Panic

I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, my left hand locked on the steering wheel, my right locked on the gear shift lever. My eyes raced between the cars in front of me, those beside me, those behind me. I checked my mirrors continuously. I looked over my shoulder to check my blind spots, though I’d carefully adjusted the mirrors to see what was in them.

I drove. In an endless sea of cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, vans, commercial trucks, and giant semis. In the pouring rain. I watched my lights shine on the back of the vehicle in front of me. I had no idea how much I was breathing. No idea what my pulse rate was, what my blood pressure was.

Three fingers on my left hand were numb, and they tingled. My palm felt like I was hammering nails through it. My right wrist ached. My thumb felt like I was stapling it to the lever. My head ached. My knees ached.

There was nothing I could do. Except survive. Except get where I was going alive. I maintained my death grips on the shifter and steering wheel. I didn’t care if my arms went numb from elbows to fingertips. I wasn’t letting go. You’d have to pry those things from my cold dead hands. I could see that, me dying in a car crash, and them having to cut me from the car. “He was still holding on to the steering wheel and gear shift.”

I thanked God for loud music. At least I couldn’t hear the noise of the ocean of cars that surrounded me. I found myself wishing the car behind me would give up, change lanes, and get around me, so I didn’t have to worry about being in its way anymore. I didn’t care if another one took its place. I’d deal with the next one when that happened. When it changed lanes, I took a quick breath, “Yes!”

Then the car behind it insisted on riding my ass. In the pouring rain. I knew there was no way it could stop if I had to slam on my breaks. It would plow into me without slowing down. Another Jeep, of course. “God, I hate Jeeps!”

I blinked a few times, quickly. My eyes felt better. I knew not to close them for more than a heartbeat at a time. I closed them, and I’d miss something. And that would be the end of the story.

“How long is it to the exit?” I prayed for a road sign. Any road sign. There, “Exit 258 B-A”! That meant I only had 3 miles left, then I could get off the damned freeway. I waited, my hands locked on the wheel and shifter. Hell, I don’t think I breathed for during that 3 miles.

As I exited the freeway, had to deal with the next problem. Merging into traffic on the road. I never knew what to do. Stop and wait for an opening? Floor it, and push my way in? Drive down the friggin’ sidewalk until I got an opening? Pray someone would be polite for once, and let me in?

Of course, once in, it was the normal race from stop light to stop light, trying not to get run over by the cars behind me, as cars cut me off to get where they wanted to go. If anything, my death grip on the wheel and shifter became tighter. My elbows started to ache, so did my right shoulder.

“Hope I don’t crack another tooth.” At least my jaw didn’t ache. Yet.

After a million lights, watching a million cars zigzagging between lanes, slamming on breaks and cutting each other off, and wondering if I was going to survive the trip to pick her up, I finally reached the parking lot where she worked.

I turned off the car. Put it in park. And sat there. Exhausted. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. Exhausted. And the thought of driving home after she got to the car was terrifying.

I sat there, resting my head on the wheel. “Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.”

I knew it was too late. I already had. And it wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.


It’s April 19th, and I’m finally catching up in the 2015 A to Z Challenge. This is the 16th of 26 pieces I’m writing in April. This one’s for the letter P. Monday brings the letter Q. I have no idea what I’ll write for that.

A Tale Of Wrath : Stand Your Ground

“Take your gun with you. And a couple of spare clips.” I’d never forget Mom’s words, just like I’d never forget that day, when I changed forever.

I wanted to listen to a public speech by Diane Harris, the feminist. Mom tried to talk me out of it. “Son. There are nasty people in the world who try to stamp out what they don’t understand, what they are afraid of. They will be there, and they will try to stop her from talking.”

“I know, Mom. But I need to go. I need to show I support the free expression of thought. Besides, I like the things she says. She makes sense. I want to help her change the world.”

When she knew she couldn’t talk me out of it, she changed to Mother Hen mode, and started trying to protect me. “Take your gun with you.” She insisted on walking me to the front door, and watched me get in my car. “Be careful. Be safe.”

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she said, “Come home tonight.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she prayed, “God, bring my baby home safely.”

Everybody knew about the gun threats. “If Diane Harris gets to speak, there will be a massacre. We’ll kill everyone there.” It was one of those men’s groups. You know the type. “Men are superior. Women are subservient to men.” That kind of shit. Another group declared, “All you women, show up! We’ll take your picture, and hunt you down, and show you what women are for!”

Tommy, my best friend said he had to go. His girlfriend was going, and he had to try to keep her safe. Frank and Jimmy said the same thing. And my Dad told me, “You need to stand for something. Pick a side. Pick a cause. Pick something to believe in. And stand up for it.”

