Waking Up To You
By Carmen Tan
Some people would run ten miles instead of confessing to their crush. Some people would never let that ridiculous thought enter their brain at all. If I don’t ask, I’ll never know the answer.
Ripe orange sunlight streams into the classroom, illuminating our desks. As the teacher continues his tale in a sonorous voice, I can only keep my eyes on the enby sitting next to me.
The rays fall onto their crimson hair, glinting off the strands and making them look. . .
I can’t even find the words to describe it.
Three months ago, I moved into a new town, new neighborhood, and new school. And even through all my worries of coming here and being different, Fenix was there. They helped me on my first day at school and didn’t treat me differently for my narcolepsy disorder. We connected over books and offered recommendations to one another. We studied together. We hung out after school. Whenever one of us felt down, the other always swooped in to help.
I now know this feeling in my stomach that I get when they smile at me. The fireflies that warm me inside out until I can feel it in my ears. I like Fenix. And I want them to know that.
I’m going to tell them today after class.
It’ll work out. I’m sure it will.
There’s no way it’ll turn out too poorly. People are still friends even if one has a crush on the other. I think. It’s okay if they don’t reciprocate. I’m not planning on it. I admit it would be nice if they have the same feelings I do.
What if they want to stop being friends?
Will they be disgusted at me for liking them?
Do they really enjoy the time we spend as much as I do?
We’re good friends; we laugh and have plenty of fun.
But what if they only looked out for me because I was the new kid?
Do I mean as much as I thought I did?
Is this the wrong decision?
As the bell rings and students pack up to leave, this stream continues. The thoughts rush in like ocean water, choking my throat and burning my lungs. What if I mess everything up between us? My emotions are crashing in waves too strong for me to handle.
I can see the teacher exit the room, leaving Fenix and me. I want to confess my feelings now. The words stick in my throat and it’s like they’re blocking my breathing. Fenix starts saying something. The sounds float into the air, muffled and incomprehensible. I can hear them, but can’t at the same time. My arms suddenly go slack from my shoulders down. I slump forward, and my head lands on the table with a soft thud. Fenix seems to be calling my name. I can see my shoulder and feel my limbs making movements I didn’t ask them to. I’m having a cataplexy attack.
I’m not moving my limbs.
I’m not in control.
“Fenix. . . can’t move,” I manage before my muscles completely slacken, feeling like they weigh a ton each.
“It’s okay, I got you, Matthias.” Their words hang in the air briefly. Fenix had helped me before when I first had an attack in front of them. Though they had panicked, they could stay calm. Back then I had guided them and explained the attack since I could still talk.
This time, I can’t. My arms, my mouth, my neck. . . every part of me is jittery. My lungs can’t take in enough oxygen. I don’t have control of my body at all.
The worry remains on Fenix’s forehead and in their eyes. Their hand starts rubbing my back in small circles. The warmth from it sinks through my sweater.
My fear still lingers in my bones despite Fenix’s comforting me.
It doesn’t feel like it’s ending.
Gradually, my limbs grow a little lighter. I begin to twitch my fingers on my own, the feeling starting to return. I think Fenix notices because I can feel their hand leave my back. Their fingers hold and intertwine with mine instead, rubbing the skin above my thumb. As they continue, it’s as if they are restoring the feeling back into me from my hand.
I test out my neck, trying to prop myself back up. My limbs are parts of a puzzle that I’m trying to rebuild piece by piece. Fenix holds their arms out to create a protective ring around me.
I stumble slightly. They pull my body to lean against them. As I gain more control of my limbs, I grasp their hand back with the little strength I have. They don’t pull away.
“Do you need to nap?” They say against my hair, continuing to rub my hand.
“I don’t want one,” I fidget and shift to meet their eyes. I wait a beat. “Are you okay with this?”
“And what if I asked us to be more than friends?”
“I would like that.”
This is 100% not the story I started out with. While storyboarding the original piece, I connected one of the newly created characters with one from a previous project who I had a design for. Following that rabbit hole, I dived into a relationship and character dynamic I wanted to explore for a while. Some bumps along the way were trying to make the character and experience as authentic as possible.
For this, I required lots of research on narcolepsy and the symptoms that arise with the disorder. Narcolepsy can be widely misunderstood so it was important I break the stigma that the average person thought of narcolepsy. Not only that, I wanted to recreate the experience of confessing love to someone, a familiar experience to many. I’ll admit I overreached in the beginning stages of the piece, trying to incorporate even more details and backstory than would actually fit. It’s thanks to my mentor Nicole that this piece came together as well as it did.
Lastly, I wanted to make this relationship between the characters one out of genuine care and affection towards each other. Living with any sort of disorder is tough, and even tougher in relationships. It takes patience, and not everyone can understand that as easily as Fenix can. But with awareness and research, it’s much more manageable. I’m glad I was able to flesh out and create a story for these characters. No worries, this piece is only one scene of it.
Carmen Tan is a student living in New York. She finds interest in the everyday lives of others and thinks of herself as a curious person. Considering the world is so vast, it’s her goal to explore as much as she can. She finds freedom in writing and expresses herself through poetry, world building and creating stories. Finishing those stories are another subject, though; perhaps someday in the future you’ll find a book with her name on the front cover! She currently lives with her family in Brooklyn and an ice cream-stocked freezer.