“Are you okay?”
Whenever a stranger asks me this, my brain silently says, “No, I’m not. You’ve caught me in a startled state, only halfway recovered from an overwhelming moment. I’m trying to regain my sense of balance, as if I was spinning and suddenly stopped. Finding words right now feels like dizzily trying to find which way is up, but every wordless moment increases the tension between us. When you ask if I’m okay, what you really want to know is whether I need help. Since all I need right now is space and patience, I’ll pretend that you’ve asked if I want to be left alone.”
“Yeah,” I say aloud. It takes strength to spit out that one syllable, but I know that soon it will be true.