Yeah. I pretty much had to show up.

I patted my gun, under my jacket. Concealed, of course. Everyone had a concealed carry permit anymore. I’d never needed it. Never had to use it. But it made me feel safer knowing it was there, and I could defend myself if I needed to.

“Only an idiot would come here to shoot people,” I chuckled. With the Stand Your Ground law, everyone would probably be armed. If someone drew a gun, a dozen other guns would show up ready to shoot him.

And that’s exactly what happened.

First, one guy drew a gun. He shot the girl next to him. Of course, people pulled out their guns, to shoot him, and save themselves. He shot one of them, then another, They started shooting back. Yeah, they got him, and three or four people near him.

Then, a second guy drew his gun. And a third guy. I figure there were a dozen of them in the crowd, pulling guns, shooting at everyone. A guy in the row in front of me pulled out a friggin’ cannon. He pulled the trigger, and started mowing down everyone he saw, shooting merrily away.

So, I drew my gun. And the guy behind me shot me. In the back. “He’s got a gun too!”

It was hell on Earth. Bullets flew everywhere. People panicked. People ran. People died. Everybody screamed. It sounded like something out of a bad movie.

I don’t know how I’m still alive.

They tell me I was in the ICU for a week, no one knew if I’d wake up. They told me what happened. 56 people died. Yeah. 56. 109 wounded. I was one of the 109. Tommy and his girl were part of the 56. Jimmy was another part of the 109. He was recovering, but he’d lost his left arm. Got shot, fell down, got trampled. They couldn’t save it.

They tell me, with a little more technological advancement, I might learn to walk in a few years. Got shot in the back, remember. Spinal cord damage. My legs don’t work anymore. Oh, they’re alive. Blood flows through them just fine. But they don’t feel a damn thing, and I can’t wiggle my toes.

Mom cries every time she visits.

Dad tells me how proud he is, “You stood up for something you believed in! You’re a real man!”

Thanks Dad. Did I mention, I can’t feel my toes?

I keep hearing the numbers. 56 dead. 109 wounded.

The neighbors all sent get well cards. I hate them. Every card. I hate them. “Thank you for standing up for free speech!” “Get well soon!”

I keep thinking I should have gone to the beach instead of the speech. I’d have watched almost naked women in their tiny bikinis, and soaked up the sun. And maybe one of almost naked women would have asked me to spend the night with her. In her place. In her bed. With no clothes on. And I could have banged her.

Instead, I went to that damn speech.

A couple of police officers stopped by after I woke up. They asked me what happened. I told them. I asked them what happened. “It’s under investigation.” That’s all they said.

The nurses explained. No one got charged with anything. Except the first guy with a gun. He was dead, of course, but they’d charged him with instigating a riot. Everything that happened after he started firing was normal self-defense. No one got charged with anything. Even the guy that shot me in the back. “No hard feelings,” the nurses said, “He was only defending himself, standing his ground. It was just bad luck.”

Bad luck. He shot me in the back. I wasn’t looking at him. He drew his gun, and shot me. Crippled me. And he didn’t do anything wrong in the eyes of the law. Stand Your Ground, they call it. Defend yourself, and the people around you. Good, sensible law, ain’t it?

Did I mention I can’t wiggle my toes? I wonder sometimes. Do they itch?

The truth? Everyone went nuts. Everyone went crazy. And just started shooting. And they didn’t stop until they ran out of bullets. Yes, we defended ourselves. And we shot a lot of people defending ourselves. Most of them weren’t the bad guys. Most of them didn’t deserve to get shot.

I sure as hell didn’t.

Did I mention I can’t wiggle my toes? Hell, I can’t even reach the bottoms of my feet. For all I know, the nurses could have painted the blue.

56 dead. 109 wounded.

But we protected our right to free speech. And our right to bear arms. We defended ourselves. Yeah. We sure did that.

I wonder. If my toes itch, but I can’t feel them, do they still need to be scratched?

#MondayMixer Round 29 : Escape

I escaped, once more, into the woods across the street from my neighborhood. I carefully opened the front door, making sure I didn’t damage it, or any of the walls. Just as carefully, I pulled it shut, hearing it lock behind me.

My panic drove me to the safe haven of the woods across the road from my neighborhood.

I sat on the ground, in Sukhasana pose, my eyes closed, as I cleared my mind. I focused on hearing the sounds of the trees. I knew the trees were quiet. Calm. They never seemed to panic. Unlike me.

