Clench your fist, hard. Clench it and hold it until it is red and your palm is sweaty, your knuckles are white, your whole hand shaking; swallow that fist.
That is how anxiety feels to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately around people you might call huggers; huggers are people who put their arms around you–sometimes your waist, sometimes shoulders; it varies by height. They put their arms around you and they try to squeeze some emotion out of you. It started about a week ago at a summer camp I’ve been working at.
The horde of potential huggers had been doing one activity or another. It ends, they all stand up.
“So, what are we doing now?” I ask the camp leader beside me.
“Hugs” she says.
“Hugs, you know,” she hugs me, around the arms. I don’t move. “Hugs,” she repeats.
“Don’t you like hugs?”
I shake my head. She frowns.
“Who doesn’t like hugs?”
I shrug, “me.”
“Well, that’s a stupid thing to be.”
She hugs me again. She looks up at my face. “Jesus,” she says, “you’d think I were made of fire.”
“Not fire–just, discomfort. I just have–like, a bubble.” I use my hands to show her where my bubble begins. She pokes at it, rudely.
Then, she looks around at all the huggers; like a game of bumper cars, they move around the room, crashing into each other.
“Are you too manly for hugs?” she asks, suspicious.
I look at my feet. “No, I just don’t feel comfortable with hugging, it’s weird.”
“Who doesn’t like hugs!” she exclaims. Then looks around for allies. She finds them. A group of waist high-huggers.
“Hug him!” she demands, pointing at me. They do, stepping right through my bubble as though it were made of air.
I clench my fists, try to breathe. They begin to laugh; one audacious hugger even lets out an “aw.”
The other huggers take notice, they advance–a mob. My arms are pinned. Time takes a step outside of eternity, I can’t move; trapped. I wait with red fists.
Then finally, I am set free. My legs are the only things that held onto their wits; they take me quickly to the door. I step out into the sunlight; it is cold. Taking a breath, I look back in through the window. The game of bumper cars is still going on.
I watch the game slowly dissipate until it becomes nothing but salty cheeks and tired arms.
I step back inside. My heart is still cowering in my stomach, sitting on a fist, having a cigarette. I stand awkwardly on the outskirts. Everyone is mulling about, chatting.
Then, across the room, one of the smallest huggers spots me. He makes his way over, a sinister look in his eyes.
When he is close enough, he opens his arms.
“How are you?” he says.
“I–” I try, but he’s already put his arms around me. He doesn’t let go.
Without realizing it, I find myself patting him on the back.
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