1/28/18

Stay Outta Here (2)

He'd been driving just a couple of minutes when he reached over and turned down the country radio, "We're going to the creek property."

The creek property was Marcia's (my step-mom's) inheritance when her mother had passed. The property was about a 20 minute drive from the house, further into the country than the farm. It was a plot of land sided up next to a creek that had been there forever. My history buff of a dad had discovered, to his delight, that there was an abundance of arrowheads and old Indian artifacts to be discovered on the property if one had the patience and a willingness to get dirty and dig a little.

After we bumped down the back road that spit us out onto the creek bank, we hoped out of the truck and dad walked around to the truck bed and pulled out two grabber sticks, basically a stick with a handle and a trigger at the top that would squeeze together the tong-like mouth at the other end, making it possible to pick up things without bending down repeatedly and wearing out your back.

Dad tossed me one of the grabbers. Fumbling with it, I nearly dropped it twice before catching it.

Looking out at the open field of red dirt, I could see they'd just upturned it with the tractor and it was fluffy. A huge fluffy field of dirt. "How's this gonna help?"

"Idle hands..." He answered over his shoulder and headed out into the field leaving me standing there staring after him like an idiot, holding a device mostly utilized by the senior citizen portion of the population. He didn't finish the rest of the sentence because he knew I could finish it on my own.

Idle hands are the Devil's workshop.

Dad had always said that, he'd just recently starting increasing the frequency with which he said it. According to his theory, I was too much in my head and not enough on planet earth. So, I had too much time to be in my mind fixating on my phobias and fear. Here I was overwhelmed and unable to handle the most simple of everyday mundane stress without feeling like my mind would snap, and Dad was telling me I needed more to occupy myself with.

Inwardly I rolled my eyes, because I was too chicken to let Dad catch me in the act.

Realizing I wasn't behind him, Dad turned to holler at me, "Ey! We ain't leavin here til you find somethin!" And he jabbed his forehead with his index finger twice, his signal to me to get out of my head.

I dragged my feet as I walked my shaking self out into the field. Aimlessly I dug into the dirt with the toe of my sneaker, more rearranging the dirt than actually looking for anything, trying not to let the overwhelming sensations in body take over my focus. But trying to focus on anything besides the tightness in my chest and the difficulty to swallow was an impossible task, it's why I was in this predicament to begin with. The thoughts in my head were no longer my own.

They belonged to fear.

Dad made some small talk as he was kicking the red dirt with his boot, kicking up dust, and swatting it out of the air as he bent to examine an interesting rock here and there.

After a little while of sifting through the dirt, staying in close proximity to each other, dad sighed and asked me a question. "Did I ever tell you bout my first panic attack?"

After a moment of thinking, I could recall nothing. Giving him a sideways look, I shook my head.

"My first job as a welder was at that factory in my early twenties. There were these big metal pipes that would channel the heat and smoke out of the building."

Dad paused to dig in the dirt with the toe of his boot. "There were maintenance repairs that had to be done inside the pipes periodically and I was the only welder who could fit down into the pipes. They would shut the equipment off before lowering me down into the pipes, but OSHA would've had a conniption fit had they known what was going on." Dad shook his head.

"Well, this one time, they lowered me down into a pipe to do a repair I'd done countless times before. Only this time..." Dad stopped talking and I looked up from my mindless digging. He was giving me a look.

He continued, "Only this time, the equipment wasn't turned off."

My eyes grew wide and my dad nodded. "They pulled me out before the heat got to me, and I was fine," Dad paused. "Physically."

"What coulda happened messed with my head. I couldn't stop replaying it in my head. If they hadn't gotten me out in time, your brother woulda been an only child."

Dad knelt down to look at something in the dirt and then looked up at me. "I went home early from work that day. I was really shook up. My chest was tight. And I kept havin these episodes where I felt like I was suffocatin and my heart would race. But I didn't tell anyone about 'em. Back then, that's not something you went around telling other folks. I didn't know what was wrong with me." Dad stood back up, "But I knew I tweren't okay." He tapped his forehead.

"That evening, momma and daddy came up to the house to see me." Dad paused.

