Pressure on my chest, like someone was sitting right up on me… I couldn’t make a sound, try as I might. All I could manage was a couple of short, quick, pointless inhales which only worked to further put pressure on my lungs. What now? What now? What now? And then, as if someone had popped me with a pin, all the air rushed out of my chest. It wasn’t so much an exhale as an expulsion of air… And not just air — sound. Right now, the best I could explain it would be a groan… A whimpering groan that built up with the exhale and ended in that throaty, catchy thing that happens at the back of your throat when you’re about to sob uncontrollably. And then the silent shakes — if you didn’t see the previously described expulsion, it would appear I was laughing hysterically. But I was not.
I was freaking the fuck out.
As someone who has spent the better part of her adult life in charge of shit, making things happen, steamrolling bullshitters and marking my path — to find myself powerless and floundering is a very scary place.
The last few days have been a roller coaster of emotions for me… It started on Thursday morning with the aforementioned panic attack. I had never had a panic attack before… Sure, I’ve cried. I’ve heaved heavy tears, soaked pillows and sobbed so hard that I was drooling and out of breath. But that pinched, strained feeling, unable to move or breathe or even cry? That was a first. I got some bad-to-neutral news about my health, specifically some shit going down with my cervix. You know, you think about things in terms of now, later, much later. I’m pretty sure I want more children… later. Or at least one… later. Later. But having the possibility linger in my head that something that is happening now might fuck up potential future pregnancies… Chances to have more children… It was this big, broad slap in the face.
And then Saturday, off to a client’s wife’s funeral. She had fought a long, arduous battle with an army of cancers and lost… It is the first funeral I’ve ever attended for someone I didn’t personally know and I went in expecting it to be no big deal…
But it was. Sitting there watching this slideshow of her life — pictures of her young and porcelain-skinned slowly changing into pictures of her emaciated and yet somehow also bloated, red in the face and skin from the chemotherapy. Long brown hair was replaced with no hair, then silver hair, then no hair again. It hit close to home… Thinking about my mother. I felt like it was important for us to support this client — well, he’s not even really a client so much as a vendor really. So daddy and I went, bringing the boy child along. He has never been to a funeral and I didn’t really have any other place to take him, so I wrapped it all up in bow and decided to use it as a teaching tool. Better to learn about funerals when it is someone you don’t know, right?
And he’s a smart kid… Really, too smart. He pulls my ear down to him and says, “I’m glad Nana got her cancer before it did this to her because if she didn’t, this could be her funeral and I would really be crying.”
Of course, this caused me to lose it. And the rest of the funeral flew at my heart like a barrage of arrows. I tried to distract myself with the stained-glass windows or the people around us or the hem of my dress, but my ears wouldn’t shut. I couldn’t push it all out…
“How long have you been living?” the minister asked, not because he wanted to know how old you were, but to prove the point that so many of us are alive and not living… Just puttering through our time on this earth without direction or meaning. “Stop watching the world go by and start living. Stop being afraid of what is out there and start living.”
These words echoed in my ears on the way home. As busy as I am, I often forget to be present… To focus on what’s happening… To savor the smell of my stinky son’s head when he comes in from playing outside. To let warm embraces with my dad linger a bit… To snuggle my mother. To stop fretting with my boyfriend and just BE with him.
I got home Saturday afternoon and felt this huge wave of exhaustion fall over me… Only to be yanked awake at 2am with this deep, real fear pushing into my chest again. Not as bad as the panic attack on Thursday, but a real physical feeling of pain in my chest, like something was terribly, terribly wrong. I sent a text to the boyfriend, who had been out with friends from work. I realized I didn’t talk to him before we went to sleep and started to panic, “Tell me you’re okay. I just had a bad dream and I need to know that you’re safe and happy and fine.” He immediately replied, “I’m fine. Sleeeeep.”
Needless to say, I was looking forward to Sunday being a day of rest. I was emotionally drained. The boy and I were all prepped to go spend the day with one of my childhood best friends. I hadn’t seen her in twenty years or more and she lives only an hour away. Her son is the same age as mine and she’s got a brand new baby. We spent the afternoon sitting in the living room and on the front porch, visiting and talking and catching up. It was really beautiful… A pleasant reminder of all things permanent — a perfect example of one of those friends who you rarely see but when you do, it’s like time has stood still and you pick right up where you left off…
And then, around 3:30, I got that sinking feeling again, like I had the night before. I had left my cell phone in the car and decided to go get it… Two missed calls, two missed texts. The boyfriend’s mom was in the hospital. He had bolted out of work, basically stealing the work truck to get to the hospital to meet his dad.
Pneumonia. Fluid in both lungs. Aspirated vomit. Breathing machine. I barely made it through the phone call, standing there on my friend’s porch in this amazing spring-like weather. She said, “Go.” And within minutes, I kissed my son goodbye and was speeding down a mountainside to race to get to him. Find the hospital and the correct parking deck only to get a little lost in the labyrinth of hallways in the hospital. I finally find someone at an information desk — on the clear opposite side of the hospital from where I parked. I tell here where I’m trying to be, who I’m looking for and she sends me back down the maze of Linoleum floors and “Doctors ONLY” doors. I passed at least two vending machines or, perhaps, it was the same one twice. Finally found the elevators to go up and then wind my way through another floor of beige hallways… Then, I see it. Big double doors with no handles, “Intensive Care Unit,” displayed above the door and a phone on the wall. “Call for nurse.”
So I call. I tell her who I am and who I am looking for. She tells me that they’re running some tests and that she’ll send a nurse out to get me shortly. So I pace… Pace, pace, pace. Then another nurse comes by, swipes his special access card and the doors swing open, in opposite directions from one another and I see him, it must’ve been a hundred million feet away. His father was with him, talking to a nurse. He was wearing his work clothes, army green pants and a dark tshirt… His dark glasses present on his face, though I couldn’t see his expression from the distance. Then, the doors started to close… Right as his eyes met mine. I waved and moved myself toward the middle of the hallway, hoping to keep myself in sight for just a moment longer.
Then more pacing in the hallway. There was a waiting room, but it seemed so cumbersome to go through another door and wait in there with other people, some of which I could hear sobbing. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be in THERE. I wanted to be on his arm, comforting him… Being his anchor.
And then the doors rattled. I could see a shadow of a person on the floor, through the crack at bottom of the doors. More rattling, someone was trying to open it. It took a minute and then again, the doors parted from one another and there he was. He looked upset, for sure… But he didn’t look like he had been crying… Then he got closer to me and just melted into my shoulder. He sobbed heavily onto my shoulder, into my hair and on my neck. And I held him close and tight, squeezing him and rubbing his back and just sighing heavily into his neck. We didn’t speak for a long while, I just held him.
I just held him and he gently weeped into me.