By Sara Cavaiuolo
I feel like I am made of glass and things that shatter. Maybe not glass. Sugar glass. The kind that they use on television that shatters but that does not pierce. I know that I am okay and that my anxieties are not real. I know that is unlikely to be real. I know that it could be real. There are two people and one is very convinced.
I have found a lot of new fears over the past few months. People are calling it “these times”. I think it sounds too dramatic but also not dramatic enough. I am not sure. I sit inside and dig holes in webpages. I am now terrified of alkaline burns. You can be burned by them without even knowing it. Acid burns upon skin contact. Alkaline takes its time to reach you. It can slowly seep deep into your skin and only show signs of its being there hours after. I checked my left hand against my right every couple of hours. Looking for which patches are redder or whiter or more or less raised. I thought I may have a splinter on my left index finger. I thought that the splinter was raised. I monitored. I told myself that if it was gone by tomorrow morning that I would be ok. I am terrified of choking to death. It is the fourth most common way to die by accident. I stopped eating almonds and calamari and red meat. I am terrified of being allergic to an airborne chemical. I imagined my throat closing up like a mid-morning infomercial for a vacuum sealing machine. Or of suddenly developing an allergy to shellfish. I tell myself that this is unlikely. Though it happened to my mum’s cousin from Perth. He was on a business meeting, eating undercooked prawn cocktail. Now he has to wear a medical bracelet around his wrist and a medical chain around his neck. I remember him showing me these when I was ten and thinking they were cool in the same way that a cast from a broken arm is cool.
There is something hanging the way dead things hang in an afternoon broadcast of a western film. I am first scared. I am second terrified. I am third scared. I am mostly always tired. At the start of “these times,” everyone in the desks at my school gathered in a circle, one meter apart, and discussed our symptoms. One had a cold and one had hay fever and one was hungover. Each and every one of us thought though, that it might be, could be, maybe, what if it is that? We feel better that we were not alone but there was also a distinct mutual distrust. Each of us was aware of our parameters; the physical space bordered by our skin, and we did not cross them.
I think in all of this I have lost my empathy. It’s not that I don’t care. I just can’t get past my own fingertips. I checked my right hand against my left hand. They were not the same; different freckles and mosquito bite scars and redder and whiter patches. I know the front of them like I know the back of them. Moving past them is difficult but not impossible. There are two people and one is slightly more convinced. It is enough to sprinkle one teaspoon of brown sugar into two cups of black tea that my housemate and I drink each night watching the last light through the living room windows.