A Mental Break

By Patricia Mari-Marquez

I feel sick. Lying face down on to my mattress, my stomach screams in distress, threatening to spit bile on the sheets. My skull feels tight, crushing my mind as my eyes tear up in discomfort. The lump in the back of my throat refuses to sink down even after the barrage of cool, crisp water. Maybe it’s the sickness that’s spreading like wildfire. Or maybe it is my general lack of wellbeing. I have never been one to care for myself. Sleepless nights, untreated anxiety, and poor protection against the elements are just a handful of my actions. But this discomfort, it stops the motivation. I don’t want to finish my assignments.  I don’t want to work on my passions. I just want to sleep. Just to rest.

But I can’t just lay there. Opening my eyes, I look up that the marshmallow white ceiling as I reach over and grab the phone. Even in my burn out state, my mind is restless. I begin to scroll through pointless photos and videos, searching for anything to make me feel happy. My eyes, exhausted, struggle to scan the never-ending stream of content my thumb pushes in front of it. Their lagging and inability to focus on anything solid worsens the pain in my head. I give up, defeated, and tuck the phone under my pillow as I try to once again rest. Closing my eyes, my body relaxes. The warmth of the sheets, the darkness of the room, all work to keep me there. Yet, somewhere I hear it. The nagging in my mind of deadlines to come. There’s so much of it to do. You’re wasting your time. These moments of reprieve are only an illusion. Work must still be done. Pushing myself off the bed, I slid into my desk. I force my eyes to focus on the laptop’s screen through a prescription that’s a bit dated. Research. Think critically. Create. Overworking myself has never been something new, but this straining has gotten worse. Without a clear division of work and home, it’s difficult to stop working. There’s always something to be done. I can almost feel my pupils shaking as the blue light from my screen holds me there.

It doesn’t help that the past few nights have been filled with restless limbs and tired eyes. The only real sleep was the powernap before my class at one. From my left, the phone screen lights up. Don’t touch it. Focus. Focus…but what if it’s important? Checking the notification, it’s a message from my friend:

-my class ended.

-still up for the quarry?

I should cancel. Glancing at the blank page on the screen, I go to the window. Pulling aside the blackout curtains. Immediately, light streams in. The sixteen-year-old view from my window had never looked more inviting than it does now. The magnolia tree across the street has coated the grass beneath it in delicate pink petals as a family walks their black lab towards the richer part of the neighborhood. For once, that week, the sun has come out. Yes.

Powering the laptop down, I shove on a pair of leggings and a sports bra before heading to the front door. Pulling out a fabric mask, I step out into the warmth. She meets me at the Wadel’s sign between our houses. On our way to her house, we catch up on each other’s new lives indoors. We talk about persnickety grandmas and childlike brothers while maintaining the recommended six feet of distance. I wait on her porch as she goes in for snacks and some blankets. I chuckle as I hear from inside, her mom talking her ear off about the insane price rise of canning lids. She waves her cat off before stepping back out.

“Becky, you won’t believe it. 13.50 for ten lids.” I whisper to her.

“Shut up!” she laughs, shoving me towards the forest. It is past the area where the pig skeletons were from the barbeque last summer, and past the area where the leaves are so thick that they cushion my feet with every step. Pushing our way through the dried, dead branches, we finally come upon it.

The terracotta earth I had seen two years ago is now covered in a small layer of grass that had been planted to start the area’s transformation into a park. Like a jewel, captivating my view in the center, is the lake, a green so otherworldly that it must’ve come from the industrial waste and the light’s reflection on the limestone.

“Are you ready? It’s real steep here.”

“Jesus!” I look over the edge of the tree line to a sharp incline of rubble and patch grass.

“I’ll just goat it.”

“What?” I smile as Rebecca looks at me skeptically. I begin digging in my heels, slowly descending.

“Goating it. Just dig in your feet. My brother and I did it last time.” I pause and turn around only to bust up laughing at her crawling down on the incline, one hand on the rubble, the other raised with a notebook threating to fall. Eventually, we both make it down. We set up the sheets with a view over the lake. Geese honk at the far end as they raced across the water and frogs croak at the edges, fighting to dominate the territory in time for mating season.

Lying back, I watch as clouds paraded across the blue sky; a blue so rich that it transports me back to end-of-the-school-year barbeques and flights back home. In these moments, I long for the opportunities I am leaving behind, the chances to explore and meet others. But I can’t help the feeling of elation of finally being done, of finally being home. With my eyes fixed on the sky, I can finally rest.

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