I can’t breathe. And it might have something to do with you pinning me to the floor, my shoulder blades digging into the wood as you hold my arms down with your body, pressing your knees into my forearms like a rolling pin into dough, kneading it into the flat object it never asked you to be. You hold one finger in front of your mouth, slightly pulling down the bottom lip as you press it, demanding I be quiet. You press your forearm into my throat, not hard enough to cut off oxygen, not even enough to make me worry for my survival, but just enough to tell me you’re serious. But we’ve been here before and I know the routine.
My heart skips a beat, desperate to escape, an otherwise healthy animal caught in a live trap, not knowing if this trap is meant to bring her to needed care or a taxidermist’s knife. It accelerates, zero to sixty. When it stops at sixty, it presses the breaks to the floor, stopping so fast my momentum hasn’t gotten the memo in time and nearly flips me over into a damaging crash. I feel the pulse in your wrist on my neck, mirroring mine. Your eyes screaming with fear and their own sense of desperation, praying I don’t scream but knowing it would only be natural. You hope I fight my natural urges and do the smart thing.
I calm down. You look at me with sorrow and guilt, like an adult who just broke the hopes of the child most dear to her. I can see your grief and your remorse. You’re far less physically comfortable than I am but the weights of the chains around your extremities aren’t enough to root you to the ground so here you are, desperately trying to save me from myself. I can see the finger you press to your lips in hopes I stay silent is more of a trapped prayer than anything, one you hold back because you pray for me to resist the urge to call out for help only to find danger. And at the same time, you pray for yourself, to be free from the prison that is your role of living a half-life as a sentry, merely to stand guard over me and save me from myself and everything beyond me. You pray for yourself to be released from the emotional wounds pressed into my body in the same places you restrain me, restraining yourself at far greater cost. You pray to be deserving of the forgiveness you won’t grant yourself for holding me with such force in spite of the fact that you choose it as a necessary evil, the necessary evil you’ve always chosen like a parent who grabs her small child by the wrist much too tightly just after she before steps off the curb of a busy street.
But most of all, you pray for yourself because of the agonizing fear validated by your constant level of alert, scanning my world for a clenched fist, an impatient push of an elevator button, a book dropped with a little too much of a toss, a disappointed exhale, or a tense and restricted drawing of breath. And I pray for you too, for you to be free from the barbed wire, electrically charged cuffs I know will never dissolve, for you to hear somebody shut a door and not need to intuitively calculate how hard it hit the frame with whether there was an open window, if it was a heavy door, or if the air pressure was unexpected.
I am sorry. And I am grateful. I’m grateful for you. That you pin me to the ground and fight the urge to close your eyes in the expectation of pain because you know if you keep them open, you might be able to block the right strike from the wrong angle, the worst word from the most bitingly lethal tongue. But most of all, I pray for you because I know you are hopelessly imprisoned to the task of standing guard against attacks that almost never come, always raising the hyper-alert to feel like a fool when a shadow in the concrete turns out to be a cloud crossing the sun. Worst of all, I pray for you because I feel guilty, cruel even, that if I weren’t here, praying for you to not have to think like a predator to protect me from being prey, I would be praying for something like you to come along and shelter me from the rocks and rows of storms I know would destroy the barriers of my skin at their first assault, flooding my lungs with water and entangling my ankle in titanium vines that anchor me in the center of nothing and drag me down much further than even any fatal resurfacing could ever be possible.