My First Time

Keith and I started watching “Friday Night Lights” on Netflix this summer and quickly became addicted.  If you’ve watched the show, you know how intensely it sucks you in. You start to feel like you’re living right there in the small, football-obsessed town of Dillon, TX.  You find yourself motivating co-workers by saying, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” You crave Alamo Freeze. You realize you actually know what number and position each of the Panthers plays.  Especially Riggins. And if you’re me, you are mentally transported back in time to the trauma that is high school.  So it struck me as rather uncanny that Mama Kat’s weekly writing prompts would include “Your first panic attack” – which, in my case, took place at the end of my senior year at Spiffy High.

Nowadays, the classic panic attack is almost de rigeur.  (I mean, have you really even lived until you’ve experienced the joy of clammy hands, sudden onset hot flash, racing heart, severe tremors and impending sense of unidentifiable doom?) I think about panic attacks a few times a day in my modern life.  But in 1990, anxiety was simpler.  We didn’t know from panic attacks, as Grandma Ethel would have said.  I just always understood that I was a nervous person who worried a lot and lived under a cloud of melancholy.

With graduation looming on the horizon, I felt totally isolated (which may or may not have actually been the case); I absolutely could not bear the thought of choosing a college and then leaving home to go to it; I was in a bad relationship; and I despised myself more than you can imagine. So really, things were fabulous!

You won’t be surprised to learn that “my first time” took place in gym class, the morning after I lost a huge fight with my high school boyfriend, B.  I had barely slept and probably skipped breakfast, but gym stops for no man. I had no choice but to hit the weight room circuit, and made it through two or three of the machines. Then came the leg press. As I situated myself, I felt my stomach drop to my feet. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it, and sweat began pouring down my face. I tried to push the five-pound weight into the wall, but found that my legs were rubber.  I would have stood up and run to the bathroom, but I was pretty sure I’d pass out. I froze in place.  Clearly, I had some sort of sudden onset virus and would need to be airlifted out of school. Perhaps they would even quarantine me. It never occurred to me that this was anything other than physical.

I headed to the nurse’s office post-haste, and felt better as soon as I sat down among the derelicts with faux migraines.  My pulse seemed to have slowed to no more than 200, but still, I was obviously quite ill.  I waited for the nurse and when I went in, she asked me a lot of questions about my health in general.  Then  she asked what was going on “at home.”  As a regular watcher of after-school specials, I was compelled to assure her that no one was beating or molesting me, and that neither of my parents drank heavily or abused drugs. Strangely, I also felt compelled to tell her about my college angst and B – and then, for dessert, started crying.

Hmm.  I’d never known that to be a symptom of the flu.

The nurse looked at me with sympathy and said, “I think you had an anxiety attack.”

Wait, I’m not being airlifted?! You don’t have to call my parents? Frick on a palpitating stick and Panic McNervoustein!

She had me lie down for a few minutes and told me to go back to class when I felt up to it.  And sure enough, I was fine. Except that now, I had a new bully in my life … one that still follows me everywhere I go.

My First Time

My Life in Hurricanes

If you need a suitcase to make your escape, you're not getting it here.

At the risk of jinxing the course and force of the impending hurricane, I must say that it’s hard not to be a little skeptical about all the hype.  In pre-Irene New York City, you’d think Armageddon was upon us. The subways have shut down. Stores and restaurants have now taped and boarded up their windows, and posted signs saying they’ll be closed for the next two days. Prior to closing, the supermarkets had lines out the front door and wouldn’t let anyone in until another person came out.  There is nary a flashlight, battery or can of food to be found. Evacuations are underway in all five boroughs. We have been told to fill our bathtubs, for some reason, and pack a “to go” bag.  We have stocked up on wine, junk food (anything ingested during a state of emergency doesn’t count) and non-perishables.  (Jan’s favorite category of food, it should be noted.) Friends who don’t want to ride out the storm alone are coming over for what I hope will be a successful taco night.

We’ve had hysteria like this before – albeit, not quite as intense – and it’s turned out to be much ado about nothing. In other cases, like one of the 27 blizzards of this winter, we’ve had no hysteria and gotten weather-screwed. In these parts, death by hurricane strikes me as pretty rare. So is all this really necessary, or are we just panicking for nothing? With actual work to do but no motivation, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the defining hurricanes of my life. I hope this trip down insignificant memory lane provides all you hurricane fearin’ folks out there with a port in the storm.

Hurricane David, September 1979:   Just a few days into second grade, our school district closes due to the impending hurricane. I assume that if school is closed, something really bad must be about to happen and find myself too nervous to eat my Apple Jacks. It rains heavily for about 10 minutes then clears up. Jan takes us to the Woodbridge Mall, where she buys us tiny, fuzzy Paddington Bear figurines. Ever the proper English bear, Paddington is sporting a duffel raincoat and removable rain hat.

Hurricane Gloria, September 1985: Once again, school is closed due to threat of hurricane. I am thrilled, but concerned. Not only is it Jan’s birthday, but, more importantly, I am scheduled to attend a Sting concert at Radio City with my friend Jennifer K. and her dad. Jan and Lew tell me the concert will definitely be cancelled. I maintain that Sting would never let that happen. Anxiously, I watch heavy rain fall for about 10 minutes outside my bedroom window. The winds fail to damage even one wysteria vine on the uber-80s wallpaper Jan chose against my will. The weather clears instantly and Jennifer’s dad says he is willing to drive into the city for the concert. After I suit up in my black Guess jeans and white pumps, Lew deposits me at Jennifer’s house, where Jennifer and her mother are fighting about the amount of make-up she has on. Mrs. Jennifer asks me if I too think Jennifer looks like a drag queen. I do think Jennifer looks like a drag queen, but am already too close to full middle school ostracization that I can’t possibly risk offending Jennifer.

Hurricane Chef Cho, October 1992: Hurricane Chef Cho is actually a Category 3 cocktail, which I make the very bad mistake of drinking out of a scorpion bowl at this Cambridge, MA chinese food establishment. Let’s just say I’m surprised FEMA wasn’t called in.

Hurricane Floyd, September 1999: I am in the city now, and have been battling very bad panic attacks. Because of this, the world has a surreal feel to it. Mass transit is shut down and I refuse to walk 80+ blocks to work at the weekly newspaper where I have a mediocre column.  This hurricane actually causes some severe damage and chaos in central New Jersey. When the National Guard is called in and water has to be boiled, I am fairly confident the end of the world is upon us. For weeks after Floyd, there are horrible stories in the papers about small children dying from contaminated water they drink at sad county fairs and the like.

Hurricane Katrina, August 2005: Katrina comes nowhere near Philadelphia, but its breadth is felt everywhere. I am mortified that a disaster of this scale could take place in the U.S., and haunted for weeks by images of pets who have been abandonned. I make the first of my now regular donations to the ASPCA.

Hurricane Earl, August/September 2010: Nothing happens, except that the Dixie Chicks’ Goodbye Earl starts to torture me.

Hurricane Irene, August 2011:  Keith and I partake of the noon-ish meal at Viand, along with Kiki and Chris. Kiki and I head to Q Nails for a pre-storm mani/pedi. Keith and I return home to await our guests, and our fate.

My Life in Hurricanes