Back when I was living in New York City and studying for my MFA, I nearly lost my grip on reality. It was nuts; I was basically insane with anxiety. I was living on the verge of a panic attack and suffering from what they call agoraphobia–a fear of leaving my apartment. I know it sounds crazy, but I had this irrational dread of just “upping and dying”–of a brain aneurysm or heart attack–while out in public. Sure I was afraid of the actual dying process and all, but what really bugged me was the thought of croaking in front of a bunch of gawkers and causing a big, embarrassing scene.
One evening, early in my glorious, two-year stint in the Apple, I got a preview of this humiliation after fainting in public from a panic attack. It was a perfect finale to a terrible day. It happened right in front of my apartment building while I was out smoking my nightly cig with my boy Ed the doorman. Ed was a good conversationalist–kind of opinionated, but not too bad. He really did want to be your friend. He was honest and well read and not the least bit afraid to throw out the deep shit. Ed was straight off the boat from Russia and lived like 2 hours away in rural New York state where he fished every day. He had a brother who was a great photographer but also a wicked heroin addict. Which was painful for him to talk about.
Anyway, Ed and I were just ripping a few butts, kind of shooting the breeze, as usual. Ed was doing pretty much all the talking as I really wasn’t feeling well. He had gotten on the topic of Eastern European women, and was explaining why they are the sexiest women in the world. It was too bad that I was in such a shamble, because I probably would’ve had some fun with Eddy on this subject–playing devil’s advocate and such. Anyway, I’m sure he was making a compelling argument as usual, but I was pretty preoccupied. Earlier that day I’d given a forceful presentation on Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That which had consisted of two words–“I’m blanking”–before briefly apologizing and sitting right back down. And I couldn’t stop reliving the scene–the embarrassment my peers felt for me, and my professor’s response: “How about a little more intellectual rigor next time?” (“Gee, thanks professor. I appreciate you pointing that out, because I totally thought I just hit a homerun. How about you chug my cock and like it next time? Go write another dry, boring-ass piece for the New Yorker, you absent-minded fuck.”)
Anyway, that whole incident was fueling the toxic thoughts that seemed to suffocate my mind all the time in those days. Like how I would never amount to anything as a writer because writing was too hard for me. Like how I was destined for failure. Like there was no guarantee that I would end up successful or even just all right. That there was no God or force out there to keep me company, let alone safe. And that, despite what the doctors were telling me (that I was okay), I was sick and dying. How could I not be? I couldn’t stop shaking and twitching, and all that weird cramping and the fatigue–it couldn’t possibly be purely mental… It was all too perfect: Andrew White–a golden boy athlete from a respectable family–struck down by Parkinson’s or ALS or some other horrifying malady in his prime. Once his health left him, his looks went, and before long he became an obscure, wheelchair-bound object of pity. His life really ended when he split with Annie.
I fully expected that by the time Annie returned to the Northeast from her yearlong, service commitment abroad, I would have received whatever terrible diagnosis I had coming. I could picture her eyes welling up with tears as I told her the news (terminal cancer, maybe, or at least MS). She wouldn’t cry too badly at first, but as soon as she was alone, away from me, the floodgates would open and she would become hysterical. And because, for my sake, she wouldn’t want me to see her that way, I wouldn’t be there to hold her. I would try my best to break up with her right then and there, to free her from this sinking ship. I would tell her to go on without me, to have children. And I would never see her again, though I would never stop dreaming about her, either.
Anyway. As my brain marinated in this all-too familiar cloud of uplifting thoughts, I began to feel sick to my stomach. Ed’s voice began to irritate me. Why was he talking so loudly? Ed, I don’t give a shit that the Eastern European woman’s foot tends to run a full size below the average American’s. Boom–my nausea escalated from 7 to 60 in about 2.2 milliseconds. I seriously chucked my cigarette and started to book it toward the street so as to not puke right in front of Ed and my apartment building where it would make a nasty scene. My last thought was, “I’m not going to make it.”
Seconds later, I woke up, feeling incredibly rested, as if I’d been out a full night’s sleep. As I came to, though, I heard Ed wiggin’ out: “Andrew, Andrew, are you okay? Are you epileptic?” My head began to throb, and my eye socket hurt like a bitch. Blood was really pouring out pretty good from a gash above my eye. Holy shit, I just fainted! About a dozen other tenants were now huddled around me, too. Squawking like chickens, half of them. One of them said she was calling 911. But I really didn’t want that, and I begged her not to call an ambulance. I was mortified enough and couldn’t deal with being the center of any more spectacle–even if it meant dying.
Ed understood what I was thinking, I think. He had my back. The cool bastard that he was, he listened to me. I’m pretty sure of it, anyway. And I’ll never forget it. Had I died or something that night, he probably could’ve been sued or at least fired. But he listened to me and told the other folks that I was going to be fine and to put their cell phones away. Then he basically carried me to the elevator and helped me to my apartment.
I’d write more about that night–like what happened next and everything. But to be honest, it really didn’t end up being all that interesting from that point on. Basically I just rested a bit, drank some water, then took a cab to the hospital and got an IV.
“Dehydration,” they said.