When Strangers Dictate Your Calm

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Count to ten.
Breathe.
You’ll be alright.
Everything will be alright.
You’ll have fun.
Remind yourself how much you need this.
How long it’s been since you’ve forced yourself out of the comfort of your room.
How many calls you’ve ignored.
How many invitations you’ve declined.
Today will be better.

Walk in.
Avoid eye contact.
Keep your head up.
Left, right.
Left, right.
Don’t draw attention.
Sit.
Don’t fidget too much.
They’ll know.
They’ll smell your fear.

Stop telling yourself you look weird.
They aren’t laughing about you.
They’re staring because you’re different.
Maybe you shouldn’t have showed this much skin.
Maybe you should’ve worn different shoes.
But it’s too late now.
Why do you always do this to yourself?

You are here for your reasons.
They’re here for theirs.
Stop looking over.
There’s nothing to check on.
That woman shrieking with laughter isn’t laughing at you.
Why does that man keep glancing over though?
Steady your hands, they’re shaking.
Pray no one saw you miss your straw.
Try again.

More people are flooding through the door.
The music is getting so loud you feel it in your throat.
When did your clothes get this tight?
You need to pee but you hold it in.
Sit planted in your seat so no one will see your trembling legs.
Stay hungry because you’ve forgotten how to eat.
Try not to stare as you watch mouthfuls of food being effortlessly consumed.
How do people do this?
You’re only normal when you’re alone.

Give it 5 more minutes.
Then leave.
Your friends always understand.
Apologize profusely.
Laugh.
Promise to make it up to them (again).
But don’t let them see the terror in your eyes.

Get up slowly.
Try not to run.
Ignore all the eyes without meeting any.
Finally, make it to the safety of your car.
Wind the window down.
Dissolve in your seat.
Light a cigarette.
Exhale relief.
You are free.
You are free.

‘When Strangers Dictate Your Calm’ by Naomi Hon

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