“I made some supper if you want it – goulash and pitas – let me get you a plate.”
I noticed my famished hunger as he spoke, the same moment the delicious goulash smell hit my nostrils. Thank god for a man who can cook, even if it’s with a crockpot!
“Yes, please!” I cried. Expecting him to head kitchen-ward, I unhooked my bra and stripped off my top. While the shirt was blocking my vision, Chris snuck up behind me and snaked his arms around so his hands cupped my breasts from out of nowhere. I jumped and almost elbowed him, but stopped myself and hid how startled I was as fast as I could. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I leaned back against him and let him massage my pretties for awhile, but as I felt him get hard against me, I had more interest in food than sex.
“I thought you were getting goulash?” I half-teased. He pulled back – I could feel his disappointment wave into my psychic space, but I had to ignore it or I’d never get fed. I smacked his bum affectionately to get him on his way.
“Yes, dear,” he half-teased in return, but he went to the kitchen and dished out the food. As far as I was concerned, we had plenty of time for sex, but If I didn’t eat, that soon wouldn’t be good news for anyone.
He turned on the tv before handing me my bowl – his own food already waited, cooling, on the coffee table. He sat on the sofa so I followed, though I’d have preferred to sit at the kitchen table and talk. I knew he needed his down time. I just wished his downtime didn’t mean tv police dramas with rape, murder and grim-faced detectives chasing psychological dramas. I never knew when I might suddenly find my eyes assaulted by blood and mutilated women hanging from meat hooks, right in the middle of a bite of food.
“Isn’t there a sitcom or something?” I asked hopefully.
“The worst kind of pap – don’t you prefer something with a story, a mystery?”
“Yeah, okay.” I supposed it was better than Ethan with his action and comic-book movies, but then again, at least they were visually fun, colourful and fast. These detective shows always created such dark, drab tableaux. After a few minutes, I took my food over to the computer.
While getting my guitar back had certainly buoyed my spirits, the weight of the day still felt heavy, with anxiety hanging on the edges. Maybe I’d be better with my Gretsch, and maybe I wouldn’t. But did I even want to keep going with Timeless? I wanted to talk it over with Chris, but I didn’t want to interrupt his show, and anyway, I pretty much knew what he’d say. He’d been saying it since I first started – if it’s hard, quit. I knew that was what he hoped for, anyway. I needed a more neutral sounding board, and I knew it couldn’t be Ethan, though he was the one who knew me best.
I logged Chris out of Facebook and logged myself in – I failed to do so on my first day there, which resulted in an embarrassment for him and a scolding for me. I had to try the password twice – I wasn’t used to needing it. Sharing a computer kind of sucked.
I figured there must be some mistake when my notifications showed 9,863, but clicking on the icon revealed that, in fact, there were that many postings about or aimed at me. Words flashed by, images and impressions – too much to take. My stomach clenched, my throat hurt , a solid wave of roaring sound rose up through me; I got hot, I got cold, and the sound grew until it threatened to fill my brain, until there was no more room for consciousness; through black spots and light flashes I remembered my breath and tried to breath through the closed-off pipes – it came in as a wheeze. I tried to remember…I focused on my throat and asked it gently to open, I pulled air slowly and evenly, even though I felt desperate for breath. I finally felt the passageways start to open; raggedly, I sucked in a deep breath that made me cough uncontrollably. At some point during this display Chris took notice and came running over, standing with his hands open, not knowing what to do. I could hear a woman screaming in pain in the background – thanks to me, he was missing the best part.
“Are you choking? Christine? Say your name. Say your name. That’s what they taught in first aid – if you’re choking you can’t talk. So ask you to say your name. Are you choking? Talk!”
“I’m…” wheeze, cough…”not…”…”choking…”…ragged breath, throat clear…”Christine.” I smiled through my shaking, trying to reassure him. He just looked so freaked out. “Panic…attack…sorry…” I stopped to catch my breath while he patted my back ineffectually, but with real concern. Still, I could tell by his face I had him worried – maybe I was more crazy chick than he’d expected. Well, he was bound to find out sooner or later – I’d figured out by this point in my life that sooner was easier, and wasted less of my time.
“Panic? Out of nowhere? What happened?”
I gestured to the computer, still focused on catching my breath and releasing all the seized muscles along my breathing apparatus. Let him figure it out for himself. It would give him something to do with his big brain, while I saved myself.
“Sorry,” I said as soon as I felt able to talk again. “It’s been a long time…I guess I thought I…had it licked…didn’t expect…but this…”
“Shhhh, don’t talk. Just breathe. Do you need a paper bag or something?
“No, I’ll be alright. I used to take meds for the panic, after…anyway, I took meds but…”
“Hey, Christine, it’s okay, I don’t need to know specifics, not right now. But I do need to know if you’re stressing to the point where you can’t keep it together. Can you get more medication?”
“Well, probably, but I don’t want to.”
“That’s kind of stupid.”
“Wow, that’s really…don’t call me stupid!”
“Jesus, Christine, don’t be stupid! Oh, god, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I should never have said…I don’t mean it. Please. I’m sorry. You just really scared me, there. Okay? You’re not stupid. I know you’re smart. I just wonder, is all. I can’t help but wonder why you don’t want medicine that can help you deal with your illness?”
“It’s not an illness. It’s…a side-effect of my life experiences. The drugs fuck with me, they made it harder to care about life. They were messing with my…chi.”
“That’s not a real thing. And panic disorder is a real illness. You deserve all the support that medicine can give you.”
“It’s not that simple. Look, I made a decision to go off pharmaceuticals and learn how to manage my emotions. I’ve been…practicing. It was…going well…until…”
I had to stop again. I closed my eyes. Focused on my breath. Envisioned a beam of light from the top of my head moving downand through my body, like a thick laser beam releasing muscles as it went. Chris was back to the computer, his face still tight with concern and maybe a hint of disappointment. I was more human than he’d bargained for.