My dad hadn't mentioned PawPaw around me since after the funeral. And I remembered in this moment, that even though I was here, desperately trying to wrestle my life back from the grips of this terror, my dad was still just a human, figuring out how to live without his dad.

He continued. "I had myself worked up into a state when they got there. I told daddy all about what had happened and he listened to me go on and on and on. I was stuck up here," Dad tapped his forehead. "I was stuck in that cage. Obsessin over what might've happened."

"Daddy was looking at me, with his forehead scrunched up, like he was missing something in my story. You've got to remember your PawPaw was in the middle of combat during World War 2. He had to learn how to handle fear. So he stopped me and asked me, 'But did you die?'"

Dad looked at me the way he had looked at PawPaw, with his forehead creasing, confused, "And I said, 'Well, no daddy.'"

"He asked me, 'Then what's the problem?'"

Dad didn't say anything else.

I didn't say anything either and went on aimlessly toeing the dirt.

I was tossing a dud back to the ground when Dad looked at me sideways, and raised his eyebrows, "Do I need to explain the moral of that story?"

"No, I get it."

"Good." He narrowed his eyes at me and jabbed his forehead with his finger. "Stay outta here."

1/23/18

Stay Outta Here

(Somewhere at the end of September 2009.)

The moment the fork left my mouth, I knew I should've just spit out that bite of food and give up trying to get anything down my constricted throat. Shaking, I closed my hands around my glass of water, again, and chugged it trying to force anything down my throat. It wasn't working.

I started coughing. Dad started patting my back, more out of moral support than a life saving maneuver.

We were sitting in a restaurant for my uncle Dwight's birthday dinner. The only reason I was here was because I had a panic attack just thinking about not being around my dad. The attacks had increased in frequency and severity, something I didn't even think was possible. I'd stopped driving, working, and had not re enrolled in school after the summer. The reason I couldn't stand being around anyone else, was because they either reacted to my panic or they just stared at me in fear, shock, completely unable to reassure me by talking to me because they would stay silent.

Except Alex. But he had an actual job. My dad was his own boss. There was no one around to ask why his grown daughter was following him around all the time. So, I went with my dad. Everywhere. Except on the days that Alex gladly took over babysitting duties.

Thus, here I was sitting across from my grandmother, uncle, and aunt, and sitting next to my dad, with my step-mom Marcia on the other side of him.

The entire time we'd been here, I'd been on the edge of an attack, and now I was starting to hyperventilate. I wasn't sure if anyone had told my aunt and uncle what was going on with me, because I remember them looking a bit confused when dad took a swig of water, stood, and ushered me out of my chair, excusing us as he walked me out the door.

I mean, what were my parents suppose to tell everyone? She bought a ticket for the crazy train?

The air was hotter outside than in, but the walls couldn't close in on me out here. Dad walked circles with me around the restaurant, trying to calm my building panic, but it wasn't working. He was completely unphased by my erratic behavior of obsessively checking my pulse and rambling about suffocating and choking.

Everyone finished dinner, though dad and I never went back inside, and everyone said goodbye in front of the restaurant.

Marcia, seeing my current state, took the backseat, and instructed me to ride in the front seat, with my dad driving. We had just pulled out of the parking lot and we were sitting at a red light when my panic attack peaked. The terror, that I'd been keeping barely contained, surfaced in a flush that had me pouring sweat and frantically sucking air into my lungs, my heart exploding in my chest.

In the haze of my terror, as my dad is hitting the gas as the red light turned green, I grabbed the door handle and threw the passenger door open, at the same time, my other hand was slipping and fumbling as I tried to free myself of the seatbelt, because I'd completely forgotten how to unlatch something that I'd been operating since I was three.

"Mandie! What're you doing?!" Marcia tried to reach around from the backseat to put her arm on my jerking shoulder.

But dad was faster, slapping my hand out of the way and putting a death grip on my still buckled seatbelt to keep me from getting free. "You can NOT get out of a moving vehicle, Amanda! You need to focus and get a hold of yourself!"

It was enough to snap me out of my head for a moment, as dad was always nonreactive to my freak-outs. He hit the gas hard enough to slam my door back shut.

"I have to get outta here!"

"Not while the car's movin, you're not!" Dad didn't let go of my belt buckle until he pulled into the driveway, 8 minutes later.

