White Hot Panic


*trigger warning: anxiety*

I got in the car and turned on the headlights as the engine hummed to life. Even in the city, side streets aren’t well lit and the headlights looked like floodlights against the darkness.

I knew he wouldn’t be far behind in his own car, but since he was inside still talking, I wearily left the in-laws and turned onto the main road. Thoughts were floating here and there like clouds on a summer day – oh, that one looks like this, gee I haven’t looked at it that way in awhile, and over there is another thought.

A few blocks away, a red light brings me to a halt.

The car behind me is stopped so close I can’t see his headlights even though I’m in the right lane and the left is empty.

My heartbeat picks up. Maybe he’ll peel off at the next turn, or maybe he’s trying to turn left – this is a major intersection after all. Nothing to worry about.

Green light.

We speed along like we’re connected. He doesn’t race past, but he’s pushing me.

Are the headlights the right shape? I can’t remember. Could it be him? Probably. Will he pass me and beat me home?

What if it isn’t my husband? I hit the gas. The car is still there, riding in the right lane.

I could call him. My cell phone is within reach, and it would solve everything.

But if it isn’t him…

My pepperspray is at home. I wouldn’t have time to find it if he followed me in.

We ride on some more. My knuckles are turning white as I twist my hands along the top, undecided between gripping for dear life and nervous shiftings.

Four miles down, one to go.

I turn onto the busy street – just 2 lefts and 2 rights until I’m safe. He gets in the left turn lane behind me. I can’t make out the color of the car, even with the streetlights. I’m going to be jumped by a stranger – I’m going to die in my parking lot before I can get in my apartment – I’m going to…

I grab my phone and dial the number.

“Are you the car behind me?”

“Of course.”

I breathe again, but my hand grips the phone. “I was afraid you were someone else.”

He soothes me, his voice all I needed to rationalize the irrational. “I’ll see you at home in a few.”

I hang up and want to laugh at myself. I desperately want to laugh, scream, run, and collapse. Words start formulating in my head. I know I will write about this, even in that moment, because tonight I gave myself a panic attack so bad I couldn’t breathe and my husband thought I was crazy.

Maybe that’s just it. Maybe I’m crazy. But if this is what it takes to cope – a phone call, words of reassurance, words on the page – then so be it.

I’d rather be crazy and know it than deny it’s happening again.