Panic

The first sign is when everything gets louder.
It’s almost as if it all moved closer;
the traffic noise is no longer peripheral,
it’s right there against her eardrums
along with the chatter of people talking
and the pulsing of her heartbeat –
which is the second sign. Thumping faster,
she’s sure it’s happening now.
And she’ll try, at length, to stop it –
or at least to postpone the inevitable.

But this time it’s too close, things are
far too loud, wrapping her in a bubble.
Then the tears, the part she hates the most,
and not just because with it comes
the tightening of her chest,
the tense, thin-and-thick breaths too short
to stem the tide of panic –
because it’s obvious now, everyone can see
that she can’t control herself
can’t stop her brain from running away with her.
That’s when her legs give out.

Her friends are clustered around her now,
one’s holding her hand
the other has gone for water, as if it’ll help.
They don’t know what to do,
not any more than she does – but she tries,
for them, to breathe. To breathe. Just
to breathe.
But it’s too far now, her throat hitches,
contracting in hysterical sobs about nothing.
Nothing at all, and that’s the worst part –
because if there were a reason, she wouldn’t
mind this quite so much.

“I’m sorry,” she garbles, over and over,
as if there’s any apology good enough
to make up for the helplessness she’s given them.
This is when she starts to wonder
if she’s making it all up. Perhaps she’s fine.
Perhaps this is just an act, to get attention.
The thought makes her sobs worse.
She clutches her fingers against her throat,
as if feeling the rapid beat of her heart
will give her any more power to control it.

But slowly, she breathes. In and out.
In and out. In and out. In and out.
And slowly things get quieter.
Her sobs die down to quiet shakes.
She clings desperately to her friends,
who against all odds haven’t left her.
And slowly, slowly, slowly she calms.
Shame wraps her in a cool blanket.
If only she were normal.