Sprinkling cinnamon into my steaming cup of black coffee from the small shaker, I inhaled the rich, toasted scent of my favorite cafe, Rinaldi’s. After stirring in a generous layer, I made my way to the musty armchair by a short round table at the far end of the shop. Sitting alone, surrounded by bookshelves and dust, I felt my tension release. As I sank into the cushion, letting my body go limp, I felt the relief that comes with finally leaving the oversanitated, tiled misery of doctors offices wash over my body like a wave of warmth. 4:10. Staring at the clock mounted on the wall above the door the whole time, I slowly sipped at my hot, spiced escape. For a second, everything felt peaceful. Time paused in tangent with my deep exhale.
As soon as the minute hand reached the three, signaling that exactly five minutes had passed, I quickly set my mug on the table, ¾ empty. Sorry, I mean ¼ full. I sat straight upright and pulled my notebook out of my backpack. Now, it was grind time. Tapping a pencil rapidly against the page, I scanned my lengthy to-do list. Impulsively, I erased the 25 (as in question 25 for math), rewriting the slanted numbers so they stood upright. Ok, I spoke to myself, I start with English reading, then math, then I email my advisor, then finish my study guide for biology, then reading for history, then write that essay for Spanish, then SAT prep. My whole week was laid out before me, and today I had a long list I was determined to reach the end of. My brows pinched together in a tight furrow; I glanced repeatedly up at the clock, mentally planning out my time. I noticed that those irritating clock hands wouldn’t stop moving and decided I should get to work. Tying back my hair, I opened One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I needed to read three chapters of by tomorrow or rather, in the thirty five minutes I had allowed myself.
Two endless pages in, the words began to blur. My face scrunched up even tighter as I focused. This was my way of physically pushing through the pounding pressure against my temples. Then, I noticed my heart was beating faster. No no no, I frantically scanned my eyes up and down the page, trying to remember what I was reading, where I left off, or even if I could make out a single word through the fog closing in around the edges of my vision. Something about a fishing trip, something about … I was enveloped in it now, swimming through the dense, suffocating haze.
I felt around on the table for my phone, but as I gripped it tightly in my hand, I realized I didn’t know who I planned to call or what I would say. Maybe that was something I should have written down. What was it those mindfulness experts said? Right, two counts in, five counts out. About a hundred counts later, I still felt like I was a mile underwater, pressure building up in my head so intensely I thought it might burst. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of what the other people in the room must think or even how I must appear clenching my hands repeatedly around the edge of the table, fidgeting around like a maniac, bouncing my knee, biting my lip forcefully, and flicking my eyes rapidly around the room. Though I couldn’t really see them and I felt utterly alone, their presence tugged incessantly at my mind. I desperately wanted to be one of them, but my facade was crumbling right before their eyes.
With the sensation of an elephant still sitting squarely on my chest, I pushed my planner back in my bag, aggressively zipping it shut, slinging it over my shoulder, and making my way to the door. The cinnamon coffee still sat on the table, luke-warm. As the bell on the heavy, wooden door chimed to signal my departure, I glanced one last time at that taunting clock. 6:35. It happened again. Later that night, as I sat with dried tears plastered to my face, I ripped the entire week straight out of my planner. No one would be expecting those assignments anyway.