5/25/17

Going Under

Watching it spin above my head, the massive woven fan filled the entire ceiling and was spinning my worry-ridden mind into a trance. My panic attacks had increased in frequency and I was beginning to avoid life again.

Except being around my dad was a sort of buffer, being the only one I knew who knew what it was like to feel paralyzing terror all of the sudden for no apparent reason. Instead of reacting to my panic, he had a way of calming my inconsolable mind.

So it was here sitting in this booth seat, in a steakhouse the next town over from my hometown, that the end of March in 2009 found me. It was my dad and step-mom's anniversary and since I was the only kid at home they'd asked if I wanted to crash their anniversary dinner, which I'd gladly agreed to.

They were laughing, dad was telling a joke. Having ordered a beer with his steak, it was the first time I'd seen him smile, a real smile, in a long while. His forehead had remained, in recent days, in a constant state of tensed. He was worried about his dad. But right then, in that moment, he was letting go for just a bit.

I smiled. Dad's a lighthearted person by nature, and it'd been too long since I'd heard him telling a joke.

I was still staring up at the fan and smiling when I heard my dad's cell phone ring.

"It's Momma," He said as he flipped it open.

I snapped my head back down to look at him so fast, it hurt. There was a long moment of silence, and my dad's face took on the same look he'd been wearing for so many months now. And it slowly morphed into what looked like anger.

"Momma, is someone holding pressure?"

My heart sank to my knees. I hadn't stopped by my grandparents house today, like I'd been doing everyday, because I'd come to dinner with my parents after school instead.

Silence. I looked at Marcia. She looked like she was in pain.

"Okay, the ambulance is on the way from Redmond?"

The waitress stopped by the table to check on us. Marcia asked for the check and asked her to hurry very fast, please. And quickly dug a credit card out of her purse.

"We're on our way, Momma. Keep holding constant pressure, don't let up, not even for a second," and with that dad snapped his phone shut.

Marcia looked at my dad waiting for him to say something. He took a long gulp of water and after he swallowed said, "He's hemorrhaging again. Can't get it to stop. Marcia, you're gonna have to drive. You drive as fast as you can. I don't care about the speed limit." The way he said it would have had someone from the outside looking in thinking he was calm.

But it sounded like he was going to break some teeth on the ice he was chewing and his leg was jumping up and down, shaking the entire table as we waited what felt like forever for the waitress to come back with the check. In all reality, it was probably two minutes. Still the longest two minutes of my life.

My heart was pounding hard and my chest was constricting, the beginning of a panic attack. As dad signed the check without ever looking at it, I started shaking. Then, he was out his seat and hauling ass for the door. To catch up to him, Marcia and I nearly had to run.

Marcia is a pedal-to-the-metal kind of driver on any regular day, so she was driving way over the speed limit by the time we hit the highway.

Gripping the door handle like it was a lifeline, Dad wasn't satisfied, "Go faster, Marcia."

"Dave, I'm already doing 20 over the limit!"

"Speed up." He wasn't asking.

Had my dad not had any beer in his system, I wondered just how fast this car would be going. But he didn't look like a man fit to drive, and the beer had nothing to do with it. Here I was in the back seat trying my hardest not to lose the very delicate hold I had on my panic attack and my barely contained hyperventilation, while my dad was in the front seat struggling with his own.

Few moments in my life have etched a permanent spot in my memory like watching my parents lose their parents; wondering all the while, when the time came, could I survive the same? But my dad was the only thing helping me hold it together these days, and the thought terrified me.

Eying the speedometer, my dad was directing Marcia to pass cars and run red lights.

He was scared, but it was more than that. He looked like a man about to drown. But he wasn't flailing his arms and screaming for help. He knew he couldn't be saved. He was just gulping down a few last breaths before that inevitable tide sucked him under.

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