Short story: cotton hope

Five little words. My words for this week are:

  1. position
  2. tragedy
  3. illustration
  4. cotton
  5. calendar

Darlene shuddered as she awkwardly slipped the silk shirt on over her head and felt its strange smoothness slide down her torso. She felt stifled, hot and claustrophobic. This was the first time in three years that she’d be leaving her house in anything other than cotton. She loved the feel of cotton—its lightness, its comfort, the way it let her breath. But, it was also a pretty much the only clothing she could handle, thanks to her Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD as they called it. Her brother’s favourite way to cheer her up when she was a kid and her senses were overloaded was to rap, “who’s down with SPD? Yah you know me!” Just thinking of that made her smile and pushed her jitters gently to the side for a moment. Nick had always had her back.

These days, cotton was often the only material she could tolerate, but now she had a real job—for the first time in her life and she felt like she needed to look the part in something a little classier. The fitted silk shirt she’d bought purely for its beauty felt nearly as unbearable now as the idea of going to an office from 9-5 every day. Her whole life she’d managed to scrape by on her illustrations and hide in the comfort and calm of her carefully curated and decorated little home, but the accident had shattered her arm in 13 places and her heart in about a million more. She was pretty sure she still had some SPD-PTSD (she was a huge fan of acronyms) from her stay at the hospital—which happens to be one of the noisiest places you can imagine—so she was feeling even more sensitive these days, if that was even possible.

So here she was, six months post-accident but not even close to fully healed, 43 years old, with $1,000 left to her name and about to start the first office job she’d ever had. The posting for the position hadn’t looked that horrible—at least on paper. She’d be working in the office for a local artist collective who’d taken pity on her when they had seen her resume (which basically just stated “lifelong artist”) and her giant cast (which had basically stated, “I’m screwed). She remembered the look of deep sympathy they’d given her when she used the word, “tragedy” to describe how she felt like her career as an artist might be over. She also remembered the words, “may never have full use of your arm” again that the doctor had told her after the surgery.

But, Darlene had never been a pessimist, which is probably how she’d managed to work as a freelance artist for so long while dealing with her disorder every single, overwhelming day. She knew that this couldn’t be the end of her art. She refused to believe it. Her phone burst to life and the calendar alert stating, “first day of real adult job” looked up at her, almost like a question. She sighed and adjusted her silk top, smiled almost convincingly at herself in the mirror and walked out the door. Five minutes later she walked back in the door, tore off the silk shirt as quickly as she could—which was no easy feat with a cast, meditated for five minutes, changed into a cotton shirt that resembled work clothes and stepped out the door again.

She was forced to take the train thanks to her silk-shirt-fiasco-time-suck, and the moment she got on she knew it was a huge mistake. The sound of the train wrenching and squeaking into each station sent her stomach into a tailspin and as more and more bodies shoved against her she felt that all-too-familiar monster of anxiety begin to take over her body. Waves of nausea now crashed through her and she shook as she desperately gripped onto the slimy pole with her one good arm to keep herself from falling down. She could feel the sweat coating her back and her bra and she knew she was about to lose it. The moment the train rammed into the next station she shoved her way off, not caring about the kid that she nearly tipped right over, or the jarring pain that shot through her arm as her cast smacked into the edge of the door. She sprinted to the top of the stairs and ran outside, and collapsed on a bench, gasping for each breath as if she’d just run a marathon.

“You are not going to control me!” She screamed out loud and the people around her gave her a wider berth. She closed her eyes and slowly shut the world out, one breath at a time. Every day since she was diagnosed she’d worked her butt off to be able to function in the world. She refused to give up now.

“You can do this, D. You can do this.” She collected herself, put on her noise cancelling headphones and speed walked the rest of the way to the office. And there she was, at the door of the office, with one minute to spare. She slid the headphones off, took a quivering breath and walked into the old, brick building that housed her new life and 40 hours of each new week. She walked into the lobby and her jaw dropped. Along with various other striking installation pieces was a giant, beautiful pyramid of rainbow cotton balls, reaching all the way to the ceiling. A laugh bubbled out of her and she wrapped her arms around her own cotton comfort. Maybe, just maybe, things were going to be okay.

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