I am being proposed to and all I can think of are the panic attacks I had the summer before grad school. In my mind, I am in a restroom in a New Mexican restaurant. I am trying to catch my breath, not throw up and text the man that is waiting for me to come enjoy nachos with him. The problem is, the man that is before me and the man that is waiting for me during my panic attack are two different men. Only one has met Flea.
Josh gets acquainted with Flea before we start dating. I tell him she shows up at stressful times. Flea loves to cause chaos and give me negative thoughts when I go through transitional phases in life.
The grout between the tiles is dirty. I wonder how often someone comes in
with a toothbrush and cleans it. Josh is out there waiting. I need to hurry.
Breathe. You are such a dumbass. Who gets this worked up? We came all the
way out here to dinner, get it together. Poop, so you don’t puke.
The entrance to the restroom opens.
Shit. Did he send someone to check on me? I’m taking too long. Why is he with me? What if he wants to have sex tonight– what if I have a panic attack during sex? Stupid Flea.
I pick my jeans up. I go back to the table. There is Josh, unalarmed, watching the football game on TV. I mumble something like sorry, but I really don’t know what is coming out because I am focusing so much on making sure I don’t puke.
“I was going to give you five more minutes before I had someone check on you,” Josh says. “I got you a soda.”
I put the straw in my mouth, relieved there is something for me to do that makes it impossible to puke up Flea.
Everyone in the restaurant is looking at me. My throat is contracting. I’ve run out of Coke. I’m going to throw up if I don’t have more. Where’s the waitress? Her back is turned to me. She’s taking too long. That kid she’s waiting on can’t decide what he wants. Hurry the fuck up kid I’m going to puke.
I get up and run back to the restroom where I can puke in dignity.
When I get behind the stall door, back on the toilet, I no longer have the urge to puke.
Chase likes to watch conspiracy videos. Just what Flea loves.
“How do you watch these?” I ask.
“You have to know the truth about what’s going on,” he says.
“This makes my anxiety go through the roof,” I say.
This interests him. “What do your anxiety attacks look like?”
Chase wants me to let him in but I can’t. I won’t introduce him to Flea. He wouldn’t understand the tics she gives me.
Josh makes no excuses to his roommate when I don’t want to get off their couch.
“Hey man, she just gets worked up a bit.” Josh opens a beer for me.
I have to do something to take this edge off. I’ll get to the doctor on Monday when I’m back home. I’ve got to keep it together, get my ass on the plane. Why am I wigging out about grad school?
The beer is a tactic to get my brain to cooperate into getting into Josh’s truck and, ideally, to the airport.
My teeth are clenched the whole time. My right hand grasps the door handle. My left hand holds onto a 32-ounce Coke; my fingers sore from grasping it so hard. It serves not only as a drink but also as a portable puke bucket. If by chance I do throw up, I’ll have something to throw up in.
Josh knows better than to touch or talk to me during these attacks. He keeps both hands on the steering wheel.
Silence except for the radio, and Flea.
A few weeks later I am back on meds and in grad school. I feel like a failure for having to rely on them. But I can’t deny being on them gives me back to myself.
Josh is visiting me this time. I can go to a movie with Josh without wanting to bolt out of my seat and hide. I still have to take a drink with me everywhere.
I try apologizing for our last visit. “You have a beautiful mind. Anxiety comes with it.” He kisses my forehead.
There is nothing more I wanted than to get out of Colorado. The freeway is at a standstill. I feel the wave of prickling discomfort start going up and down my back; my throat goes dry.
Trees surround me. I see no way to escape the freeway. The car is unbearably hot. The voice talking about teaching reform on NPR drags me deeper to my spiral with every over-annunciated word.
I put my finger on window switch.
“Keep it up, I don’t like driving with the windows down,” Chase says. He turns up the volume.
I’m not going to snap. I have Klonopin in my purse as a backup.
Never mind the Klonopin is expired. Josh would know what to do. Chase doesn’t even know me. He loves her, her, his ex-wife that I can never be. He doesn’t love me and he doesn’t know Flea.
“What do you think about teaching reform?” He asks.
Flea has reasons why we shouldn’t get married. The biggest one Flea has: why hasn’t he met me?
I am close to marrying Josh. Flea loves Josh. Flea even loves Josh’s fleas, which Flea internalizes and hurls at me.
I don’t recognize this Flea. I only know how to cope with old Flea. Josh has to go.
An anxiety disorder is a marriage, a total binding in itself that asks for surrendering.
The only kind of commitment I know is one with Flea.
Kass Haight’s work has appeared in the Danforth Review. She holds an MA in English and currently lives in the Southwest.