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September 13th, 2013 - Sarah Elgatian

You wake up to an alarm, a pop song that is catchy and soulless, half a sweaty skeleton sticks to your skin and you free yourself gracelessly from his trap, mouthing a prayer that he’s too hungover to wake but not too hungover to go to work.

You check the time, open and refresh the bus app. Switch the coffee pot on and strip into the shower, mouthing a prayer that the ghost in your bed doesn’t wake.

Out of the shower you dry but stay covered. Check the time, check the bus app.

Carefully, quietly, you slide yourself between the wall and the bed to reach your shelf of work clothes. Grab the black pants and salmon sweater, underpants, yesterday’s bra…

Every morning the studio gets smaller. That perfect view of the Sound is a little more concrete. Your overstuffed armchair has new burn holes, new beer stains.

The coffee pot hisses, push your leg through your skinny pant leg and squint at the stove clock. The sun is starting to lighten the gray horizon and reveals a roach was extinguished last night on your bookcase.

Check your bus app. Grab your work backpack off the floor. Inventory: three granola bars, The House of Spirits dutifully read two-pages-at-a-time during preschool naps, a notebook full of hand-drawn sudoku boards, four pens, an empty water bottle, phone charger, wallet.

Pour coffee into your ridiculous thirty-two ounce metal-plated thermos. Fill your water bottle. Throw two frozen dinners, three more granola bars, two string cheeses, a bag of rice crackers and a container of store-bought hummus in your backpack.

Check the time. Check the bus app. Sixteen minutes til the bus. Spread peanut butter on a slice of bread and fold. Grab keys. Try not to look toward the bed.

Slip ballet flats on at the door. Open the door so gingerly, so quietly, close it so, so carefully. Don’t lock the door because the ghoul lost his set of keys.

Check the time, check the bus app. Jog to the elevator. Get inside. Exhale.

Today, you walk at a comfortable pace. Say good morning to the folks who sleep in the doorway to your building. The gentleman with the scarf tells you that you look calmer today and you start to cry. He fist-bumps the hand with the coffee in it, tells you to keep your chin up.

You round the corner and notice a new display in the gallery window. You take a photo of the gallery with the street reflected in the window and think, so many pretty things and nothing.

Every moment is practiced, every breath is a labor. Your chest is tight, your muscles are tense.

Drag your feet to the bus stop and take your first drink of coffee. Check the time. Two hours until you arrive at work. Wipe children’s mouths and help them trace letters and cut out laminated shapes and grow so bored you learn to count between ticks of the second hand. Ten hours til you leave work. Twelve hours til you return home. Where you’ll pray to avoid the guy who burns your things and acquiesce to laying still under him to quiet his complaints, stale beer wafting from him, stinging your eyes.

And then you’ll wake up again. Sweaty and cold and lonely.

You tried so hard to believe that everything was okay. Every day running together, every piece of news a little worse. Your parents move, your sister gets divorced, your friend goes to the hospital again, her sarcoma always evolving. You answer to the skeleton’s whims and pay his bills, it’s easier that way, you tell yourself. In the next few months, it will become so much worse; you isolate, your friend will die, and you will have no money. And in ten years you will see with clarity: this was your lowest point.

This horrible hole you tunneled into, passively compliant, unsure what else there was to do, will lead you home.

You will leave the abuser, quit your job, rediscover your home and stop trying to survive.

There was so much inside you that you believed and had no access to, so you let yourself be buried. You will get through those days and you will become me.

I wake up to a gentle rub of my hair and a hot cup of coffee on my nightstand, no fewer than two cats cuddling me, and my favorite person anxious to tell me how the last two hours have been since they woke up.

I fear you won’t believe me. But it’s true. I wake up to a cup of coffee and my favorite person is kind and soft and good. I laze for a while each morning in a sleepy high before I start work, still sitting next to my favorite person. Wild fields and barn in view, I work with friends to solve real problems of social justice or bring art to my community. Everything I eat this month is grown in view of my window.

I am part of a community. I control my own life.

I want you to know these facts because I know exactly how hard they are to believe. All you were able to do was hold on. All you were able to do was survive. Until you cracked. Just hold on. You are a few desperate moments away from waking up. From claiming agency, from changing everything. Just a few horrible moments and everything will change.


Sarah Elgatian is a mixed-identity writer whose work has, among other places, appeared in Crab Fat, Beholder Magazine, and the Iowa Writers’ House print anthology We The Interwoven. She works at the Midwest Writing Center where she hosts workshop groups and an educational web series. Sarah likes bright colors, dark coffee, loud music, and long sentences. Find her on instagram: @rahelgatian

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