The lettuce I was pushing around my bowl on lunch break was becoming less and less appealing. Breathing became a task as the familiar feeling of a vise grip around my chest hit me. As I jumped out of my seat, I was suddenly thankful to be the only one who had brought their lunch and stayed in class to eat. With no idea where I was going, I flung open the door and ran down the empty hall. The walls were closing in and I just needed some open space, because I was suffocating in a room full of oxygen.
I knew it was a panic attack, having had enough of them in my life to recognize them by now. But that doesn't make it any less terrifying, nor does it do anything to calm me down. And this was my first attack in years.
My thoughts had been all over the place during my solitary lunch. Here I was sitting in school for cosmetology while my grandfather was wasting away, the hole in the side of head growing bigger and deeper, the smell of death ever-present.
And he'd started hemorrhaging. Blood would just start pouring from his head, with no warning, and there was no way to stop it. The doctor had already told my grandmother that that might be the way he goes.
How could I be sitting here studying the science and structure of hair, waiting for that phone call that he'd bled to death? I couldn't handle it. It was eating me alive. This anxiety. I'd started questioning my desire to do something so frivolous as cosmetology. My thoughts had become hell. And I'd never learned the art of reeling them back in.
As I stepped through the exit door into the cool Georgia air, I pulled my cell phone from my scrub pocket. With stars in my peripheral, struggling to breathe, I dialed dad's number. Maybe he could calm me down. Having suffered from them severely in his twenties and off and on all his life, he knew what it was like to have a panic attack.
I winced when it went straight to voice-mail, which meant he was somewhere on the farm that didn't have cell reception.
At a new wave of panic over not being able to get a hold of my dad, I reminded myself that Alex was just on the other side of campus and if I really needed him, he'd come.
But I didn't call him. I had to get this under control myself.
So I told myself I was okay, in this moment right here.
Even if the near future was already crumbling. I was okay.
Clinging to that thought, I walked back to class and tossed the rest of my lunch in the trash.