Inside the waiting is a pulse that beats steady, strong, consistent. And this, at first, is comforting. But as it keeps on—the waiting pulled like taffy to implausible widths and lengths—it instead becomes the thump of the telltale heart, that one in Poe’s story of being driven to madness. In the walls, in the floorboards, in the line of bone that runs right down the center of the chest. Whump. Whump. Whump. It hovers in the air and gets into the lungs. It fills them up like water, devoid of all salt.

There’s supposed to be grace in the waiting, but I can’t find it. The way I can’t find the dignity in pretending I don’t harbor envy like a clog in an artery. There are lessons here—though I’m learning them for all the wrong reasons, in all the wrong ways—such as, I have to stop wanting any of this to be easy, and I must understand it will never be fair. There’s a taste inside the waiting, but it’s neither sweet nor bitter. It’s at once the acid sting of pickling and the bite of putrid picnic food left too long in the sun.

I waited years to go to Italy, held it up like a prism to the light—held it up until the colors leapt out onto the walls. I finally went, and all I could think about was how it felt to be alone under every white duvet. There is no punishment inside the waiting, though it feels like doing time. Like being convicted of a crime you only thought about committing. The sun shines through the high windows of the cell, but it brings no warmth, and perhaps even no light. Your sentence will never be reduced to time served in the waiting.

Sometimes, it must be admitted, camping out inside the waiting can make you unafraid—or at least, less afraid of things that used to terrify you. This may be a byproduct of the waiting, or it could, in fact, be the purpose. Like climbing a mountain because you wanted the climb, only to find, once you reach the top, that you really wanted the view. I’m less afraid of many things after camping out inside the waiting. I’ve learned I wanted freedom from these fears, but also, I still want what I came for. So I stay inside the waiting.

The waiting—it has the power to stretch minutes into weeks, pull out an hour between the tick-tocks of the clock. Everything looks worse inside the waiting. It has the garish fluorescent glare of dressing room lighting and makes you wonder, Do I really look that purple? You don’t, but standing inside the waiting can make you think you do. There is nothing seductive about the waiting. It’s the DMV, the crowded bus, the grocery store on Thanksgiving day—you enter against your will, and only when you have no choice.

Worst of all are the final moments of the waiting. You hang suspended on the edge of a conclusion, anxiety weighting the waiting like a beggar on your back. How the seconds thicken to decades of incurable illness. How breaths become shallow, then slow, until all you can count on is an intake, an exhalation at a time. In. Out. In. Like those dreams when your eyes can’t open because, in reality, you’re trying to break from sleep, and you need someone, something, anything to jump in and pull you out of that world and into the next.