It had been 8 excruciating minutes of Marcia and my dad trying and failing to reassure me, while I hyperventilated and yanked at my seat belt, spiraling in out of terror at being trapped in a moving car, the walls closing in and my throat closing up.

Once inside the house, laying prostate on the living room rug, I tried to get a grip on myself, but instead after several hours now of fighting this building panic and losing, I reached into my purse and pulled out the prescription bottle for the Klonopin, broke a pill in half and stuck one half under my tongue, dropping the other half back into the bottle.

My dad was sitting in his chair watching me, "That pill won't fix your problem."

I remember thinking that my dad was way too old school about some things.

"Then what's going to fix me, dad?" With a little bit of attitude, I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. We had already exhausted so many other options. The deep breathing, mediation, therapists, preacher, prayer, distraction, none of it was working.

He just raised his eyebrows at me, perplexed as to how to help his adult daughter overcome a kind of terror that overshadowed her childhood phobias.

Suddenly, my dad stood up, "Get up."

I was still laying flat on my back on the rug, "What?"

"Get. Up." He repeated it like he was talking to an idiot.

"Why?"

Sighing and shaking his head in frustration he walked out of the room saying, "Just get up," over his shoulder.

I knew better than to push anymore and did as he said, following him to the side door where he was pulling on his boots.

"Get your shoes on."

I sighed and grabbed my sneakers.

Following him onto the front porch, my anxiety could only handle so much suspense. "Dad, what are we doing?"

"Get in the truck."

Had it been anyone else, I would've stomped my foot and demanded an explanation before going any further, but I was more worried about mouthing off to my dad than I was the uncertainty of whatever it was we were going to do.

Riding in dad's truck wasn't quite the same as riding in the car. The windows in the truck were always rolled down, and the AC was never turned on. There was a permanent layer of filth and dirt and dust an inch thick on every surface in the cab. The seats had holes and every metal surface was rusting. There were Grizzly tobacco cans strewed all about along with water-warped progress reports for the farm and various tools and chains, and face masks everywhere and plastic grocery bags that he used to tie around his nasty boots if he had to walk into the house or run an errand with his farm boots on. It smelled like a chicken house and there was some chicken shit on the floor boards. We didn't wear seat belts in the truck. Just never had. The things were filthy and plastered in a permanent spot in their slots.

It was a filthy truck, but there was something comforting about rolled down windows and the smell of a chicken house. Strange the things we come to associate with comfort and security.

(To be continued.)

1/20/18

The Bleeding Part

When I started writing this, it was my attempt to exorcise my ghost. Still is. Writing has always been my ticket to healing. Through the process of converting things I'm trying to cope with into words, it's like flat-lining the pain. Trapping the hurt and bending it this way and that until I'm left with something outside of myself, siphoning the things I can't process into these horizontal lines that I can slam shut and walk away from.

These stories though, they're my memories. And writing them requires reliving them. It's not like scrambling down a poem or page full of thoughts. I'm not creating anything that hasn't already existed at one time. I'm having to replay moments that are better left collecting dust in the dark recesses of my mind like old forgotten VHS tapes.

I didn't originally share this anywhere. No one was reading this thing. I was free to come and go and pick this story up and drop it again like a hot potato when it got to be too much. But I've been asked to finish this thing. And every time I've tried to condense this thing down to the bare bones, it doesn't sting like I need it to.

I can't skip over this part. This part where I've come to a standoff with my ghost. Where the writing is leaving me mentally and physically ill. My last attempt at putting pen to paper, I was shaking so hard I couldn't keep the pen between the lines, ink running everywhere, my teeth chattering from the shakes and a sharp pain shooting up my neck as my muscles locked up from the tension.

My ghost doesn't play well with me.

It leaves me needing a drink of something stronger than a juice box, but numbing my pain is what got me here, writing this particular story, in the first place.

Whether I've paid my comeuppance remains to be seen, but God knows the sadistic, self-destructive devil in me needs this to hurt really bad. Like a metaphorical whipping post. So I've come to the place where it's time to remove the tourniquet I have tied around the bleeding part of my heart. The part with the wound I've pretended isn't there. It's raw and oozing, with a raging infection that I'm going to succumb to if I don't do something about it.

