Chapter 19
by Branden Hart

Chapter 19

No matter where or when they happen, panic attacks are not fun. They are probably one of the most difficult experiences someone can go through. The hardest thing about them is, there’s almost nothing you can do to stop them, unless you've been trained in relaxation techniques. They’re monsters that don’t really do anything. Just sit in the corner, freaking you out, threatening to come and get you. I’ll take a real monster clawing at me from under the bed over the corner monster any day of the week. Then, at least you know for sure what you’re dealing with. But with the monster in the corner, you don’t really have a clue. You’re pretty sure he isn’t going to come after you, but he keeps telling you he’s going to get you, and it’s confusing and scary as hell at the same time.

Panic attacks come in many shapes and sizes. Some people, there are particular places or situations that set off a panic attack. Maybe they’re claustrophobic, so being in a big crowd is what gets them going. Maybe they’re scared of heights, and one look out of the airplane window is enough to set them off. I always think that I would prefer it if my attacks were like that.

My attacks, just like a lot of people out there, come from nowhere. That’s the scariest thing of all.

That night, I go pick Melissa up. We have sex before we leave, something that still kind of bothers me, but Rationality and a little foreplay easily relieves that feeling and makes me second-guess my decision to stop taking my meds. We head out into the night, her driving her mom’s car.

On the way we talk—really talk. It’s the happiest we’ve been in weeks. It only takes a few minutes to get from her apartment to the party. Somebody’s parents were out of town, obviously, because the house was gorgeous, huge, and there were already at least thirty people spilling out from the inside to the front lawn.

As we approach the front door, a streak of white darts into the night. Instinctively, I reach down and grab it just as it passes my feet. It’s a small poodle, and it squirms in my hands—so much so I almost drop it.

“Goddammit, I told you motherfuckers to keep the door closed!” screams a beautiful girl who has just emerged from the front door of the house. A few people groan as she approaches us.

“Thank you so much,” she says to me as she relieves me of the squirming tangle of white hair. “This little shit has been trying to get away all night.”

“What’s his name?” I ask, feeling like it’s an important question.

“We call him Ollie for short, but his full registered name is Oliver Crandall Dannington. Weird, I know, but that’s my dad for you. Little Ollie definitely has a mind of his own.”

I know the feeling, I think to myself as the girl leads us into her house.

“Well I’m Tracey, and please let me know if you see anyone going upstairs, ok? I never got the stains out of the linen from the last party. The drinks are in the kitchen, and no smoking in the house.”

Tracey leaves with Ollie under her arm. The house is filled with people. You can’t get past anyone in the kitchen to get a drink. The line for the bathroom stretches into the living room, which is occupied by about thirty people when it probably only has room for ten or so. Melissa and I find some people we know, I go and wait in line to get beer for all of us, we talk for awhile, they introduce us to some of their friends, and we basically have a damn good time. The music is good, I feel like I’ve found friends I can mesh with, and I feel ecstatic.

And that’s when it happens.

“Ow,” I say, feeling a sharp pain in the upper-left side of my chest. I grip it and shake it off, but then Melissa says, “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, just a little pain.”

If Melissa hadn’t said anything, I think I could have ignored it. But as soon as I reply, Other Me asks a question.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” asks Other Me. “Maybe you should go to a hospital.”

I ignore it at first. “Another beer,” I say, leaving the group, hoping the alcohol will calm me down a little. When I walk into the kitchen, it’s filled with even more people than before.

Then my left arm starts tingling.

“Heart attack,” mutters Other Me. “Should have gone to the hospital.”

“Shut up!” I yell. People turn and stare.

This is when things start going downhill. Now, the pain in my chest is pulsating, and I can’t feel my left arm at all. My heart feels like it’s beating at a thousand miles a minute, and my brain shuts down except for the voices inside screaming “OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT” all at the same time. My first thought is that I need to run, to get exercise, fast. That should have tipped me off—exercise isn’t the first thing to come to mind for people having heart attacks. But my mind is going so crazy I don’t hear that, I just keep hearing the “OH SHIT” mantra.

I try to get through the crowd. I need fresh air now. I need to get outside in the open. But every time I push, the crowd seems to draw in tighter around me. I’m stuck in the middle of a goddamn Chinese finger trap, and I can feel everything closing in. In seconds, my vision begins to blur. I can’t catch my breath. Both those things worry me to the point that I no longer register any pain in my chest. My focus is now on why I can’t see straight and what that means. Stroke? Aneurism? Anything's possible.

Once I break through the crowd and out into the front entrance, my way out is blocked by Tracey standing in the door, lecturing somebody about puking in the rhododendrons.

"Those fucking flowers are older than you are you ass! Get the hell off my lawn."

I bump her out of the way and stumble out onto the sidewalk. "Oh no you don't!" she yells, grabbing my by my collar and turning me to face her in one deft move. "I'm not having someone else puke on my…Jesus Christ."

She's looking into my eyes.

"You look like shit man. How much did you have to drink?"

"One beer. Maybe two."

Before she can respond, I start to see blue and red lights out of the corner of my eyes. These, it turns out, aren't just a manifestation of my panic attack.

"Hurry, everyone out!" screams Tracey, leaving me and running back inside. "The cops are here!"

The people streaming out the front door are windy blurs whizzing by me on either side. At one point, I'm knocked into the grass. This is where I am when Melissa finds me.

"Shit," she says. "You're white as a ghost. What's wrong?"

I can't see her or who she's with. I still can't see anything too clearly.

"Panic attack," I mutter. "Please…"

She's kneeled down next to me. I put my head on her leg, and I know I'm safe. Rooted to the ground. She's an anchor of sorts—for a moment, I don't feel lost at sea.

Things fade to black after that. I really come to when I'm in her apartment and she's feeding me ice cream and hot tea.

"I was worried about you," she says when I open my eyes.

"That's something new."

"What do you mean? I worry about you all the time."

"I meant something new for me—not you."

She lets me fall asleep on her shoulder that night. I don't remember my dreams, but I did wake up feeling warm and happy the next morning, if not tired. Of course, all of that is dashed when the front door to the apartment opens.

"GODDAMMIT MELISSA!" screams a large, brash woman silhouetted against the bright sun outside. "I thought I told you no more guys sleeping over?"

Melissa's voice comes from her bedroom. "Be right there! I can explain everything."

My voice, weak, barely squeaks out of my mouth. "No more guys?"

Some words change the meaning of an entire sentence. In this case, had Melissa's mother left out "more," I might not have thought anything was up. I might not be here right now, looking down on a now-shivering Melissa and the bastard she was sleeping with, who has been unconscious for the last ten minutes or so. But "more" means that there were guys before me.

The question is, how long before me?

Or whether they were "before" me at all.

Previous chapters


Man, what a great description of a panic attack.

That Chinese finger trap line is stellar


Thanks Dan. I hadn't thought about Chinese finger traps in years. It seemed fitting (hur hur hur).


eXTReMe Tracker