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Green Tea. Hot. Mint With Honey.
I’ve been so conscious of the rise and fall of my chest lately. When my anxiety is worse, I feel the strain on my breath. I hate that I feel this stress in a normally comfortable place: my summer camp upstate. A year ago, I developed a lot of distrust toward people in my life and became skilled at distancing myself. I struggled to open up, and if I ever did, I’d feel guilty about letting my guard down. I wanted to escape. Normally, camp was that escape—I could breathe because the air was fresher and more familiar.
In the crisp air, I tried to find calm in the burnt tongues of caffeine-addicted teens. Tongues touching other tongues, warm with tea. We loved green tea and mint with honey. We tried to keep the heat in our mouths because summer nights are so cold in the mountains. So cold when you’re on the top bunk, even with three sweatshirts.
I remember seeing you on the first day of camp that year. I was drawn to you. Everything you did or said was so effortless and gentle. Now, five days in, we wore our unwashed, fleece-lined sweatshirts and held our greasy braids over our ears as a guard from the chill. Greasy braids and body odor mixed with the faint smells of Old Spice deodorant and Victoria’s Secret perfume in Sweet & Flirty.
I couldn’t see anything and neither could you. I knew this because you were holding my hand, clutching it. We were in the back of the group without flashlights. Both of us were simply guided by a soft glow from the people in front of us. As tree roots became hurdles and branches barbed wire, I fell over my own feet.
“Where are you?” You asked me, as I escaped into my wandering brain.
“I’m sorry. I like putting myself in other places, like mentally.”
“Stay here,” you said.
You told me to look up and I could feel my legs shaking, which can happen when I feel a loss of control. You didn’t put your hand on top of my kneecap to make them stop like some friends did. I felt connected to you. There were so many stars, and even though it felt cliché, I was enchanted by them. That’s what you wanted me to see: the thousands of stars.
I was back in our cabin with the other girls, unhooking push-up bras and sighing out of relief because we no longer had straps cutting into our backs. I popped a piece of Juicy Fruit gum in my mouth and chewed it for a minute before spitting it out, grabbing my flashlight, sliding on Blistex and heading outside to see you on top of the hill. There, you’d been waiting.
Then, we began star-tripping. I handed you my flashlight and started spinning, focusing on one star while you made sure I didn’t stumble over myself. You shined the flashlight in my eyes and I collapsed, laughing hysterically. You fell on top of me and we glanced up again to avoid looking at each other. The sky was a blur of yellow stars. You were the color yellow, too. The color of pencil shavings and lemon zest.
"Stay outside," you said with a grin. I nodded as you ran back to the cabin. My heartbeat quickened and usually, I’d want to run away. But I wasn’t frozen like I’d been before. I wanted to be near you. It was a different tension, more like butterflies.
You returned with your comforter and we fell on top of it, separated from the wet grass. My leg was violently shaking as I tried so hard to let everything go and be in the moment. Stop shaking, I told myself. The universe was spinning so fast.
“It’s okay, I’ll move over,” you said. We moved two feet apart, but still felt close.
We were quiet, even though everything in my head was so loud. I was coping. I was okay. No hair tie snapping against my wrist and no nausea. We were safe. My universe was spinning slower. I’d never fallen asleep under the sky.