I inhale, slowly, deeply, and listen to the susurrus of the trees, absorbing the tranquil patience they emanate. Using it to cleanse my thoughts of the meretricious reality binding me to life in a world I never made. Where what has value is worthless, and what is worthless is real, and priceless.

150 Words
@LurchMunster


This is my entry into week 29 of Jeffery Hollar‘s Monday Mixer flash fiction challenge. Please, go enjoy all the gems created by artisans of the written word.

Pulse

I know what it means.
I know the symptoms.
I can feel them.

The tension running across my chest.
The tenseness in the muscles.
As if I were trying
To hold up
A very heavy weight.
And slowly failing.
Soon to be crushed.

The pounding in my ears.
I know what that is.
My pulse.
Racing through my veins.
They tell me it’s not good
For someone my age
When my pulse does this.
Tops 3 digits.
100 beats per minute.
Or more.

The way my hands shake.
Endlessly.
I know the only way to stop them.
Press them down.
Hard.
Against a table top.
Or desktop.
Or wall.

And my knees never stop.
Ever.
They bounce.
My heels tapping out
Machine gun fire
On the floor.

When I try to think.
Try to talk.
Even to myself.
And all I get
Is scattered syllables.
Lots of no.
And I can’t.
Lots of endless,
Mindless
Repetition.

And nothing in my head
Makes any sense.
Other than one word.

Run.

Run like hell.

Don’t look back.

Don’t stop.

Run.

I know what this is.
I know what it all means.
I’ve been here.
Countless times.

Panic.

I tell myself to breathe.
I close my eyes.
I focus
What little of me’s left.
On the simple,
Single
Act.

Breathe.

Breathe in and know this truth.
I am breathing in.
Breathe out and know this truth.
I am breathing out.

Breathe in once again.
And then breathe out once more.

Breathe in the fear
That consumes me.
Overwhelms my mind.
Breath out the truth.
Fear is just a feeling.
Nothing more.

I focus on just breathing.
Looking into fear.
Knowing what will happen
If I let the terror
I am feeling
Consume me.

I breath in.
And out.
And remember.
Whatever happens on this day.
While I am at work.

It won’t be the end of life.
I won’t die.
I’ll be alive.
To take another breath tomorrow.
To feel the warmth of the sun.
To feel the breeze as it flows past
The fingers of my hands.

It’s just fear.
It’s just a feeling.
Nothing more.

I Was Just Afraid

As I’ve continued on this new journey I’m on through life, in this world I never made, I’ve learned so many things. And today, I’ve learned something I never understood before. I’ve had panic attacks all my life. And I never knew it. Neither did anyone else.I can remember one day in 1983. I was at work. And nothing was going well that day. My day was awful. I don’t remember all the details of what people had said to me. Of how people had behaved. But I do remember sitting at the desk I was assigned to. Looking into a desk drawer. And I remember shutting that drawer. Hard. So hard that I separated all four of the seams in the corners of the front of that drawer. The entire drawer went a quarter of an inch further into the desk after that. The front of the drawer was visibly bent at the top right corner. And when you pulled the drawer out, you could see where all four pieces of metal that attached the front to the rest of the drawer had straightened out a bit. You could see the gaps in the seams at each of the front’s four corners. And I remember after I closed that drawer, I got up. And I walked away.

I have no idea where I went. I just don’t remember. I know I stayed gone until I was OK to work.

I can remember one day in August of 1976. It was a Wednesday. Every Wednesday night the high school aged youth of the church had a youth group meeting. That Wednesday night was no exception.

I still wonder how the hell a youth group got onto the topic of women serving aboard US Navy vessels. I just knew I got hammered for being rational and pointing out that having women on an US Navy ship that was deployed at sea meant there would have to be changes in the design of the vessel. And I remember how outrageously angry that got people with me.

Too the point I couldn’t take it any more. And I got up, and walked away. I walked from the back yard of a house that day, down streets I’d never set foot on. In neighborhoods I didn’t know were there. I’d walked until I had calmed down. Until I felt like I could behave again.

I have so many tales like this that I remember from my life.

So many days in July, August and September of 2010, when I went to work. And wound up walking on the beach. Because I couldn’t stay in the building any more. In that 12 weeks, I must have consumed 60 sodium naproxen pills fighting off the headaches I endured just by parking my car in the parking lot. Headaches that got worse as I approached the building. I remember the pills didn’t cure the headaches. Instead, changed my pain threshold, so I could cope with the pain I was in.

I can remember 3rd grade. When Dad joined the US Navy. And we moved. From our home in Merrigold, Mississippi. To an apartment in Middletown, Rhode Island. Everyone thought I had a temper, and my temper showed at school. I got put into time out lots. I even broke the bottom of a desk.

