Self Portrait in the Time of Disaster : After Deborah Paridez

By Billie Yarrow

When I sit on the sofa at my son’s Psychologist 

heavy fabric tight across my face 

my feet barely grazing the lino 

I wonder how long it’s been since I last 

sanitised my hands. 

I have this friend who loves to drop in unannounced 

no text no phone call no email or DM 

they stay well past their welcome, even 

when it’s obvious 

I’m in the middle of something 

the children are crying, 

it’s past bedtime 

I’m running late for an appointment 

for school 

I have shit to do, okay? 

Whenever they’re here 

there’s that awkward moment when they hug me. 

their arms wrapped too tightly and they do that thing, 

where the hug is over, at least I think it is, 

but they 

hold on. 

I can’t breathe. 

I try to focus on what he’s saying 

The psychologist. 

My bare-faced son sinks into the sofa beside me, 

does his best to disappear. 

Take me with you. 

My clammy fingers grip the sides of my cloth covered nose 

slide the too thick fabric to its rightful resting place 

No, not there 

I tug at my chin my nose my chin again 

when I finally find the sweet spot I 

wonder if the straps will leave a mark 

I stopped listening two sentences ago 

so I smile and nod 

pick apart the words I remember 

throw them together 

into something that might be 

what he said. 

That hug again. 

The too long grip that won’t go. 

My breath comes in shallow. Swallows me 


Two days later, 

I adjust the breath damp fabric covering my face 

stumble over my words 

lips dry distracted. 

My psychologist asks, would it help 

if I could take it off? 


This piece was shortlisted in the 2021 mindshare Awards, presented by mindshare, Writers SA, Access2Arts, and the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia. More info here

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