Scaffolding – Anna Spargo-Ryan



Last Sunday, as the day slipped into dusk, I had a panic attack. I have different kinds – sometimes I just feel like I’ve breathed too quickly, or like I’ve slipped on a bit of wet road, and I can sit in a quiet place and reorient myself without too much chaos.

This was not one of those times. This was one of the times when the walls collapse around me and crush me to death and my ghost cries out from under the walls, and I can hear the voices of the living outside of the walls but we can’t connect, just bang on our respective bricks until fresh air comes to clear the rubble. Sometimes the people in the living world ask me to tell them about my plans for tomorrow, or the colour of the ceiling, or the specific sulphur smell of imminent-but-unlikely death (it’s “suffocating on the inside of a gas oven, but the oven is made from stale fish bones and you’re blinded by carbon dust at the time”), and that helps. Not every time, but enough of the time that it’s still worth making the effort. The people in the living world that is my house have big hands and low voices, and they say, “tell me what’s on this table,” and I tell them even though my eyes have been obstructed by the walls and the dust and the rushing blood, and eventually the air comes and I can stand on the earth again. Not every time. But some of the time.

So I had this panic attack, this world-ending, heart-stopping panic attack. And while I was there under the rubble, trying but mostly not trying to pluck my way through the bricks, I was also cooking dinner hot oil over a stove, and I was also finding a tin of gourmet cat food in the pantry, and I was also reading my emails on my smartphone, and I was also telling my partner about the cafe I was going to have breakfast at the next morning. And from inside my collapsed brick prison, I could see all the terrible things that had ever or would ever happen, not only to me but to every single person, and I knew it would stop if the fresh air would just break through and shove the walls away, but it did not and I was stuck there in the brick mausoleum for three minutes or an hour or several days.

Today is also Sunday. Yesterday I woke up, on Saturday morning, and I thought, “tomorrow when the day slips into dusk, I will have the kind of panic attack that traps me under the fallen walls of safety”. I had a new blanket I’d bought especially for the occasion of spending my entire Saturday worrying about what might happen on Sunday afternoon, bundled into the blue chair in the back room, which is the safest room for reasons I have not understood yet, and at the mid-century table, under which I spent some of my afternoon, trying to avoid the collapsing walls. And I was successful, for a while. For some of the day, I looked out through the window and the liquidambar next door waved to me with its yellow and orange hands. For some of the day, I helped a child I vaguely recognised cook pasta on a stove I’m sure I’d used once or twice before. For some of the day, I held out my palms to push back the walls and they bowed and bent and they were rubber and so was my brain.

(For some of the day, I looked deep into my computer screen and tried assimilating with the electroneuroplasticity inside, the simple and complex-but-not-complicated ways the information was carried from one place to the next without pausing to consider how many walls might fall on it. I played a video game with tanks and talked to my partner through a microphone, and my voice was carried the six metres to his headphones because I could not interact with another human whose face was too familiar for me to understand while I was hiding from the walls.)

Today I got out of bed, on Sunday, and thought about the afternoon. I tried not to have the afternoon, for a while. I packed someone else’s dishwasher and fed someone else’s cats and I poured a piece of meat into someone else’s oven and the house I was in filled up with garlic and bourbon and salt. I sat in the blue chair and the bending walls sprung at me and away again in their moderate but menacing way, reminding me they could cave in, reminding me to hide under the mid-century table, reminding me to wear a hard hat over the brain they would push into the gas oven with the fish bones. I took slow and deep breaths into someone else’s lungs, and pushed my hands into the digital pulses of the computer system that wasn’t me but could accommodate parts of me, and I took the meat from someone else’s oven to turn it over. I watched episodes of shows I don’t know if I like, and ate soup I had made without realising, and found chocolate I had hidden when I was someone else, on Friday.

My heart raced for all of Sunday, for all of the Sunday things like pyjamas and roast dinners and evening movies. I felt the collapsed walls in my knees and in my shoulders and in the space between my breastbone and my heart. I built scaffolding from the meat from someone else’s oven and the blue chair and the new blanket, and they pushed the walls, and I pushed the walls. I found the person who spoke in a low voice from the living world, and I attached him to the scaffolds, bolted him on like a mermaid at the bow, and he pushed against the walls. I trapped a little grey cat and a big black dog, and made beds within the metal frame of my defence against the bending walls. I took a soup spoon, and noise-cancelling headphones, and a game a kid had invited me to play on a phone, and a tub of yoghurt, and I hid beneath the mid-century table while the scaffolding swayed and brayed and shifted above me.

But it held.

For all of Sunday, through all those Sunday things, I thought about the inevitable collapse of the walls. But the scaffolding held. And now it is three hours to Monday and I am here at the mid-century table with the safe and pulsing heart of the computer staring back at me, and the low voice from the next room with the face I still can’t look at (just yet), and I am here at the end of Sunday in the world of the living.

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