I wake up screaming at the top of my lungs. It ‘s 2am and I’m going to die. The neck of my tee-shirt is wet and smells acrid, like cat pee. It’s a different smell from the stink I give off during the day. Those sweaty smells could belong to Mr. Poppin Fresh, or an idealistic Girl Scout: My daily perspiration smells hard-earned, stolid and earnest.
This sweat is different. It’s the smell of me, scared shitless.
This fear is one David Attenborough dub away from me as wildlife. It makes the hackles on the back of my neck stand up. I’m a primal creature. My ears are ringing from the sound of my own screams. My whole body shakes in time. My blood’s been replaced with adrenaline. I’m hunched over and wary. I’m Daryl Hannah and my Brooklyn apartment is transformed into the set of Clan of the Cave Bear.
Absurdly I think of Michael Jordan, that commercial for t-shirts with necks that don’t stretch. The wet neck of mine looks like the notched labia of a white corpse. That makes me remember that I’m going to die. My heart leaps towards my incisors. I hit myself in the face as hard as I can.
When it happens I feel the bed start to roll away from underneath me. The insides of my stomach peel up and away from the inside out. I’m a pickled frog in a high school bio lab. I think of the cold, wet globs of my own yellow fat being inspected. If I could get out of my body I would be fine. That’s the only solution and I ram my head against its impossibility continually.
I can’t get out of my body. I’m stuck here. One day my body is going to die. So is yours. My underarms prickle, that cat pee smell, again. It scares me even now writing about it. I’ve got my back to the sunny, midday, Manhattan world. All the noises of 5th avenue insist I’m wrong. A car horn announces immortality.
I’ve always been this way. That’s the refrain. I thought I was getting better. This seems like proof I’m not. Never mind that it’s been three whole weeks since it’s happened. The panic attacks. The night terror. It’s a thing that happens mostly to children, I’ve learned. I look around my dark bedroom, at the brightly colored deer’s head made of yarn, of the pinks and yellows I prefer, of the big white brass bed. Am I a child? Part of me is. I try picturing someone else in the bed with me and I can’t. I’m not going to be loved or touched before I die.
This thought doesn’t make me scream. This one’s responsible for the icy calm, the parallel lines of scars on the insides of mouth from clamping down against my own fear. I’m running my tongue down the left line towards the inside of my bottom lip and up to the right. It’s an inner smile of scar tissue. I chomp down for good measure. A little bit of blood. I’m much more calm now. I tell people “I’ve never hurt myself,” and my secret mouth is a grimace of scars. Liar, liar, liar.
I visited a discount dentist back when I didn’t have insurance. I brought a coupon for a cleaning online. He clucked his tongue at the inside of my mouth. “The inside of your mouth looks like the Joker’s face,” he said. Why so serious? Because I’ve got wildly misfiring synapses in my brain and I feel everything all the time. That’s why. He offered to numb me up and shave off the scars. I said “sounds great,” and made an appointment to do it. I never saw him again.
I check in with my shrink. He wants to know how it’s going and I tell him. I wonder if he’s going to tell me to admit myself. Instead he’s happy -- one night terror is better than seven a week, right? He reminds me to take the clonazepam he’s prescribed to help during times like this. I nod and say, “Sounds great,” but I don’t plan on doing it. They are my night light. I like the way the full bottle looks on my shelf.
I am lying in bed and I am trying to remember the last time I fell in love and what that was like. I can’t remember anything nice. I just remember all the awfulness that makes my ears roar louder than the sound of my own screaming. I squeeze my eyes shut tight and try to imagine that Mads Mikkelsen has been badly wounded trying to rescue me and my squadron of lady knights from a perverted despot. I sponge his brow. I worry he’s going to die. I can’t even sex-fantasy right.
It’s 4am and I take the clonazepam as directed. I wait to feel something different than sweaty, and angst-riddled, and worried, and at a loss. When the relief comes it’s not a good feeling. It is, and it isn’t. It’s like having to pee so badly you’re going to scream and then just letting it all out in spite of being in public, wearing light colored slacks. I’m mortified at what’s just happen. But I don’t feel like I need to scream or hit or bleed tonight.
This is still 30 milligrams. I have been putting off going to 40. Because I’m scared, I guess. I’m scared I’ll see it all more clearly. “Why do you think you’re so unlovable,” my therapist asks me. Because I’m sexless, because I’m a child, because I’m not desirable, because I’m crazy. “I don’t know,” I say. I don’t know. I fall half asleep and it’s nice, like picking a scab or dozing after a bout of sobs. To go forward you go back, nothing is ever done, there is no magic pill, bounce on this massive dick of a cliche, Rebecca. You’ll feel better tomorrow.