I had my computer on and my chat screens open in case anyone wanted to say hi. I was playing a game on my phone, virtually flicking paper balls into a trash can, and I was better at it on the small screen of my phone than the larger screen of my tablet, so my tablet was playing music. And then Jerry and co. were on the television, loud enough to be heard if I focused on it, but lower than the music. I had my fan on and my humidifier going, and I had just decided that eating six pieces of pizza ordered online would be my limit, because if I ate any more I wouldn’t have lunch for tomorrow.
Then I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I had felt this before, the last time was when I was in Times Square on a school field trip in 8th grade and I lost my grip on my buddy’s hand. We were all in a chain, entwined flower stalks with blooms of lurid blue and orange backpacks, and I couldn’t see any of the flower chain, all I could see were towering screens and a giant woman in Victoria’s Secret lingerie and I didn’t want to stare at her, because there were so many people that would see me staring. I looked down at my shoes and felt my entire body covered in pins and needles, the kind you usually get when your foot is asleep and you’re waking it up. And that’s when my breathing got shallow, and it wasn’t until the chaperone came and gathered me in her arms and took me to get personalized M&M’s did I finally remember how to use my lungs.
This felt exactly like that. My hands weren’t operating right. I dropped my phone and the screen cracked but I couldn’t reach over to grab it, I could only register the cracked screen in my periphery, I looked at the television and I couldn’t hear George and Jerry, I just heard the laugh track. And it was soothing, it made me feel better. I just listened to the laughter and started chuckling a bit myself, laughing along for 20 minutes until the feelings had passed. It was like I had been in a bunker during a twister, and now it was safe to come out.
I turned off my music and the humidifier and the fan and my television. I picked up my phone and rubbed my thumb along the crack that started at the top right corner, spiderwebbing its way down to the bottom left corner. Then I threw my phone against the wall and left the room without looking at it. I walked right out of my front door. The sun was far too bright.
Immediately I wanted my phone. I wanted music or maybe to stop in a cafe to use their wi-fi to watch a sitcom somewhere else. But then I was glad that I didn’t have it, it was good that I had nothing.
The other day I had gone to the dentist and I was sitting in a corner playing that same game, flicking virtual paper balls into a trash can and listening to a podcast, and it took me a very long time to realize that everyone else had gotten up. There was something happening on the television and everyone had turned to watch it, even the little kids that were playing with the broken waiting room toys had stopped playing and were staring transfixed. I considered taking out my headphones and joining but I figured if I really needed to know, then the news app I had would ping me, it would interrupt my game and tell me that there was news breaking. And my news app was silent, so I just stared at the backs of the people who also needed help with their teeth, catching snatches of gunfire and night vision when they shifted their bodies.
I got a high score that day. 26 in a row.
I patted my pockets thinking that I lost my phone at least a half dozen times before I stopped patting my pockets. I realized I was lost but also that the beach was in front of me, it wasn’t so far from where I lived. I just didn’t go. I was born near the beach, I took it for granted. For a time, as a teenager, I convinced myself I hated going to the beach. But I didn’t really hate it, I just didn’t have people to go with.
When I got to the end of the sidewalk, I considered taking off my shoes and socks and rolling up my jeans but I didn’t. I just kept walking until I found a human-sized spot and sat down. I heard something crunch, got up and saw a cheap pair of sunglasses, now they had a crack in them that went from the top left corner of the right lens, down to the bottom right corner. I could sense the sun on my eyes, even though my eyes were closed, like my eyelids were not up to the task of protecting me. I put them on and lay back.
I had the sound of two boomboxes like parentheses on either side of me, and then the sound of the ocean, which sounded a little bit like my humidifier. There were a couple of kids right in front of me, laughing every few seconds. On my immediate right, two men were discussing whether it would be worth it to get back in the water after drying out so thoroughly. I almost asked for a drink from their cooler, it was an enormous cooler, full, and it seemed like they had only themselves to keep hydrated.
Someone’s ringtone sounded a lot like mine. I stood up and brushed the sand from my hands. I didn’t sign out from the chat before I left. It makes me nervous when I can’t be reached.