Thirty-seven days since I've left this room, but for a well-worn set of footprints from here to the bathroom door. My mom brings me food, wondering, worrying, waiting. Am I sick, or is it all in my head? Six weeks ago in the emergency room, plastic-clad doctors handed me a bottle of pills that made me sicker. I hardly blame them. Everyone's scared. There are no lesions on my lungs, so I must be fine. The summer heat is stifling, though the frosted-over air conditioner buzzes without ceasing. This isn't a hospital room, but it has the sounds of one: equipment beeping, fans that hum, heavy breathing, and footsteps in the hall. I'm hardly here, and it's hard to remember later. I know the world went on outside. I know that people died and others wanted to. I know my friends were scared, and there were protests in the streets, and things shut down and opened and shut down again. It's all connected and not. If I were me I would care. Four months since I've left this house, but for scattered sets of doctors appointments. I keep my eyes closed while we drive, but this time when my feet hit the grass they're open. A two-hour trip to meet a puppy. He's tiny and blue-eyed, and he's never been outside either. For a moment I forget the pain and fear and uncertainty when sharp baby teeth cut into my hand and I laugh. Three weeks later I bring him home, and I start to live again. It isn't easy, coming back to a world you've all but left behind. Cooking makes my fingers tremble, and walking makes my legs ache. It will be a year before I drive again. This puppy and I learn it together—slow, up and down stairs. Scary, seeing the world for the first time. I brush his hair and mine, and darkening brown eyes watch me while I do my laundry. He sits in my lap in the drive-through vaccine line. The nurses smile when they see him, cooing as he watches with suspicion. One night he's sick and I sleep on the floor. I come-to with him snoring on my chest. We're in this together. He howls when I go back to school, so he goes to school, too. On weekdays I'm the oldest in my college classes, joyfully learning to think again. On weekends we sit in Petco, learning about separation anxiety. It's common after the pandemic, the trainer tells us, so many pets raised without an owner leaving their side. I think that I have separation anxiety, too. Leaving the house isn't fun, but I learn to do it. I backslide in the winter, old aches setting in again, lungs rattling in the cold. They're still not sure what's wrong with me, and I'm past the point of caring. I just want to be free. My dog loves the snow and I watch him play in it, sneezing when he sticks his nose into the dust. I hang on for him, because we're in this together. He sleeps beside me in bed each night, like he knows that without him I'm not safe. We trudge through the bleak months of winter, pausing to bask in the colored Christmas lights before January sets in, gray and bitter. When the sun breaks through in spring there's a spark of hope. I grasp onto it with both hands, holding onto myself. I can still be the person I wanted to be. Do things truly get better, or do I adjust? I'm not certain it matters. Each day I walk three miles with my dog at my side, trotting in lock-step, nose tilted to sniff the breeze. Sixty days in a row that I haven't stayed inside, even when it rained, even when I wanted to. Healing isn't linear, and by God it's hard. But there were weeks when I didn't leave my room, months when I didn't leave my house. Now when I laugh the sound isn't foreign. I have friends again, and not all of them have fur. I don't watch the world go by outside my window, but my dog still sits with me in my third vaccine line. No one's the same after these two years. There will be scars for decades to come, and not all of them make sense. But as I step back into the sunlight, I feel hope.
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