(Early draft stories from my agoraphobic life)
In his youth, David Pray sported a thick shock of blonde, wavy hair. That’s what you noticed first: all that crazy yellow-white hair. He had fine blue eyes, thick, pouty-boy lips, and a charismatic, toothy grin that occupied half of his face. He wasn’t what the girls considered a hunk, but he was sweet. Before my problems with agoraphobia landed me in my mother’s apartment, bewildered and paralyzed, I’d dated David, in his junior year and my sophomore year in high school. For several months, he bicycled six miles to see me. When he got his license, he bought a used car — a green Plymouth Duster with a kick ass stereo. He’d pick me up and we’d cruise around town with Lynrd Skynrd and Jethro Tull thrumming in our ears. These were our glory days; these were our days of innocence and joy.
We’d find our way back to my condo, where we’d make out sprawled across the plush carpet in the living room. My mother worked and my brother had moved to his college dorm. David and I had privacy. We didn’t shed much clothing during our make out sessions. We kissed and we held each other. After, we ate Doritos and drank Diet Pepsi. We smoked cigarettes. He smoked weed, too. We didn’t think about tomorrow. We went for another drive. We blasted Molly Hatchet and Pink Floyd. We sang this shit at the top of our lungs. We were free, like Skynrd’s Freebird, before the band members died. We stopped at MacDonald’s for fries.
The better part of a year passed, and David enrolled at Wentworth Institute of Technology, as my senior year in high school began. We’d broken up for no apparent reason except he was off to college and I wasn’t. By 1979, I’d become housebound, and I hadn’t seen David or any friends since “coming down with” panic attacks. Agoraphobia was the term we used in the 70s and 80s, for those of us who were so deeply terrorized by panic that we could not leave home to see a movie, attend a dance, go to the prom (David had asked), work a part-time job, or sit in a classroom. At the time, I was the only person I knew like that. I thought I had gone insane, I thought I was nuts. The inside of my head was a fucking mess; I imagined it looked like Alice Cooper’s face in Welcome to My Nightmare.
One night in the middle of my housebound year, I was surprised when David called and asked to visit me.
“You know I can’t do anything.”
“I just want to see you. I need to talk.”
“David, I look awful. I haven’t had my haircut in a year.”
He sounded so sad, that at his urging, I told him he could come over.
By this time, my mother and I had moved out of the condo and to the third floor of an apartment building. I heard the “buzz” of the ringer when David arrived. I let him in and I tried not to stare at his eyes, glassy and teary, as he attempted to hide sadness behind his huge and dazzling grin.
He hugged me and gave me a kiss. “How have you been? Are you doing any better?”
I don’t remember my answer. I’m sure I explained to him that I wasn’t as bad as I had been at the start of 1979, and as 1980 moved closer, I could almost imagine going outside. I know I explained to him during one of our phone calls that I thought I’d lost my mind, that I was afraid to go anywhere, because everywhere I went, I had a panic attack.
“I can’t even sit on the stoop,” I told him, as I told anyone who was in touch during that period in my life, “I run back upstairs sweating and trembling and feeling as though I’ll faint.”
“I’m sorry,” he’d said. I told him it was okay, that I was bound to get better, right?
And now he stood in front of me, looking more emotionally disturbed than I was.
“David, what’s the matter?” His grin had evaporated.
“I smoke too much pot.”
“You always did, David.”
“This is worse.”
I waited for him to explain.
“I can’t get to sleep at night unless I smoke a joint, and I’m scared. I can’t control it.”
It wasn’t the joints and the marijuana that were the problem. It was his lack of control. Maybe that’s why he wanted to see me. Lack of control was something I’d been living with for most of the last two years; I felt out of control during my panic attacks and with my life generally. I’d been going to therapy in an attempt to deal with my panic and phobias, so when David asked me what I thought he should do about his problem, I said, “David, find a therapist on campus to talk to about all this.”
We continued to discuss his dependency on pot for a time. He asked me more about what it was like to be agoraphobic and housebound. Our discussions led to talks about teenage tragedies. “Remember, Pat CXXXX?” I asked him. She’d been a girl who was a year behind me in high school, killed in a car crash in her sophomore year, just a mile down the street from where I lived. I recalled seeing her in gym class when she was a freshman, a short, cute cherubic girl, who looked much like her older sister, whom I’d known since first grade. A year later Pat was gone, dead at fifteen. David and I both recalled, Dave CXXXXXX, a boy we worked with at Roxies Supermarket, a physically large and generous guy, who had been diving from cliffs stoned out of his mind with his friends one night. He broke his neck during a swan dive, and died from complications in the hospital days later, after the entire high school, it seemed, had sent rallying prayers that he should live. “He’s tough,” a friend of his said hopefully, proudly, while he bagged someone’s groceries at the end of my check out counter. This kid had never talked to me before. All the girls who worked the second shift arrived at the supermarket crying on the day Dave CXXXXXX died. Two kids dead. Me, housebound. David, frightened about his addiction. No longer in the glory days, we’d entered the years when the shit rained down upon us.
We moved to the couch where we lay and held one another, both of us frightened by our behaviors, growing out of our teen years and into our twenties, into young adulthood with addictions, phobias, and fears so powerful they hurtled and ricocheted like daggers and boomerangs in our brains. We imagined the worst that could happen to us, instead of dreaming of the best, as you’d like to do at age 19 and 18. We lay there, our arms wrapped around each other, trying to save the other and ourselves, slipping instead into black holes of terror.
I didn’t know if therapy was helping me. I didn’t know if it could help David. I didn’t tell him that I’d begun praying for the first time in my life. I was not and still am not religious, but I had a few litanies I’d made up, which I said nightly, such as “God, get me through another day, send me a miracle, I can’t go on like this.” I’d need to repeat such a prayer five times before bed. And then a variation on it ten times. Why? I don’t know. The compulsive nature of my prayer was part of my illness. I was embarrassed to admit the prayer, the compulsion, or that I’d been thrown into a hell that had me trying to believe in God, where before I’d just believed in love and rock and roll. I didn’t say any of this to him.
David, I pray, I wanted to say. David, pray, I wanted to say. David Pray, I want to say, where are you now?
Please enjoy this hilariously dated video by Alice Cooper: