You ever have a panic attack? It’s not the same as the anxiety you get when you’re up for a review at work or when your stomach won’t stop turning and your hands keep shaking after a close call on the highway. I mean the kind of thing that feels like you’re having a heart attack and you can’t breathe right for a day all because you started thinking about a global economic collapse or what would happen if your girlfriend Susan slipped and chopped her finger rather than the carrots she was going to roast for dinner. Carrots and fingers look pretty much the same.
Everyone says it feels like a train about to hit you, but they’re wrong. It feels like your skin peeling back from your muscle while your muscle crushes your bones. It feels like gravity working double time, but only for you. It feels like all the things you’ve ever worried about are happening at the same time while you’re sitting drunk in the corner of your busted old loveseat.
Anyway, you ever have one of those? For like six months last year I really did think I was having heart attacks. I didn’t know panic could make your hands go numb and your kidneys ache like they were blocked up, so there I was Googling heart attack symptoms in your late twenties, how do I know if I’m having a heart attack, early warning signs of heart failure. I told my doctor and he said my heart was fine, but he sent me to a shrink who gave me some Xanax. That was pretty good for a while.
Sometimes you can’t take a Xanax, though, you know? Sometimes you’re at work and you really need to be focused on a presentation, you can’t be zonked out laughing at some dick joke from the day before while your boss is trying to update the team on earnings and actuals. I had to stop taking the Xanax because it was fun, but I figured I had to be able to do my job at least some of the time. Susan said it was making me a bad lover. I don’t think I was very good in bed before, so it was nice to finally have something to blame it on.
One day my shrink had the balls to ask me, “what if the next time you start to panic, you tried to stop the process?” Yeah, right. Just pretend that I wasn’t thinking about how I’ve only got sixty bucks in the bank and rent is due next week, pretend I’m not worrying about Russia bombing Iran who then bombs us in retaliation. I told him I might as well imagine I wasn’t even real, that’d probably be just as useful. He didn’t think it was as funny as I did.
So I was sitting on the couch a couple weeks ago and Susan had CNN on in the background while she cooked. Sometimes I wish I had a girlfriend who liked Bach suites or something at least a little relaxing. Wolf Blitzer cut his lambasting short and they patched in a live feed of people screaming and running out of a theater. In the kitchen, Susan was chopping the carrots and looking over her shoulder at the fifty-fourth mass shooting this month, and between the screaming on T.V. and the careless carrot chopping my brain fucking short-circuited.
My hands went numb faster than usual and I started to worry that maybe this time I was actually dying, like maybe somehow there were limits on how many times you could panic in one lifetime. Maybe this time was it and I could just stop existing. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. When I looked down my hands were gone. Actually gone, bones and all, replaced by swirling fog. It felt kind of nice, not being there, so I started thinking, what if I’m not real anymore? Soon my feet were gone too and I started laughing, and Susan finally looked over and started screaming. This time she did slice through her finger. Pretty soon most of my body was just a thin mist hovering above the loveseat. Wolf Blitzer was grim-faced and silent. That probably had nothing to do with me, though.
Susan sprayed blood across the living room as she ran over to grab me. Her hands went right through my mist and smeared an arc of blood across the couch. Stain that bad isn’t going to come out easy.
She couldn’t figure out what to look at: the T.V., her finger, or the boyfriend she thought would be proposing but was now nothing more than a light steam. She snapped her head from point to point around the room and hollered until her voice gave out. I could barely see her by then, but the last thing I thought before I stopped existing completely was that I was right to worry about how sharp those kitchen knives were.
Shaemus Spencer is a trans/queer animator and writer. They have been or will be published in MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, and several other great mags you should be reading instead of this bio. They split their time between western New York and West Virginia. Find them online @chezmouse.
image: Cas Hendrickson