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CALIFORNIA STORY Short Fiction

The Agoraphobic's Holiday

January 07, 2007|Jill Glass | Jill Glass is completing work on her L.A.-themed collection, "The Agoraphobic's Holiday and Other Stories." She was senior vice president of marketing at A&M Records.

Your practice man will be here in an hour and you have nothing to wear. Well, this is technically inaccurate, but not one article of clothing has volunteered to come out of the closet, and when you reached for your velvet jacket, you swear, it tried to bite you. You hear footsteps behind you, and you're bubbling.

Your gray beast knocks you down. Straddles chest. Can't breathe. Ahhhh-haaaah. Get off. Ahhhh-haaaah. You poke it in the eye. Stupid thing. It gets him every time. But he's back and madder and yokes your throat. Resistance is pointless. You know where you're going, so you go.

There is shaking and spinning, heat and flashes of ice-pick light. Ahhhh-haaaah. Bongo blood. Barbed carpet. Cactus wall. Slow death. World hurts. Too much. Time to lift. You aren't your body. That's just the bottle where you store yourself. You float up and out, to the ceiling, where you see you, lying on the floor in your underwear, wrestling air. You look ridiculous so you stop.

You are smart. You know the difference between your practice man and the mugger, but you know it in the wrong part of your brain. The rational part. The panic is coming from somewhere else, the part that's programmed to run from mastodons. Until you train your brain to know the difference, every man is the man who jumped out of a eugenia hedge, chased you down the middle of Sycamore while the neighbors stood and watched you like a TV show. Watched while he knocked you to the asphalt right under a streetlight, because you knew better than to walk in the shadows. Fought you for the car keys that poked between your fingers, like you'd been trained to do in self-defense class. Yanked off the leather bag that was slung over your shoulder. Stole the rings from your fingers, the watch from your wrist, and everything you believed about being safe.

You want to stay here, on the ceiling, until you feel normal. But that might take forever, and you don't have any food in the refrigerator. You can call and cancel but you won't. This is a test. It took a village to get you to accept a Friday night blind date, your first since the mugging. You're polite. Such a good girl. So afraid to disappoint.

Thank God for cordless phones. You call your best friend. She whispers, "I'm at Nozawa, one table away from Alec Baldwin. His head is disproportionately large. Way too big for his body. I know how much you love that."

Her voice baby blankets you.

"It's only dinner," she says. "Get dressed."

Ahhhhhh-Haaaaaah.

You blame yourself for freezing. When you replay the scene in your head, you see a different you. One who fought back. In your head, you screamed. You stabbed the mugger with your fingered keys. You swung your backpack into his testicles. You palmed him full-force right under his nose. You are haunted by the different you.

You've kept up appearances. You went back to work, though sometimes, when no one was looking, you closed the door to your office and crawled under your desk. You do what you must, then rush home. Lock yourself in your tower--the little bedroom turret in your Hancock Park Moorish. You're Rapunzel in self-storage.

A month after it happened, you went to a doctor. You told him, "I'm ripping." You described your gray beast--how it grabs you when you're driving, when you talk to strangers, in your dreams. He wrote you a prescription.

You tried the pills, but you felt slow and thick, trapped beneath your own surface.

"We can play with the dosage," the doctor said at your next appointment. "Or we can fool around with something less sedating."

"What are the side effects?"

"Oh. Suicidal thinking. Hypomania. Agitation. Insomnia. Anxiety. Panic."

So you found another doctor.

"Does your beast have a name?" he said.

"Huh?" you said.

"Because it's going to live in you for the rest of your life. You made it. Your chemicals. Your brain. Your blood."

He said we don't want to kill it. Just turn it into a house pet, one that curls up and sleeps in the crook of your knees. He gave you homework. Sent you out to rouse the beast. You practice-drive the freeways. Practice-talk to strangers. Practice-walk alone in the dark. He said, "That's how you tame it. Repeated shocks."

So you've learned how to live with no dull moments. Every moment is sharp.

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