Monday, June 2 … 2:30pm
Working class stiff.
How can I focus? Writing editorial for a health website is far from my mind, but I need to do it. I need to pay the bills. I can’t afford to lose my job on top of everything else. Been two years since I crashed, two years of trying to make this job – this work – seem significant.
They’ve been nice enough. Yes, nice, letting me take a whole month off when Jenny died. That was cool, admittedly, yes. But it’s hard to construct the words, ideas. Difficult to assemble the concepts. Informational text needs to be put together; a bland puzzle, black and white. Each assignment comes to me from a different department, each requesting copy for some bit of breaking health news, some new hair-loss miracle.
My own corporate website taught me about the meds. It was a vulgar thrill to read the potential side effects of all the shit I’ve been ingesting:
Sedation, insomnia, weight gain, dizziness, constipation, headache, runny nose, low blood pressure, anxiety, diarrhea, nausea.
Not to mention the complete inability to orgasm. Masturbation has been a losing battle. I’ve debated going on Viagra just to come once a month. My big fear is that my dick has stopped working altogether. Whether or not it will ever go back to normal is a crap shoot that plagues my mind and keeps me up some nights.
Of course, it’s hard to know until I actually try having sex. A different experience than masturbation, I’d gather. More exciting, possibly doable. All that touching. But I haven’t dated anyone since Jenny. I don’t find women that attractive right now. Not that I’m into guys, it’s just I don’t feel attracted to anyone.
For now, I sit at my desk in my small cubicle, the fluorescent lights shining down on me. Plastic sunlight. I stare at my computer screen, my fingers trace the outline of the keyboard, the assignments sit stacked in a neat pile to my right. I wonder if I will ever give a shit about anything again.
I swivel around and see Jimmy, who normally sits two cubicles down, now standing in front of me. His job has something to do with the office network.
Hey Jimmy, I say.
Jimmy’s a good guy. Quiet, always nice. Pretty well-liked by everyone, popular with the girls in the office, as well. He’s tall, dark-toned. A handsome geek of a god.
How’s it going? he says.
Yeah? Good. So look, I wanted to invite you to a barbecue I’m having this weekend. It’s not really a work thing, but I’m inviting some people from here, and I’d like you to come.
A barbecue? I think. When was the last time I’d been to one? I can’t remember. Not recently. It would be fun. Jimmy and I have always gotten along, as work relationships go. I don’t know, he seems normal.
That sounds cool, I say, proud of myself for being social. Do you want to tell me the details now, or…
Oh no, I’ll just e-mail you all that stuff. How to get there and what-not. I’m glad you’re coming. There’s going to be a lot of girls, so bring your best face.
I smile, amused at the idea of hitting on girls. It’s a concept so alien to me, the very idea is preposterous. A world not my own.
Okay, I say.
Oh, and bring your swimsuit, there’s a pool. Anyway, it’ll all be in the e-mail. Um…yeah, that’s it. I’ll see ya.
Jimmy turns and starts, then stops. He turns back, lowers himself next to my chair, whispers uncomfortably.
Listen, Peter, I just want to say…he pauses, choosing. I just want to say this isn’t a pity invite. I don’t want you to think it’s a pity invite. I want you to come. It’d be fun to hang out, and if you don’t mind me saying so, I think it would be good for you to meet some people. My friends are cool, you’ll like them. He pauses, takes a breath, his brown eyes traveling. Anyway, I just wanted you to know. You’re a good guy…don’t know if you realize that.
I’m taken back, a bit speechless. It’s weird to hear such direct honesty. It’s refreshing, intimidating. It’s also nice, a nice thing for him to say. Being a sap, I feel my eyes burn with potential tears. I turn away, look back toward the screen, appear preoccupied with my workload.
No, no, I didn’t think that, I say. But thanks for saying so. I’ll definitely be there. I have no plans, so…
Awesome, he says, chipper now that he’s cleared the debris from his head. See you then.
Sounds good, I say, enjoying the camaraderie, thinking he must make all the other gods giggle. As he leaves, I turn back to my work, look at the stack of assignments. I pick one off the top, study it, straighten toward the desk, put my fingers on the keyboard. I start slowly, pushing the words onto the screen, never thinking more than a sentence ahead. After a while, I pick up speed, and I’m soon lost to everything but the writing.
I finish two assignments back-to-back, recline to take a break. My mind feels focused, I have energy. I print out both pieces and start to read them over, reading for speed bumps, hiccups, poor phrasing. The words blur together after a while, my concentration laps. My writing melts into the white, I smear imagined ink on my face as paragraphs become storm clouds.
