by Sharon Thornton Montgomery on Sunday, 14 March 2010 at 23:10
I never knew that the startle response could go on and on and on. Remember the feeling of being scared out of your wits, coming around a corner and almost running into someone? “Oh! You scared the crap out of me!” Then laughing for an ackward second as you walk away, but your heart is still pounding and you think you peed just a bit? Yeah, that startle response. I’m good with one of those a decade, and here it was a continuous moment that just wouldn’t go away.
One minute I’m having a great night out at the movies and thinking, “It’s about time I relax and let down my guard. I’m with good company, after all, and I’m stuffed to the gills with great food.” The next minute, I notice how many people are near me, brushing up against me, STARING at me. Then BOOM! My heart feels like a hand is around it, making a fist. Squeezing…. squeezing…squeezing. How can this feeling hurt so much??
Looking around, I’m terrified of each and every person’s motions. The moments slow down, and as I move my eyes around there is an echo of the picture before it. Bu-na na na. Bu-na na na. The Six Million Dollar Man sounds are playing in my head as I look around in terror. Every movement, whether head on, or periphrial, is acutely jarring.
I look at the person next to me and wonder if she can tell how creepy, how …. violated…. I suddenly feel. “How can I make this stop?!”
This is so silly, I rationalize. I’ll just stand here, in the corner with my back up against the wall, and breathe. Only, it just keeps getting worse. All these people were actually breathing the air I needed! Oh No! I can hear my friend asking me if I needed anything, if I was ok. I even hear myself say “Yes, I’m fine. I’ll wait here while you step into the restroom.”… And that was just the beginning. Once she was gone, I couldn’t breathe! Ears ringing, short sharp breaths with my heart pounding in my throat, I didn’t know how to ease the squeezing in my chest.
I will never, EVER question the validity of someone else’s panic attack. Or my own.
While she was gone, I just wanted to slide down to the floor and cry. I went from 36 years old to 7, just like that. Ahhh! So many people staring at me! Are they looking at me because they know how vulnerable, how scared of them I am? Or are they looking because i’m looking at them and jumping slightly as they come nearer and nearer to me? Their eyes, which just a few minutes ago said they were having a good time at the movies, now said that any one of them could corner me, could hurt me, and no one else would help.
And then, the calm came through the storm. Thank you BFF, for coming out of the restroom and seeing me even though I thought you had forgotten me, or missed me in the crowd and I was sure I was alone. I figured I was hiding my untimely terror pretty well as you “decided” that, instead of hanging around and doing another movie, we could just head home.
We walked out of the doors of the movie theatre and I figured I could keep this to my self, what with the fresh air, the moving away from the crowds, and…and…and then it hit me again. Like a wave. Instead of people, it was darkness, and the people that were around and passing us. The wave slapped me again, and I couldn’t breathe.
I wonder at the calm and patience you showed as you stopped to hug me on the sidewalk as my tears and snot rolled down your leather jacket. Thank you for hugging me through the shaking and sobbing while the little girl in the window of the restaurant stared at me. Thank you for keeping me walking in the right direction when I had no idea where I parked my car. And sitting down with me as I was frozen stiff on the sidewalk, hurling the popcorn, the Coke with lemon, and the horrible memories that brought me here in the first place. Lastly, thank you for not making a big deal of me reaching back down to grasp desperately what was left of my bag of popcorn, and clutching it to me as you drove me home. You were so nonchalant as you brought me to the safety of my house, my family, and my quilt.
I remembered to breathe about 10 minutes or so into the ride home. I stopped rubbing my solar plexis around the time we turned off the freeway. The fist around my heart let go when I walked up the steps to my front door. And I started to regain my dignity 10 minutes after I wrapped my quilt around me and blew my nose for the umpteenth time with those precious Puffs tissues.
I have no idea when BFF left for the night, but I do know that I won’t be getting popcorn for a long, long time. And… Life is not tidy…