Personal Journey

U is for Unexpected

UTrue Story.

Science class in the ninth grade. Film day. The lights are off, the bubblesque TV perched atop a rolling stand soothes the room with flickering glow. Students slink down into their chairs, rest their feet on other chairs. For a few sacred moments, school is not a jungle. We put our masks away because no one is looking. X sat beside me, but to see the screen, we oriented ourselves toward the front of the room, X behind me.

You know that feeling, when a ladybug or an ant crawls on your skin, how it tickles? If I were commander of planet earth or even dictator of a small European country, I’d have my minions bring in buckets of non-stinging insects and let them crawl on my arms and legs. That fact may just be the weirdest piece of intel you’ve ever heard. I realize that. Apologies, but I feel it’s important you understand just how much I enjoy that featherlight touch, so that you’ll believe the rest of my story.

Back to science. We were watching something about the Hubble and why we should be amazed by it and by mankind’s genius for building it and all hail science class… thank you, science class. This doctrine delivered by that deep, trustworthy voice my generation has come to associate with boring school films. Everyone was getting as comfy as we could in the hard plastic and metal chairs on the harder tiled floor, in the stark decoreless science room that smelled of magic markers and sulfur.

I was daydreaming/snoozing/definitely not-watching when I felt this tickle on my back. It was late in the school year, one of those blazing hot days. I wore a light shirt that didn’t tuck in, the small of my back open to the air when I slouched down in the chair. X behind me must have accidentally brushed against me with his knee. X’s knee felt so nice against my back, like one of those ladybugs. And though X’s knee was brushing against me an awful lot, I just figured he was a bit clueless and unaware (ironic). And it felt so nice… I let it go.

Right up until the moment I felt his hand reach around, clearly not his jeans, not an accident, still feathery but (zoinks!) not worth it, going for the front of my shirt.

Well that was unexpected.

All that time, all those touches. None of them accidental. Had my chair suddenly become electrified with 100 volts it wouldn’t have launched me higher into the air than that horrible realization. I yanked my chair forward a safe distance, the screeching chair legs screaming for me. Heads turned. The voice of boring science droned on, and I was just a bit more wary of the world. When the lights came on, X asked me if I would go with him. That was the phrase we used. Stupid, I know.

True story.



Personal Journey


Carpools. Whatever responsibility they take from you in terms of time-on-road, they drop back on you in burden-for-others. The half hour stint in rush hour is often fraught with excitement: Thanks to the idiots who use their commute to act out Grand Theft Auto and the crashes they leave behind, or the excitement of a car bursting into flames directly in front of me. Also, the ever-present excitement of will-this-17-year-old-car-make-it? I pray every morning that if I’m to break down, let me break down after I drop the boys off. Of course, it would be a bonus not to break down along Fulton Road, or Hood Road, as I call it, where the burned-out blackened crusts of houses and graffiti scream the warning: You’re not in Kansas anymore.

I may be a mite stressed as I do my leg of the carpool.

The morning began no differently than any other. The car was tomb silent, as it always is. No matter how I try to convince my son to make light conversation with our passenger, he refuses. Both refuse. They are in their iPhones. I am sort of alone. Except I can neither sing badly nor hyperventilate if I’m so inclined.

My heart decides to beat faster. Just like that. My heart, without permission from me and in response to nothing circumstantial, begins to gallop, and I’m driving and I’m thinking, what the… I’m thinking things I’ll leave out here because in a crisis I’m not thinking dag nabbit or dang or gee whiz. I have thirty minutes of Nascar rush hour ahead of me, uncomfortable company in my back seat, and I can’t feel my arms… 

I begin to rehearse how I’ll tell Luke to take over the wheel, should I pass out on I-71.

I don’t want to scare him, just to raise his DEFCON level a bit. Nothing sounds anything short of ludicrous, so I trash the idea. I debate between the fast lane, which will make this hell end sooner, assuming I don’t get pulled over or pass out, and the slow lane which will afford me an easier turn off, in the likely event that I do.

Wheezing threatens. I am drowning a bit in the car because I can’t seem to get enough air to go into my lungs. I take deep, slow breaths, praying that God will let me hang on until we get to school. Then I’ll give myself permission to hyperventalate, to cry, to pass out. I decide to stay in the middle lane and keep praying.



Praying as we snake through Hood Street. Praying as we close in on the school. My arms feel a bit more alive, and I think, I’ve licked this. Amen. The boys have no idea what I’m holding at bay. We are an arm’s length from one another physically, yet I feel a universe between us.

I drop them off.

I thank God.

Panic attacks can’t always be thought down. I know this. But this was a victory for me. It never materialized fully, and I went on with my day, as if I’m a completely normal person.

*Inspired by a fellow blogger whose writing often makes me smile and who also has panic attacks. I suggested he fictionalize one and see how it goes. This was meant to be my own Experiential Fiction piece, but I changed my mind and left it. I didn’t want to forget the truth before I set it to fiction. New to the panic attack scene, I’m navigating a life that involves personal (very personal) earthquakes with no seismic warning system.