If I don't conjure this story to life, if I can't give it legs to walk on it's own, I might have to carry it forever. And I can't do that.

Not anymore.

That's why I'm taking the long way around.

And I may have been stalling for a bit. Point is, I'm still here. I'm sorry I disappeared for a while. I have a few posts that I had written months ago, they just need to be edited and then I'll have some stuff to post.

And so now it's back to well, like Hemingway said, "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

7/7/17

Finding Narnia

(Somewhere in July/August 2009.)

The swivel stool squeaked as my doctor shifted his weight from left to right, a line forming between his brows as he listened to me, but mostly my mom, explain everything.

After taking a deep breath, his shoulders sagged a little, "Well, Mandie... You're in rough shape."

I just nodded. I was in some sort of shape and it was far from good. I'd never been here before, a full blown agoraphobic who couldn't stand the thought of taking a shower or peeking through the blinds, the anxiety had closed in around me so tight and thick that except for breathing and my heart beating of it's own accord, I'd stopped living.

My doctor started jotting down notes and scrolling through his little screen thing that let him look up any pharmaceutical medicine and it's details.

The exam room was so quiet, I could hear myself breathing.

Sitting in the chair next to the doctor was my mom, while I sat wringing my hands on the exam table. It was like awaiting a death sentence. Just how bad was I? Could I be cured? My heart was racing in my chest, like it did on a regular basis these days.

My doctor broke the silence, "I'm going to prescribe Celexa, 20 mg to start with. It's an SSRI anti-depressant, works well for anxiety, but it will take a few weeks to see any difference. You take it once a day, everyday. I'm also going to prescribe Klonopin, 1 mg to take as needed for your panic attacks. This isn't a scheduled medication, like the Celexa, so just take it as you need it."

He handed the paper for the prescriptions to my mom, giving me a sad smile as he got up and walked out of the room.

That's all I got these days. Sad smiles.

No one knew how to deal with my inability to deal, except to give these strange smiles that looked more like grimaces. Like it hurt to look at me.

I got it. It hurt to look at myself. There was no friend to be found in the mirror. But my family was pained that there was not a thing they could do to help me out of this.

Alex loved me anyways, like he always had, like it wasn't hard, like it was the most natural thing in the world to have a girlfriend who hyperventilated at the thought of walking out her front door.

Kim was angry that her big sister was completely useless when she needed me the most, she'd just walked across the stage of her high school graduation a few months ago, and would be having her first child in September. And I thought I was scared.

Mom was trying to fix me. The counselors, the doctor, the self-help books, the affirmations, the prayers... God love her. She was trying.

Dad knew exactly what was happening to me and would give me these long looks washed in worry, but there was something else there behind his eyes. There always had been. Like he was watching history repeat itself, but was powerless to hand me whatever it was that had helped him overcome this same affliction when he was in his twenties. He'd said it time and time again and would say it many more times in the years to come, "Babe, I can give you all the advice in the world on how to handle the anxiety, but until it clicks up here," he'd vigorously tap his forehead, "That it's just fear, you're gonna be stuck in that cage."

Just fear.

I didn't understand how my dad had stepped across that threshold from fear to just fear. It was like a magical portal. Like Narnia.

I was trying to find my Narnia.

The next time I had a panic attack, with my filled prescription of Klonopin on the counter, I hesitated for just a moment and then took the plunge and swallowed the tiny green pill.

It was an absolute miracle, for the next 4 hours, when I wasn't sleeping through the haze, I could feel no fear. I could've skydived off the Empire State building. I could've walked into combat on a battlefield. I could've seen a clown wielding a chainsaw and still I would've felt no fear.

Through the translucent orange of a RiteAid prescription bottle, I'd found my portal. I'd found Narnia.

I just couldn't stay longer than 4 hours at a time.

6/30/17

Sucker Punched

(Late June/Early July 2009.)

I'd been walking through my mom's empty house, when a foreign sensation punched me in my chest. Stopping dead in my tracks, I tried to take a deep breath but found my chest too tight for that.

The couch was a few feet away so I decided to sit down and told myself I'd been under a lot of stress recently, and that my heart losing it's rhythm and beating in some alien fashion was completely normal.