“Look, I didn’t tell you, I’m sorry, I thought I had it under control. I haven’t had an attack in years.”
“It’s the kind of thing you might want to disclose before moving in with someone, but we did move fast, I can understand how it happened. And it’s not insurmountable. We’ll keep you healthy together.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. Not insurmountable? That was like a teacher saying, Janey hasn’t failed math…yet.
“Keeping me healthy is my responsibility.”
“Not anymore. I’m an investor, now, I have a stake in your well-being.” My feminist alarm bells clanged. This was the talk of male-protector-controller. not someone who loved me for what I was and wanted to support me to make my own decisions. I suddenly didn’t trust him enough to say that out loud.
“Well, first off, I think we must agree that you can’t play this show on Friday.”
He said it with such smug certainty that I bristled.
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
“I’m not telling you what to do, I’m pointing out the only logical option, given what I just saw. Christine, people are talking shit about you or raving about you or otherwise dragging your name and image all over the place online. I don’t want to trigger your panic thing, but I do want you to pay attention and understand that this is just the beginning. I tried to warn you, but even I didn’t understand just how successful their experiments are proving. Does it seem like a good idea to keep doing this, if you’re prone to panic attacks? Frankly, I can’t believe you took this on in the first place. ”
“I’m not prone, not for years. This just took me by surprise. It was a shock. I never really thought about what it would feel like to be…well…”
“That word sounds so exaggerated for what I am. But still, I guess I just didn’t think about how many people were watching. It’s a bit of a shock.”
“My suggestion is, you bow out quietly, stay off the computer for the next few weeks, and try to let it pass. We’ll get you into a specialist as soon as we can, but in the meantime, let’s book you with the clinic doctor. What’s your work schedule? When can we book?”
“Hold on! I’m not ready to…just stop, okay. I’m tired, I’m upset, I’m confused, and this is all for me to deal with, okay? I need to figure this shit out myself. You, just be quiet. You, don’t need to chime in. This is not up to you, it’s up to me, and I’ve heard enough from you. I will come to you when I am ready to take in your point of view, and until then, just keep it to yourself. Okay?”
The whole speech, I kept my tone even, not quite friendly but not whiny or mean – at least, as best as I knew how. I can’t say for sure how it came out. I might have over-emphasized the “you’s”. But however I said it, the words hit Chris like a slap. His face reminded me of Trix’s face after I shoved her on the street – I kicked myself for not recognizing that lapse as a sign that I was no longer as in control as I thought. Unlike Trix, Chris didn’t back down with compassion – he held his real feelings close tight, and only let me see his exterior. That’s how I knew he was scared by what he’d seen.
“You are upset and you’re not making sense. You’ll see things more clearly in the morning. Until then, I’ll keep my counsel as you request,” he stated formally, like a lawyer. Or a psychologist. He went to the bathroom, and locked the door.
Tentatively, I started scrolling through the Timeless feed on my phone. Everything on the official Timeless channel was geared to interest fans, so besides the gossipy pieces I already knew about, everything else was sanitized for love and compliments. It felt like a good place to start. I didn’t feel ready to hit the “real world” internet – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-zines, user comments. I’d meant what I said to Rekha, why mess myself up looking at the opinions of trolls who didn’t matter? But I did want to start thickening up my skin. It didn’t do to be caught unawares like I was today. I was a performer, and I was performing with a popular band. I should be expecting this kind of attention, and as Tim said, I should be happy to have it.
Like costumes, I tried those two ideas on for myself. Quietly, so Chris wouldn’t hear from the bathroom, I said out loud, “I am a performer. I expect attention, and I’m happy to be known.” I shivered. The ideas felt like too-tight pants with an oversized, shoulder-padded jacket. Not quite a fit for me. But I jotted them down in my little notebook, anyway. I’d try them out over the next few days, and see if they helped. That little notebook documented years of experiments with breathing and exercise techniques, thinking patterns, physical practices, mantras, and other ways to stay even in temper and true to myself. I wonder where it ended up?
I waited for him to come out from the washroom, absently reading the hype around Friday’s show. I couldn’t tell if I felt more anxious about doing the show, or the backlash if I didn’t do the show. It was possible that my panic had more to do with the pressure to see it through than any fear of what people were thinking of me out there. It was also possible that I was terrified of my own reaction to personal attacks, threats and comments coming at me. I didn’t want to be afraid taking the bus. I didn’t want to feel self-conscious when I played. But at this point, from what I could see, it didn’t matter if I did the show or not – I would face a barrage either way. In that case, didn’t it make more sense to stay with it, be part of a team all standing together and being loved or hated as a unit, than to break from that and face public wrath alone?
I felt so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to knock on the bathroom door. Maybe he wasn’t planning to come out, or maybe he was taking the biggest dump in history – either way, he wouldn’t appreciate me knocking after the way I’d talked to him. I washed my face with dishsoap in the kitchen sink, resorting to a dishcloth and baking soda for my teeth (yuck!). I had to pee. I thought about climbing up and peeing in the sink, but then I imagined Chris choosing that moment to come out and catch me mid-stream squatting over his kitchen sink – no way was I going to chance that. I turned off the lights and went to bed with the discomfort keeping me in a half-awake state.
Eventually, Chris came out, having turned off the light first so that he wouldn’t wake me by opening the door. He’d obviously been waiting me out. Using his phone flashlight he made his way to the bed, but not before picking up my clothes from the floor and putting them in the hamper. He climbed into bed so carefully that I knew he was trying not to wake me. I waited until he settled, then got up and went to the bathroom to pee. When I came back, he was sleeping or pretending. I did the same.