Catastrophe and the Cure

“How quick a sun can drop away. And now my bitter hands cradle broken glass of what was everything.”

— Eddie Vedder

Anxiety is for the weak of mind…

It’s what I always thought.

The mind is a complex thing, with the circuitry of the brain interwoven amongst numerous lobes among smaller organs and areas with specific responsibilities, not to mention the hormones and chemical reactions occurring at every second as the mind makes sense of what is around it, what has been, what will be.

And yet, I saw the mind as something with ease to control. I had friends who suffered from anxiety, the sudden attacks of panic and overall crushing stress bringing you to your knees at points. I thought nothing of it. I would help them through their scenarios, serving as a shoulder to cry on and someone to vent their stresses away, but I never understood. I could never relate. I thought they were simply weaker in the mind than I, or more susceptible to the terrors of stress and anxiety. A hardened mind such as mine could never succumb to the same fate. My physical strength and mental strength would always serve me well. I thought. I pondered.

Norman, Oklahoma. March 5th. 12:20 A.M.

I-35 Northbound had the usual little traffic for a Friday night in the middle of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma University campus held the town’s only signs of life, with Asp Avenue and the local bars shining with light and the hum of students going to and fro. The door of Diamond Dawgs opened and out stepped six, some eating soft serve ice cream from miniature plastic baseball helmets, signature of this establishment.

They made their way down the street and crammed into a jeep wrangler. Four in the backseat. No seat-belts except for the driver and passenger. They made their way down the avenue before getting on the highway. The driver, with the typical Texan attitude of driving far too fast for anyone’s good, was surprisingly calm and barely pushed the car to the speed limit as the group recollected events from the day and began to feel the fatigue of day one of a road trip. He turned his signal lights for the right, beginning to slow to around 35 miles per hour as the vehicle prepared to exit the interstate and towards the home of one the riders, where they would be staying for the evening before continuing their journey in the morning.

A black compact car, lights off in the dead of night, moved swiftly from lane to lane as the driver struggled to make sense of what was happening in an intoxicated state. The car was unseen to those it was behind, and barely a ghost to those it passed. Swerving around the highway at upwards of 90 miles per hour, the car escaped the control of its driver and swiped the back left of a jeep wrangler preparing to exit the interstate. After the impact, the car simply bounced back to the left lane and continued undeterred on its course, flying above the speed limit and the driver either unknowing of what had just happened or unwilling to face the consequences.

The jeep was lucky to have begun slowing, but that’s hardly enough with the perfect combination of a turning vehicle, a car making impact at 90 miles per hour at just the right corner, and the underside incline of an overpass which ran over the exit. The jeep ran up the incline before finally reaching the tipping point and cascading over its own weight. Centrifugal force threw the box of metal over its head, flipping once, twice, and a couple times more as the occupants were flung around the interior. The front windshield smashed and cracked but somehow remained intact, though not all the rest of the windows could say the same. Shards of glass filled the air, with bigger pieces slicing at open skin and small shards floating through the fuselage before covering the pavement. Finally the vehicle landed on its top, upside-down, shredding open the metal roof and skidding to a halt on the side of the highway.

And like that, all was still. I-35 hummed along as the time passed 12:30.

Fort Worth, Texas. March 13th. 1:30 A.M.

I think I woke up, but I probably wasn’t sleeping. Ever since I boarded the plane from Little Rock to come back to Texas, I’ve been able to feel my heart skipping beats constantly. Heart palpitations, they call it. Some breaths felt forced, and my heart felt like it was working overtime just to provide the bare minimum. I was almost certain I was having a heart attack yesterday, so I played basketball at the gym until I was so exhausted I could collapse. Can’t be a heart attack, I thought, or I’d for sure have killed my heart already by now.

I shivered, not entirely sure if I was cold or if it was just adrenaline trying to jolt my body to work again. I couldn’t stop shaking. Jesus Christ, my body is failing me. I can feel my heart beating its last. I’m beginning to shake uncontrollably. My breathing is forced, and each time I lay back to try to sleep this away, I’m shocked awake by the feeling that I can’t breathe. Every time. I must’ve tried to sleep ten times by now. Something is wrong with me. I don’t know what it is but God there’s something wrong.

