exercise a day would help. I threw myself at that, taking Krav Maga lessons on Saturdays, giving myself routines to do at home, when my mind got too restless. I fought back against the waves of panic that twitched in my head, and I got better. I knew what would set me off, was able to feel when it was coming on. There were still bad days though, days when the medicine only helped outwardly, days when I saw death in everything.
My brain would sneer as I forced myself into another sit-up, telling myself it would be the last and then going for another.
This is the last one. Last one.
My mind was laughing at me.
I sit up, adjusting my earbuds, rolling into a plank position. I sucked in a breath, gritting my teeth against the barrage. Falling into a plank, I hold it for as long as I can before collapsing onto the bed. I was staring out my window, fingers twitching against my leg when Willa appeared in the doorway, peering in at me.
"Hi." I said, removing one earbud. She grinned at me, showing off the gaps in her smile where teeth were just poking in. Willa was seven, but she could easily pass as five. She was tiny, delicate in every way. It was incredibly endearing, and I had a sneaking suspicion that she knew it.
"Dinner time." she said, shoving herself onto the bed and crossing her ankles. I nodded, but didn't move.
"That means you should get up." she said. When I still didn't move, she added dryly, “To eat."
I snorted, swinging my legs over the side of the bed.
"Since when are you so sassy, Wilhelmina?" She shrugged a shoulder, hopping off the bed.
"I learned from the best!" she called as she ran out of the room, snickering.
I shook my head as I followed after. People said that we looked like twins, Willa and I, which I always said was unfair, because I was the original.
"She's just the carbon copy." I said, squinting at her. She scrunched her nose up at me, shaking her head.
"Not true!" She yelled, and I grinned. We looked so much alike that, especially in baby photos, you could hardly tell us apart. Except, she was always the one smiling.
Even though Willa and I were almost nine years apart, we went to the same school. In a district as tiny as ours, the grades were all smashed into one huge campus, wings slapped on haphazardly. The sophomore wing was along the east end, the 2nd grade hall separated from it by the cafeteria. Because of this, I didn't see her until the end of the day, when I'd collect her from her classroom and take us both home in my sputtering 2007 Toyota, both of us in the front seats, her feet dangling.
We'd get home, leaving a trail of coats and shoes down the hall, and she'd cajole me into making her a snack. Then, if I'd had an especially good day, she'd give me a sad look, widening her eyes at me until I agreed to play My Little Pony with her. She'd rush to her room, grab her favorites, Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, and kneel on the carpet as she pranced them along the windowsill, her voice high to mimic pony voices.
"Here." She'd shove one my way, voice demanding. "They're about to battle King Sombra, and you need to swoop in and save the day."
"Swoop in?" I'd ask, feigning confusion as I peered at the toy from all angles. "How do I swoop in?"
"With your wings!" she'd say, giving me a look that suggested I was supremely disappointing.
"Oh, of course." I said, nodding. She'd grin, then go back to her battle, gaze narrowing, focused, as she lowered her voice to match King Sombra's, bouncing the figures up and down as they spoke. The situation would turn desperate, Rainbow Dash getting hit in the foot- or, hoof- and falling with a cry, Twilight Sparkle dodging a direct hit but getting singed, ruining her beautiful horse-do. I cracked up when Willa yelled ‘horse-do’ with such indignation, Twilight Sparkle trembling in her hands.
My worries evaporated in those moments, pushed out by bad horse jokes and laughter. Willa, without trying, did more for me than a week of therapy could. Sorry, Kaede, since I know you're going to read this. But sometimes the hardest things need to be faced with someone special. Sometimes all you need is My Little Pony to be brave.