Updated: Jul 2, 2020
The silence lingered.
“Hmm?” he said, snapping out of his reverie. “Oh, sorry, Dr. Poulet. I was trying to embrace a feeling…like we talked about before.”
“That’s good, Curtis. Can you describe it?”
Curtis shifted in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs.
“It’s like this…it’s like this lonely feeling. Cold, I think, and when I tried to be inside of it…” Dr. Poulet leaned forward, setting her notepad to the side. “Yes?”
“When I tried to be inside of it, I felt like a…like an empty water cooler. Does that make sense?
“Like, I could feel that hollow feeling – in my chest – and when I leaned into it, it resounded. Like the last bubbles of a water cooler about to run empty?”
“That makes complete sense,” she said. “Have we discussed the Vagus nerve?”
Curtis shook his head.
“Ah.” Dr. Poulet eased back into her chair. “The Vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, starting in your brain and working its way down around your liver, spleen, heart, and lungs.
“This system controls the opposite of the Fight or Flight response, where it instead promotes Rest and Digest.”
She smiled as she spoke. She had an assurance to her that always comforted Curtis, even when the aching consumed him.
“What you’re describing sounds like having a low vagal tone. This is a major issue with depression, where this nerve is incapable of easing stress levels or anxiety, and it produces this hollow feeling in the chest area. Does that sound like what you’re feeling?”
He rubbed his chest, feeling the reverb of his rib cage. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Super! Now, let’s talk about your parents...”
Back at home, Curtis couldn’t stop moving. His fingers drifted from the tweed-like fabric of his curtains to the back of his couch, continuing his route around his apartment; Curtains to couch, couch to table, table to bedroom door, and back to curtains.
After what felt like hours of pacing, Curtis sighed heavily and collapsed ono his sofa, absently looked out his window. The setting sun lit his living room with a warm glow.
Without making a sound, his cat Pixie hopped up next to him, and slowly crept up to his collarbone. She mashed her paws into his pectorals repeatedly, spun once, and nestled into his chest. She purred softly, rhythmically, and Curtis felt a small smile spread across his face. He felt her warmth and caught a brief sense of contentment.
Still, as she purred, he felt the vibrations echo into his torso. They reverberated, like a church bell on a crisp morning. The contentment gave way to an aching loneliness, and soon Curtis was back to his malaise, his emptiness.
He rose slowly and began to walk to his bathroom. He had to see.
Facing his mirror, he began to remove his shirt. Each button slipped out of its hold, and soon he was looking at his chest. His fingers easily peeled his skin vertically, and he heard his ribs pop like cracking knuckles as he splayed them open.
Looking at the glistening empty space inside, he couldn’t help but laugh.