Going for a walk must help, I thought. That always helps. I felt like I could be dying. Standing up, I felt faint, on the verge of falling out. But after walking up and down the hallways for some time, I felt relaxed enough to get back in bed. I lied to myself, my heart was still beating out of control.

Trying to sleep a few more times, I kept being thrown awake by the feeling of drowning. I texted my friend to come help me out, knowing he was the only person in the world who functioned at this time of day for some reason. We went to the lobby of my hall. He listened as I spoke frantically, attempting to walk around and sit down but feeling that each wasn’t helping the feeling that I could pass out any second. I felt blood rushing to my head over and over, and I was still shivering uncontrollably. I felt like the end was coming. My body was finally failing me after all these long 19 years.

He called the campus police.. They said they could do nothing. Christ. This really was the end now. I probably had one window to save myself and stop this heart attack or whatever it was and some legal rule that campus police can’t go off campus was going to be the nail in the coffin I had built for myself in the past five minutes. I was on the verge of frenzy. My heart was out of control, the shaking wouldn’t stop, my head felt as if I could collapse at any second and never wake back up. I could’ve been a walking shot of adrenaline and panic.

We finally made the decision that he would take me to the hospital and made our way to his car. I walked hurriedly, glancing all around me with my eyes struggling to be sure that this wasn’t all a dream. It felt like slow motion even, with my surroundings all blending together as I struggled to just walk and not shiver to death.

Once I was sitting in the car, the real hell began. It was about a five minute drive to the nearby hospital, probably even less considering Fort Worth traffic was surprisingly negligible at 2:00 in the morning. However, it felt like a year of panic, with each second going by like a day. My heart would beat its last any second, I thought. I forced myself to breathe, in and out, certain that if I didn’t personally control this my body would also breathe its last. And the shaking, the damn shaking wouldn’t stop. I lost control, shifting back in forth in my seat as I struggled to take charge of my own body as it shifted to overdrive.

I threw open the door when we parked, feeling some sense of hope that the top-of-the-line doctors and nurses working the graveyard shift at this fine establishment would deliver me to safety. This hope was extinguished when I realized I was going to a hospital and something was very wrong with me. The parking lot was a struggle to navigate, even though it was empty. I almost fell to the pavement once or twice, and my vision blurred as this turned into more of a dream.

I somehow made coherent speech to the receptionist once we were inside. She gave me a wristband with my name on it and successfully took my blood pressure even as I felt as if I was convulsing. The end was still coming, I thought, but for now I reached contentedness as I turned to my friend and said, “I’d just like to pass out already so this whole thing can be over with.” He didn’t share my enthusiasm.

After an hour of waiting, which was actually about two minutes but this is my story, they took me back and gave me a room with one of those hospital beds as I awaited treatment. By room I mean a hospital bed with a big curtain around it, so every medical show I’ve ever watched on Netflix is a lie. Nonetheless, once again I waited for hours (10 minutes tops) for someone to finally come save me.

Two male nurses finally showed up, hooked me up to one of those machines with numbers on it, noticed my blood pressure was insane, and left. I had stopped shaking, thank God. But my heart was still out of control, and breathing was no walk in the park. The nurses returned, this time with a huge machine, and performed an echocardiogram where they attached all these stamps to my chest to figure out if my heart was as weak and defeated as I thought it was. And with that, they left to process the results.

Finally somewhat content that if I did actually collapse on the verge of death, I’d be in a hospital, I achieved my highest level of calmness so far. My friend and I joked about all the medical equipment in the room, taking pictures with various machines so we could lead on our friends about another strange adventure at 3 A.M.