I didn't believe me.

After deciding to try laying down, my heart returned to the rhythm of predictable beats that most people never notice. But after a few minutes, it returned to skipping beats and extra beats and if my heart had been the drummer in a band playing live, there would've been boos and tomatoes.

I was scared. And starting to shake.

It wouldn't stop. My heart had completely lost it's mind.

And so I lost my hold, and spiraled into the worst panic attack I'd ever had. And the first one where I actually saw my life flash before my eyes.

Hyperventialing, losing the feeling in my hands and arms, I somehow drove myself to the ER, on the phone with my mom, because I was sure I would be dead in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Of course, the ER doctor ran all the standard heart tests on me, and when everything came back completely normal, he asked if I was experiencing any new stress.

At the mention of my grandfather dying, he just nodded his head.

"Just a panic attack," He'd said. "You just need to find a way of coping with them."

Which is the great secret, isn't it? How to cope with panic attacks.

Feeling like an idiot for thinking I was dying, I walked back out the automatic glass doors of the ER back into a world that didn't look like the one I'd woken up in yesterday.

The panic attacks started coming all the time, from the moment I woke in the mornings, until I paced myself exhausted into bed at night. They were unrelenting.

I was afraid to get in my car, afraid to go to work, afraid to swallow food.

I was afraid to live.

6/23/17

Gone

When I opened my eyes, Alex was asleep with his arm thrown over his face shielding his eyes from the light that was starting to come in the window. Behind me, on the nightstand, one of our phones was buzzing, probably getting ready to fall off the edge onto the floor.

For what felt like an eternity, I laid there staring at Alex. I already knew it was my phone. I already knew who was calling. And I already knew I had to answer.

So, quickly before it went to voicemail, I rolled over and hit the green phone button.

"Hey dad," I laid back on the pillow.

Alex started stirring.

"Hey," My dad paused just a millisecond and then, "He's gone."

Nodding at the ceiling, I forgot for a moment that dad couldn't see me. "Okay," Was all I said.

Dad was silent for a moment. "Me, Dwight, and Momma were all with him when he went."

"Okay."

"I need you to wake your sister and tell her," I might've been 20-years-old but I was suppose to be at my mom's house, not at Alex's. "And I need you to go to McDonald's and get about 10 breakfast biscuits. Nobody here has eaten."

"Okay."

As I let my phone fall to the bed, I was still staring at the ceiling but I could see Alex looking at me from the corner of my eye.

"Want me to call out of work today?"

I shook my head.

He pulled me into his arms, "You sure?"

I nodded.

There were no tears, but I was wondering how people do this. How do we lose people without losing part of ourselves? Or is it just par for the course?

We'd known this was coming for the past few weeks. He'd gotten progressively weaker and couldn't eat anymore. And then about a week ago, he'd lost consciousness. But it wasn't like a coma, because he'd come back but he wasn't really there but in some other world, or in the past, and he continued to call out for dad to help him. My dad. Not his dad. And there was nothing dad could do but be there and say, "I'm here, daddy."

Hospice was taking care of him, so he was at home instead of a hospital.

And so, I'd been prepared for this, but at the same time not. The day before had been Father's Day. And it was a bitter sweet day of gratitude for my own dad, all the while he was losing his.

When the men from the funeral home came to take my grandfather's body away, it felt cold and sterile. Professional and all about business. As they loaded him up and took him away, Nannie tried to keep a strong face but it was hard on her.

I'd tried to swallow a biscuit but it ended up being more trouble than it was worth.

When dad pulled me aside later that day, he seemed to be doing okay, but I knew that it was just a facade. "I need you to stay with your Nannie tonight. She says she's doing fine, but I need someone with her just in case."

I nodded my head.

And that night, with tears in her eyes, Nannie asked if I'd be okay sleeping in her and my grandfather's bed while she slept in the guest room.

"Sure, Nannie."

"Okay good," She half smiled at me. "I'm just not ready to sleep in there again just yet. PawPaw hasn't slept in our bed in months, you know he's been in that chair or the hospital bed, he just couldn't get comfortable. But it's still not the same without him, ya know?"

I nodded and tried not to cry.

