Hypervigilance

I am lying in the back of an ambulance staring out the back window. Every time I feel our vehicle lurch to a stop, I stare intently at the cars behind us, willing them to stop. “Don’t hit us,” I think. It’s such an intense desire that I’m not sure if I’m saying it aloud or not.

Beside me is a paramedic, a guy perhaps 5 years older than me. He has sandy brown hair, a bit pudgy but otherwise nondescript. I wouldn’t even remember him except that by cruel coincidence I’ve met him before. D was also the residential advisor the night that I overdosed on uppers at the dorm, the one who advised my friends that the emergency room should be my next stop. It’s 6 months later, we’re heading to a different hospital 2 hours away, one of those swanky coastal ones where trust fund babies go to dry up on mom and dad’s dime. There’s no reason that D should be involved again, in this other capacity.

But that’s how small towns go. In another year, I will be sitting across the table from D playing cards with a group of friends. D will turn out to be best friends with the older brother of the next guy I date. I’m glad I don’t know this now, lying in the ambulance. It’s bad enough that D has seen me fall apart twice, once under the influence of too many drugs and then again from not enough sleep. The third time will be brutal. At that game night, I will see D’s eyes startle wide when he spots me, the microexpression that signals “it’s that psycho bitch again.”

I will feel in that moment like I did in the back of that ambulance, trying desperately to stop the cars with my mind. I know that it is my job to keep everyone safe and to keep myself held together. And I know that the minute I stop watching I will fall apart and everything will go horribly wrong.

At the swanky hospital, four nurses hold me down and push the long, long needle into my gluteus. The intramuscular medicine crashes down on me, and the lights go out precipitously. It is the first time I’ve slept deeply in 10 days.

My watch is over. I sleep for a full 24 hours and dream of my death and reincarnation. I dream of my birth and rebirth. I know there are stars in my bones and dust in my skin.  I accept my death as fact and do not expect to wake.

*

Except I do wake. And I have lived 15 years past, never feeling like any of this is quite real.

The city only amplifies it. I am faceless here. I get to start over, free of the old mistakes that follow you around like a miasma in smaller towns. Here I am a friendly ghost, whose history is only about 5 years old.

The city roils with too much stimulation, too much chaos. It drains me of so much ability to focus that I can’t muster the stress in response to all of the uncertainty. The other cars will have to stop on their own. I can barely stop myself.

You will have to fend for yourselves.

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