After another period of waiting, a much older doctor walked in and began the interrogation of my symptoms. After a solid 30 second conversation, he diagnosed me with an anxiety attack and handed me a small pill from his hand which I took without hesitation. So after waiting an hour for a 30 second diagnosis, I relaxed even more though he said the pill would take about 15 minutes to take effect. My heart felt okay, and I could breath without force again. My thoughts were no longer a panicked flood of frenzy, yet I still had so many questions. They finally dismissed me after providing me with the prescription, yet I still wanted to know about my echocardiogram because the state of my heart is sort of a big deal to me. I asked one of the nurses, to which he replied, “Oh yeah don’t worry about it. Result was normal.”

When what felt like a dream was over, the jeep skidded to a halt upside down. The driver kept yelling, over and over. I couldn’t understand. I was in a daze. I finally made out that he was yelling to get out, and I grasped the reality of the situation. I looked to the side, my door was shut and the window intact. Thinking logically this must have been an car wreck, I forcibly tried to elbow the window open to crawl out. Nothing. I grabbed a metal cup for the somehow intact cupholder and began smashing the glass. Nothing. I finally reached for the door handle and the door fell open. Simple as that.

I could see glass fluttering through the air, illuminated by passing headlights. I unbuckled my seatbelt and fell to ground, my elbow scraping pavement as I realized the roof of the vehicle had been shredded open. I crawled outside, standing up just barely on the side of this interstate before collapsing to my knees. My hands stung, almost covered in blood, but I didn’t feel anything. My ears were ringing and I could barely perceive anything.

Except the driver yelling, he wouldn’t stop. He had emerged from the jeep and was standing beside it, beckoning me to come over. I didn’t know what I was doing, but my body forced itself to stand up and I ran over to the side. Looking inside, everyone had gotten out safe except for one, whose head was pinned to the ground under a hunk of metal from the roof, and whose eyes stared blankly up at us, unknowing of what has happened. Another person appeared, not one of us, but a man who had just stopped his car and stood next to me, helping to lift the vehicle. Nothing. I moved to a lower position, grabbing something, and lifted with all my might. Our other friend moved inside the jeep, carefully meandering our trapped friend out from beneath the piece of metal.

With him safely secured, I rushed over to the other side, quickly picking up his almost lifeless body and carrying him to the grass as my friend cradled his head. Finally he spoke, and we believed he could walk. So we stood him on his feet. And he collapsed. We laid him on his back, and I kneeled by his side as he somehow spoke calmly that he couldn’t see anything. Bad news, we thought, or maybe just a side effect of trauma. I just prayed we’d find out soon.

An ambulance sped by, with paramedics jumping from the back and running over to us. They asked a ton of questions, but I don’t remember. Just help, I thought. They eventually grew tired of my constant presence by my incapacitated friend, and told me to go away. The others who had been in the wreck were standing off to the side in the grass. Two girls, shaking violently with shock. My friend who had cradled our companion’s head was there in between them, his arms draped across them as his body shook with theirs.

The driver yelled some more, this time into his phone. With whom, I don’t know. Maybe it was the cops. Maybe it was his parents. They argued all the time. I didn’t know what to do. I told the girls everything would be alright before I went over to the driver and patted him on the shoulder to say the same. He jumped, startled, I thought. I’d find out tomorrow he had a contusion on the shoulder. Bad luck, I guess.

I went back over to my fallen friend. Blood caked his hair as the paramedics maneuvered his body onto a stretcher. I thought to look at myself, seeing my hands now with dried blood and shards of glass sticking from a few fingers and the palms. I glanced at my legs, unscathed except for one knee covered in dried blood from a glass sliver to my thigh. Surely this isn’t happening, I thought. It can’t be.

They carried my friend to the ambulance and sped off to who knows where. I didn’t know what to do. I stopped and sat down as the other paramedics instructed. It didn’t help, I thought, as my body was quivering with adrenaline. I stopped to say a quick decade of the rosary, either to calm myself or pass the time. Honestly I was surprised I remembered. The haze over everything persisted. Officers stopped to ask questions, we answered. Other people of some apparent authority stopped to ask questions, we answered. I didn’t really know anything at this point. It felt like a bad dream, just like they say, I suppose.