The thing about an anxiety attack is you don’t always know when it’s coming. Sometimes, when I was having them once or twice a day, I could sense the symptoms before the full brunt of the attack smothered me. It always starts the same way – I begin to feel tired, worthless, hopeless. Then the depression begins to spin inside my head, turning over and over and over, and as it turns my blood accelerates, my breath quickens. Before you know it, I’m on the floor breathing into a paper bag, tears streaming down my face, my breath coming in giant swallows, my head racing like a tornado. Irrationality takes over completely, I have nothing to hang onto. A stormy ocean with no raft, the waves crashing over me, driving forces. The water swallows me, fills my lungs with panic, it takes me down thrashing, heart pounding. I want to scream and vomit, but it all pours in, killing me from the inside out.
But the medication blocks some of the precursors, and now the same symptoms don’t seem to apply. On meds they occur more infrequently, maybe once or twice a month, out of nowhere. Out of the darkness they step into the light, blocking my path, shoving me down, taking over.
I never had one at work before, but I’m having one now. My head starts to spin, nausea hits me like a wave. I close my eyes, put my hands on my face. Papers drop to the floor, I bend over, wrap my arms around my guts. I hear myself moan. Nothing seems real. My eyes won’t focus. Where am I? I can’t be here, this can’t be right. What am I wearing?
Xanax, I need Xanax.
I sit up, feel heat coming off of my face. I realize I’m not breathing. I force it and it comes in quick, ragged gulps. I’m sweating. I feel like crying and cussing. I try to keep quiet, stifle the gurgling in my throat, not wanting to be noticed. I open the top drawer of my desk, dig out the bottle of Xanax, open it, dump a couple out into my palm. I throw them in my mouth and chew them.
Oh shit. I put my hands against the edges of the desk, force myself to take deep breaths, try to see the air. I can’t take it, I can’t stay here.
I stand and start walking, weaving in-between cubicles, people on the phone, people typing, people talking. Noise, confusion, massive claustrophobia floods me. I’ve got to get out of here.
I burst through the door. The gray concrete of the corridor stretches forever. I start walking toward the elevator, stop, turn for the stairs. I throw myself through the exit door and the concussion of it hitting the wall echoes. I run up the stairs.
One flight, two, three, four. I’m taking the steps two at a time. Feel like I’m ripping apart, sweating profusely and breathing loudly, so loudly.
I reach the last floor and keep going up. I ignore the Emergency Exit Only sign, push through the door.
Sunlight blinds me as I stumble out onto the roof, eighteen-stories high. The gravelly surface makes me think of walking on the moon, and for a second I pretend I’m in outer space. Moon rocks. I walk to within a few feet of the edge and drop to my knees, my breath coming in wallops. I begin hacking through tears.
I fall to my side, my face flat against the warm, coarse gravel. My tears and sweat drain onto the surface of the moon. My eyes are impossibly wide, no other part of me is functioning. I try to swallow.
After a few minutes pass, I regain some control. My mind begins a mode of thinking I recognize. Control. I must get control of myself. Control of what happens to me, what I do, what I think. What I feel.
One way. Only one way for me to take back what is mine – my life. I crawl forward on my belly, a demented army drill. I gain the edge and look over.
Two hundred feet down is the parking lot. I begin the fantasy.
I throw my body over the edge. Feel the wind push against me as I plummet, the world spinning madly toward me. I see a white car that looks like it would break my fall. I splash through its roof, ripping skin, breaking bones, my head spills open, my brain escapes, my heart bursts, my lungs collapse. Life and blood are slapped out of my body. Blood everywhere. From above I look like a red snowflake. A piece of abstract art, the crescendo of a song, crimson poetry.
Then peace. Quiet. Rest. No more anxiety, no more pain, no more loss, no more alienation. No longer a freak. No longer the stranger, a leper in a world filled with casual acquaintances and middle management, fake laughter, authentic cruelty. I’m out. It’s over. Falling…about six seconds. Six seconds, a split second of pain, then death. Darkness. It consumes me, and I begin to feel better. I feel the dark liquid of my fantasy slide into my bloodstream, coarse through my veins, enter my heart, my head. I begin to feel grounded, I stop crying. I want to sleep. I need to sleep.
The drugs are kicking in. I make myself sit up. A meditative position. I won’t jump today, because I don’t want to jump today. I may jump tomorrow, or the next day, and it would be as I planned. But for now, I choose to live. I control my destiny. I close my eyes and let the sun warm my face.
In a few minutes, I’ll go back inside and sit down. I’ll call my therapist, tell her what happened and finish the day. I’ll make it through today.
Don’t Let Them Get You Down