When Kim and I had been little and had spent the night with our grandparents, if we ever got scared and wanted to get in bed with them, we could never sleep in the middle, between them, because they held hands while they slept.

And that night, I broke two molars in my sleep.

6/9/17

We Shall Never Surrender

My grandfather didn't die that day. After many blood transfusions, he made a miraculous recovery. I'm not sure if it wasn't his time, or if Howell Jones West had just made up his mind that he wasn't ready to go quite yet.

There was someone who hadn't had the chance to say goodbye yet, and I wonder now looking back if he was waiting on him.

Whatever it was, I was so thankful to have more time with him, no matter how limited that time. Even though he was suffering and in a great deal of pain, I wasn't ready to let him go.

And so after him nearly bleeding to death, I didn't miss a day seeing my grandfather. After leaving school everyday, it was the first place I went. Not knowing when it would be the last day, I never skipped a day again.

He was a little weaker than before this last hemorrhage.

Today, like everyday, he was sitting in the livingroom with the shades pulled up so he could see the pastures outside. Trapping a lifelong farmer indoors will kill him faster than any disease in existence. The news was on the TV but it was far too low for him to hear, but the subtitles were on.

He was always cocking his head to the left like it hurt him to move. He smiled when he saw me, raising his hand in a weak wave. I sat down in the chair that was always sitting on his right, his good side with the ear he could still partially hear out of.

"Hey PawPaw. How're you?" I spoke very loud. And he always turned his ear towards you when you were speaking.

"Ah... I'm a'right. I'm worried bout my cows though." He pointed out the window towards the pasture where the cows were grazing.

"They look alright to me, PawPaw."

"Your daddy been feedin em?" He cocked his head to look at me.

I laughed at him. "Yes, PawPaw."

He squinted his eyes a little at me, "Ah... I don't believe ya. They're lookin skinny."

I laughed again.

"You tell your daddy I said to feed em cows."

"Alright I will, PawPaw." I shook my head with a smile.

Temporarily appeased, he stared off at the TV. The news was covering the story of the hijacking of the cargo ship, Maerska Alabama, by Somalian pirates. It had been all over the news in the past week.

After a minute PawPaw pointed towards the TV. "Did ya hear what happened to the pirates?"

I hadn't, "No."

"The Navy pulled up on the pirates and the sailors all had their rifles aimed at the boat," PawPaw closed his good eye, like he was looking thru the lens of a rifle and looked at me with both hands up like he was aiming a gun. And then he jerked his arms a couple times like he was firing bullets. "They got em."

I laughed and raised my eyebrows. "Is that how it went?"

Pawpaw just smiled and went back to watching the TV.

We were silent for a few minutes, just watching the news on subtitles. And I remembered something I hadn't thought about in years. When Kim and I were kids PawPaw used to ask us, "Girls, ya know what Winston Churchill used to say?"

As young as four and two, I remember us rolling our eyes and saying "Yes, PawPaw!" All exasperated like because he asked us at least once every time we saw him.

He'd demand, "Well what'd he say?"

In unison we'd answer, "We shall never surrender," Rolling our eyes.

PawPaw would exaggerate his frown so that his eyebrows were touching. "Ah nah!" He'd say disgusted, "That's not what he said!" Shaking his head from side to side, he'd say, "He said, 'We shall nev'a... Surrend'a!'" With a fake British accent and with such conviction.

Because 'We shall never surrender' wasn't worth the breath if you weren't going to say it with a British accent and with some conviction.

We'd just laugh and appease him by saying, "We shall nev'a... Surrend'a!"

He'd smile and nod his head in approval.

And that's how it went, for so many years, Kim and I would always say it wrong just to see him get flustered and teach us just one more time how to say it the way Churchill did.

And so, I asked him loudly, breaking the silence, "PawPaw, what'd Winston Churchill used to say?"

He was silent and still for so long, I was sure he didn't hear me. But then he cocked his head to look at me with a faint smile, "We shall nev'a... Surrend'a!" He'd said it with that damn British accent and conviction that he always used to.

Like it was me who'd been administering the test this time, I just smiled and nodded.

"I'm gonna go find Nannie." I said and quickly headed for the kitchen.

It wasn't that I suddenly needed to find my grandmother, I just didn't want him to see me cry.