A tow truck arrived and flipped the jeep over. I was told not to watch. Everyone else turned away, but I stood transfixed. Where the hood of the jeep had been was now strips of metal and a puddle of blood. I wasn’t in fear or sadness, or shock necessarily. Maybe just numb. The jeep was loaded onto the tow truck and soon they left too, but not before I could see the smashed front windshield and the terribly-contorted frame. No one should go through that, I thought. We must’ve flipped four or five times. And the puddle of blood. And the uncontrollable shaking. No one should survive that.

Later on, as my friend was ushered through the hospital, the nurses would be shown pictures of the wreckage. They struggled to comprehend.

“They must’ve had angels watching them,” one said.

Fort Worth, Texas. March 14th. 3:30 P.M.

Barely a cloud hung in the sky as he departed class and made his way across campus towards the chapel. The lagging effects of previous events had led him to believe that there could be only one place left to turn. Medication helped. Playing basketball until sheer exhaustion helped. Talking to others helped, maybe. But there had to be some solution. Something to stop this emptiness, this wretched feeling that would build in his chest and take all joyful and carefree thoughts away, blanketing them in pain.

He walked into the chapel, pushing the great doors open with reluctancy before striding down the aisle and taking a seat at the front pew. After sitting didn’t seem to do the trick, he kneeled. This damn place isn’t a Catholic institution, he thought, and hadn’t invested in kneelers for the chapel, so his knees met the cold, hard floor instead. Oh well, what’s a little more hardship.

There had to be a solution, he thought. Something to make the pain go away. Something to give him rest. Something with which to fill his mind in place of the fear and emptiness.

There had to be a way to stop the sudden jolting awake in the dead of night. The feeling of drowning, breathlessness, as he laid on his back and tried to sleep every night.

If time heals all, where does he go to make it go by faster? He put all these thoughts before the altar, for whoever was there to hear it in the empty chapel. The great ceiling was silent, save for the air conditioner running in this Texas springtime. It meant a lot just to share them, he felt. These thoughts that he couldn’t put to paper until much later. He couldn’t grab them and hold them, tell them to be still and let him rest. But it was in this moment that he realized he was at rest.

He had sought the outside help, countless minutes of advice from friends he had previously helped and those who had suffered this before. He had taken the pills, slowly drifting to sleep with their blessing. But he wanted liberation, he wanted relief but specifically for that relief to be his own. And there in the chapel he found it. After giving the thoughts before the altar he could examine them clearly, and he found his peace, but for a fleeting moment. For it was in this moment that he saw the sun peeking between the clouds. Before, all he could see was grey, as his thoughts were tainted with the storm of doubt and quickly covered with the pain that would follow. But the short glimpse of shine showed him that this too shall pass.

It wasn’t long before clouds passed over once again, but he remembered that one moment when the rays had reached him, and he could hold on to that moment as long as he needed until the skies would clear and the rain would be washed away. Soon, he thought, he too would be bathed in sunlight. It was only a matter of time now. He strode down the aisle confidently, breathing deeply now as he felt relief but for a few fleeting minutes. Soon, he thought, he could have peace again.

As he opened the door and stepped outside, a few clouds floated by in the sky. There would always be clouds, but at this moment he realized he could see the sun. Sometimes the clouds would cover the sky, drenching those below in shadow. But above them was the sun, never dimming, and always there. One just had to know it was there, he thought, and the right perspective to see it.

A fathom deep in sleep I lie

With old desires, restrained before;

To clamor life-ward with a cry

As dark flies out the greying door.

And so in quest of creeds to share

I seek assertive day again;

But old monotony is there —

Long, long avenues of rain.

Oh might I rise again! Might I

Throw off the throbs of that old wine —

See the new morning mass the sky

With fairy towers, line on line —

Find each mirage in the high air

A symbol, not a dream again!

But old monotony is there —

Long, long avenues of rain.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald