promising not to look.

The house is filled with fire.

The flames are so hot, I can feel my skin beginning to cook. I refuse to look at my arms, because I am certain they will be the golden crispy consistency of the rotisserie chicken at Jewel-Osco. “We’re all just meat, “ I say to no one.

The wooden floors are slippery under my socks. My mom obsessively waxes each room every Sunday. We don’t go to church because we’re atheist. Instead we observe the Sabbath with an agonizing day of housework.

I try to run across the living room, but I just slide. If I fall I’m done for, so I focus all of my energy on keeping my balance. “The key is to move as if I am ice skating.” Never mind the fact that strangers heckled me at the ice rink on State Street last winter because I fell every 15 seconds.

It’s up to me to save myself.

It’s funny that I’m here in this house, because I haven’t lived here since I was 14. I wonder if the fireman will even look for me. I’m sure everyone thinks I am in Chicago.

Oh god. I hope I’m wearing a bra. It might be a while until I can come back inside to change clothes.

The endless ringing of the fire alarm is making my head ache. And the flames are licking at my heels as I try to run. The heat is penetrating my body. I imagine if I scream, only steam will escape from my mouth.

I open my eyes. I am no longer on Fallsview Street in York Haven, Pennsylvania.
I am on Paulina Street in Chicago, Illinois.

The phone is ringing and ringing. I muster enough strength to roll over and pull the cord out of the wall.

I sprawl out on my back. I definitely feel weird. Sort of shivery. Sort of really, really hot. I swear there really are flames under my skin.

I trudge to the bathroom to search for a thermometer. Nate’s mom gave us a nice digital one after he suffered a terrible bout of tonsillitis. I’ve never really mastered the art of reading the old fashioned mercury variety.

Beep. Beep. I pull it back out of my mouth. 103.1. What the fuck?
I don’t even have any other symptoms. No sore throat. No vomiting. I don’t even feel that hungover.

I move to the kitchen to choke down a variety of vitamins, ibuprofen, and juice. And then back to my bed, to bury my head under a pillow.

I’m never allowed to take acetaminophan again. That rules out Tylenol and most cold medicines. My liver can’t break it down. What I don’t realize right now is that this fever is one more side effect of liver damage. The few times in the future that I dare to drink an epic amount, I will suffer this same ailment.

But at this moment, I am convinced that this is just further illustration of my tenuous grip on sanity. I imagine that each tenth of degree above 98.6 represents moving one centimeter closer to edge of a figurative cliff.

I fall asleep reminding myself that I absolutely must break up with Ryan today.

I wake up again some time in the late afternoon. The first thing I do–before drinking water or using the bathroom or even rubbing my eyes–is plug in my phone.

It’s time to check my voicemail. I punch in 1-1-0-4, my mom’s birthday.

The first message. “Hey, Amanda…it’s Ryan. What did you do last night? What are you doing today? Okay, well, call me when you aren’t busy.”

The second message is just singing. “Come with me/My love/To the sea/The sea of love.” I erase it before he reaches the next verse. “I want to tell you how much I love you.”

The third message. “I love you…I have been thinking of you all day.”

I hang up the phone. I don’t want to hear the remaining three messages.

Words have a lot of power. I am constantly swimming through a sea of syllables, sentences, and paragraphs. Books, magazines, letters from friends. So maybe I am more sensitive to the impact of every single phrase.

Some words never stop replaying themselves in my mind.

Jeering insults hurled by angry adolescents.
Ugly avowals of hate screamed during heated arguments.
Whispery declarations of love shyly offered in the dark.

All of these can change a person forever. Right now, at this precise moment, someone is saying something terrible–something instantly regretted–to an individual they love more than anything. Another person is speaking the words they never thought they could say to another person…and finding that vulnerability is accompanied by a surprising sense of freedom.

But other times, words become simply hollow and meaningless when they aren’t backed up by actions.

I’m not going to lie: Ryan’s lavish declarations of love are great to hear. In the not-so-distant past, I dreamed of hearing these sentences slip from his lips.

But after the harsh things he said last night…after essentially attacking me below the belt, these sentiments mean nothing. Harsh words carry twice the weight of their sunny counterparts.

I know that relationships require a lot of time, energy, and patience. But I’m tired.
I’m worn out.
I want to throw my hands up .

“I give up.”

I have no weapons. No schemes for domination. I don’t even want to throw in a final punch.

I close my eyes, watching myself walking away from all of this.

At last! Freedom tastes like sunshine and strawberries. The skies are always blue and the rain is pink lemonade.

I stand 12 inches taller. I’ve never smiled like this before. Each step is better than the last.

But then…something is pinching the back of my neck, urging to me turn around. “Come back here.”

“I can’t…I made the right decision.” Sometimes stubbornness becomes a virtue.

“Are you sure about that?” The question is accompanied by a steady tug of my hair.

I turn my head to confront this nagging imp.

I see nothing, but I feel a handshake.

“Hello, I’m Regret. It’s so nice to meet you. I guess you should be heading back to where you belong now, don’t you think?”

I sigh in surrender.

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