No one knew. No one knew at all. How much of the things I went through then were actually caused by panic. But as my understanding of things grows. I know. I can see where panic touched my life. Even then.

Most people think of panic attacks as people trembling with fear. Hiding in their home. Unable to leave. It’s a common assumption people make. That people have to behave as if they were afraid of their own shadows to suffer panic attacks. To have problems with anxieties.

That’s a common myth. Another lie. That society puts in place to make people comfortable with the way things are. I know this because I know what I sometimes do in a panic attack. I know what the law of fight or flight is all about. And I know that in a panic-stricken state, I would do anything to escape. Including fight.

It’s what I did in 3rd grade. When I was so afraid of failure. So afraid of not getting the best grades I could get. That I lashed out every time I failed. That I punished myself, for letting my parents down. That I panicked. Wondering. “What will they think of me! I’ve let them down!”

No one understood at all. I got taught lots of ways to manage my temper. Take a deep breath, hold it, and count to 10. And lots of other things. Like covering up the bad wood used in a building’s frame with drywall. So that no one knows it’s there.

I’ve learned the physical symptoms my body exhibits when my panic sets in. The tension in my chest, shoulders, and neck. The way that my hands shake, and I can’t stop them. My sudden inability to think at all. Other than one word. “Escape!” The way my pulse goes crazy. Rocketing up to near 100 beats per minute. And maybe even more.

And I’ve learned how to cope with those signs. To treat them as the signals they really are. To find my way through the events that triggered my attack. So that more and more, my attacks don’t rule me, and don’t determine how I behave. More and more I make the choice for myself about what to do.

It’s like for the first time in my life, I’m finding the answers I’ve always needed, and always sought. Answers to the problems I’ve always had. Problems I never understood before. Problems that no one around me ever understood. I was never “bad”. I was never “mean”. I was never angry, with a temper.

I was just afraid.

And no one ever understood.

Memories : Punish The Sick One

There are many days I can never forget. Among them is one I wish I could. One that I wish I could erase from existence. One that taught me so very much. About this life I never made. And about how people really are. How they really behave. No matter what they say the believe. No matter how they say the are.

It was Monday. 25 October 2010. It was 0830 hours when I got the e-mail message from my boss at work. “The customer has requested that there be no more unsolicited contact from you.” Sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it. It was a request I knew was coming. One I knew was inevitable. And in one single stroke of a pen. One single move on the part of a group of people I’d worked with for years. Some of them for 13 years. Every person that I knew outside of my family was gone. I was totally isolated. The only people I knew were those I worked with. And  learned that it was a unanimous decision made by the people I’d worked with. I was to have no contact with them. Ever.

Have you ever lived through a panic attack? Have you ever felt the full up, blinding terror of a true panic attack? Where the only thought you have in your head, displayed in large capital letters? And those letters say one thing? “SURVIVE!”

Did you know that a panic attack can last for days, and maybe even weeks?

I learned all about panic attacks with that one single sentence. Blinded by pain. It was as if my only friend in the world had just taken a rusty spoon, and used it to carve my heart out of my chest. The only thought I had in my head was, “SURVIVE!” And the only reaction I could make was to get up,  and walk away. I had to leave. Right then. That instant. That heartbeat.

Betrayal. An ugly word. I returned to my house. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. I didn’t speak to my boss. I simply walked out. And went home. And put a message on my doctor’s answering service. “I need out of work. Now.”

Then I walked. I left my house. And I walked. Something like 4.1 miles. I could easily have walked twice that distance. I had to walk that far. It took me that long to regain the ability to think at all. When I could think again, I called the office. And returned to work. Once there, I waited for the call from my doctor. Which came at about 1030 hours.

My doctor asked me one question. “Do you need to go home?”

“Yes.”

Until I uttered that word, everything that had happened that day was a dream. A nightmare. And I was thinking, praying, I would wake up, and everything would be normal. With that single word, “yes”, I acknowledged that what had happened was real. And that to survive, I had to leave work.

It’s called the Family Medical Leave Act. Usually it’s reserved for people starting a family, or having major surgery. For people that have a stroke, or a heart attack. Something that people understand. Something that people hear about, and they think, “That person will be back in a few weeks. They just need time to heal.”

I went out that morning. On medical leave. Under the FMLA. For mental health reasons. I was to learn, months later, that my doctor’s declaration consisted of two diagnoses. The first being Major Depressive Disorder, single incident. The second being unspecified single anxiety. I was to learn too, that Monday, 25 October 2010 was the first day of a multiple day panic attack. That’s what the American Psychological Association calls it.

