(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:
Love your honesty! Sadly, your story and David’s are not unique. So many young people suffering from so many things. So glad you found your voice to share your story with us.
Hi Joanne, It’s so good of you to read my blog. I appreciate that you take the time to think about what I write and to comment. I agree that my and David’s stories are not unique. Our stories are from 30 years ago and yet young people suffering is still prevalent. It makes you wonder what it is we’ve accomplished beyond iPhones and Facebook. Actually, the stuff of another post – things that would have helped me when I was housebound: iPhones and Facebook. Irony is everywhere. Thank you again, Joanne. 🙂 Cindy
Amazing, Cindy. You are so talented.
Thank you, Natasia, I needed the confidence boost today. 🙂 xo
Thanks for sharing, Cindy. I’m looking forward to the book.
Thank you, Faye, one can only hope I get this book written. It’s my plan to start on it in January. Maybe I’ve already started. Hope you’re doing okay.
This is brilliant! So honest, funny, visual and wonderfully written. You say this is a draft, but I can’t find a word out of sync. You are shedding light on an illness many don’t understand, including those afflicted by it. Your personal touch makes it much more readable than a textbook description would be. This is what it is really like to be plagued by panic…please keep writing these chapters of an important book one day I know you will finish.
Your words are extremely encouraging to me. I need that kind of motivation. You write, too, so you know there are times when you wonder if you’re saying anything at all. I do hope to write this book. I guess I call this a draft because I just started writing it three weeks ago, but certainly, I’ve been revising as I go, so I suppose it’s better than an early draft. Whether or not it’s finished is another question. It’s finished for the time being. Essays like “David, pray” that I post on my blog will be the “draft stuff” of that book we both hope I’ll finish. Thank you again for your very, very kind words.
Congrats and brava for taking this on. I like the comparison of you and David feeling trapped. I know this is a draft and that you’ll keep working on it. As you slow the narrative down, show us a scene. Let us see your panic (boy, that was hard for me to write, as you know my story!). I’d love to talk with you about this!!
Thank you for reading. I actually don’t know your story. I’m aware that you have panic attacks, too, but you’ve never talked much about them. As for this piece, it is a draft, but more than that, a placeholder for a book I intend to write. I have other pieces where you see the panic attack so whether I include a scene in this piece will depend on how the pieces fit together. I can’t have a panic scene in every essay. I don’t believe every essay needs a scene. The pace of this piece is fast, as you note, but I like it that way, at least for now. And now I move onto the next essay on the topic. Thank you for caring and for commenting. We’ll talk soon. Hope you’ve been well. Cindy
Thank you once again for sharing your life, your wit, and your story with us Cindycat! Now I’m wondering, where is he now???
Thank you again for reading and commenting. I saw David about 10 years ago. He was living and working in New Hampshire. I don’t know where he is now, however. We lost touch. I miss you. xo Cindy
I like the way you tell us about you. I like it because I feel like I am there, and can relate to some of the things mentioned. I like the courage you possess to write this. Your writing is very real, and it touches a place deep inside. I am glad I found your blog.
Thanks for continuing to read more of my blog. It makes me so happy that you are exploring my entries and feeling touched by them, at least some of them. I don’t always know why I choose to write about what I do. It helps to motivate me when I receive nice comments like yours.
Thanks so much. 🙂