I was to learn something about people, too. Something that I still can’t accept. Something that causes my heart to ache. And my soul’s tears to fall like rain. For as a people, I’ve learned that we are afraid of mental illness. Of depression. Of anxiety. Of behavioral disorders. And that our social system punishes those that fall victim to such disorders. Such illnesses.

I know this, because I have endured this. And I am still enduring it. And I know that I will always endure it. It is the way things are.

I got mentally ill. Everyone knew that. Everyone I worked with knew that. And instead of supporting me. Instead of helping me through my illness. Instead of demonstrating that my illness was something that could be overcome.

Everyone abandoned me.

For getting ill.

Punishment was my sentence.

My boss asked me to destroy all e-mail addresses for the people I worked with.  To destroy all e-mail messages for the people I worked with. To destroy all contact information from my cell phone. To destroy any written information on how to contact anyone that I worked with. And then declared, “If you contact anyone, you’ll be fired.”

That Monday afternoon, I walked a second time. 1.3 miles. I walked a third time that evening. After my lady had come home from work. Another 3.2 miles. When I got home from that last walk, I had three toes that had blistered, and the blisters had popped. Leaving raw skin. Exposed skin. I’d torn the hide off my right heel. To the point it was bleeding.

Nothing hurt.

I was numb.

I didn’t feel a thing. Nothing.

Hell, I put on my shoes the next morning, and went to buy groceries at Wal-Mart. My feet did not hurt. I was in too much pain to notice anything else.

I remember going to that Wal-Mart. I’d been there hundreds of times over the years. And there I was. At 0830 in the morning. When I should have been at work. When I would have been at work two weeks earlier. There I was. On medical leave. 30 days at least. Staring at the entire month of November. Wondering if I’d ever be allowed to return to work. Wondering what would happen if I ever crossed the path of anyone I was not allowed to have any contact with. Wondering if I could even make a simple trip to Wal-Mart. And look at the books, and magazines. And look at the video games, and computers. And get the few things I was there to buy.

Knowing nothing would ever be the same.

I didn’t know I was in the midst of a panic attack. I didn’t know what a panic attack was. I didn’t know what one felt like. I felt like, “You are guilty of burning the entire school building to the ground, Mark. Now you get to face the people whose children you roasted alive.” I felt like, “You are broken. A part in a machine that has worn out. Now, we’re sending you into the shop for repairs. And when you’re fixed, we’ll determine if we can put you back into the machine.”

Everything had ended. Everything was gone. Taken from me by the people I worked for. By the people I’d trusted. That I’d worked with. That I’d spent 13 years supporting. And doing what they asked me to. And the reward I got was mental illness and emotional distress. And the treatment I got was punishment. As if I was the one that did something wrong. As if I chose to become mentally ill. As if everything was my fault.

And then, I got angry. My doctor knew. My family knew. I knew. I got angry. For the first time in my life, I found myself hating a group of people. Literally. I found myself wishing they could all experience what I was experiencing. I found myself imagining each of them being isolated. Alone. With every friend they had having been ripped away from them. With the knowledge that it was the friends themselves that had declared, “Go away! Leave us alone!”

I can never forget that e-mail message. I can never forget the actions that the people I’d worked with for years took that day. I can never forget the punishment I endured for having become ill. I can never forget that my illness was my fault.

Since that day. October 25th, 2010, I have not spoken, or heard from, any of those people I once worked with. Save for a single voice. One single voice that overcame his own fear, and talked with me. Briefly. For a few times.

The rest of them declared I was gone. That I’d done something unforgivable by getting mentally ill. For everyone knows, we don’t care for those that get mentally ill. We torture them. We punish them.

Because it’s all their fault.

And if you believe that is the only way things can be, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell to you.

For all I learned by being punished was that people are heartless. Their hearts being frozen colder than any ice. And harder than any stone.  And their souls are cold, lifeless things. As dark as night. Containing nothing at all.

As I’ve healed. As I’ve been walking this path I am now on, and finding new friends. Creating a new life. I’ve found that knowing how the people I once worked with are. Seeing them stripped of the façade of civilized behavior that they dress themselves in. Seeing the social rules they follow as a simple rule set. Seeing all that stripped away, with their hearts and souls being revealed to me.

My heart aches. And my soul cries tears of pain. Because I know that they don’t know anything. And are completely blind to what is real. And how they truly behave.

And I know that none of them will ever understand a word that I’ve just written. For in their eyes, everything they did was right. And justified. And proper. And they behaved in the proper ways. In their eyes, it was me that did everything wrong.

And that makes me sad indeed. Knowing this, how can anyone misunderstand my soul’s tears?