As I wrote the last section, I sat weighing whether it was cruel to bring up a decades old hurt. I went along slowly to try and make clear that the Wade I’m writing about likely doesn’t exist anymore. He’s not that child, and neither am I. But in calling him out, even under a pseudonym, I wondered, was I committing a cruelty? If he happens upon that description of him, will it wound? Does it result in any good, bringing it up? Might another child at that same age, if he stumbles upon it, feel like he’s not alone? I can’t ignore it, the moment I’ve described. That moment meant so much to who I am, who I would be in years to come. There was cruelty on his part in that moment, but I’m just as guilty in my retreat. In that moment, I recognized the stringent order that defining our sexuality imposes upon our world. And I conformed. I hate that I conformed. I hate that I turned my back on a friend because of it, that I didn’t continue to treat Sam kindly. To conform and be accused of not conforming. I want the child I was not to care what the child Wade was had said. I want the child I was to have known better the difference between right and wrong. Yet, I wasn’t as Wade accused me of being. And this makes writing about it even more fraught. I had denied it. This denial implies that there was something wrong with being what he’d implied I was, and I came to believe just the opposite. Naturally, it would have been harder if he’d accused me of this and been correct. I’ve seen the burden of this type of stigma on family and friends. As it was, I was navigating the narrow passage of intimate male friendship, and this comes with its own taboos. For as much as I think there’s nothing wrong with being what Wade had accused me of, I’d also rather not wear the mantle if it’s not mine. I’d prefer defining myself, as I believe we all would. Though the accusations at times did confuse me. Were the people who thought this right? Was I wrong? Was I gay and just didn’t know it yet? I didn’t think I was. But I kept quiet about it, trying to figure it out.

I loved my friend. I couldn’t admit this so readily as a teen, but in retrospect this was what it was, love. Lex would on occasion declare that he loved me, as if to flout convention, as if to show how comfortable he was with himself, but the fact he could do so indicated he meant it less. He was a brother to me, and I clung to this affection. I told him I liked girls. I told him who they were, and I talked to him about how I felt about them. But over the years, even he insinuated he didn’t believe this, which felt like a betrayal. He was more outwardly macho than me, though he tried to pretend this wasn’t the case. He acted as if his sisters’ influence gave him insight into women that I didn’t have, but now that I’ve had my own experiences living with them, dating, being married, his insights were mistaken, naive. He acted as if we as men had to trick women into liking us back, and this never sat well with me. Still, it seemed to work for him. He talked a better game. He exuded confidence. I didn’t have girlfriends, and he did, so maybe I was wrong. Though I liked women’s bodies, I balked at talking about tits and ass. I wasn’t particularly fond of the word pussy (it doesn’t make me blush or disgust me; I just don’t find much reason to employ it in everyday conversation). Last week, my wife was at an ATM, standing behind two men. They didn’t realize she was there, and one of the men started complaining about dollar bills. “I hate dollar bills,” he said. “They’re not good for anything.” The other turned to him. “You know who likes dollar bills? Strippers!” He guffawed but then turned and saw my wife and went quiet. To this day, I shy away from groups of men because I’ve never liked talking this way. Most of the men I’ve become friends with aren’t traditionally masculine, if this type of talking defines masculine tradition. Oh, I’m sure I’ve done it at some point. I shouldn’t get too self-righteous. Drunk and during a poker night maybe. In the same act of conforming while struggling not to, the pressures of a group eliciting a false response from me (the sad reality being I’m more courageous in word than in deed, on the written page than in life). But ultramasculine is not a comfortable mode, not natural for me. Aside from regretting it, I always wonder, do they/we mean it? Is it just a way of preening, primping them/ourselves up to get laid? But I couldn’t do it back then, as a teen among my friends. I couldn’t even pretend, and this made me suspect as well.

One night during junior year of high school, I was sitting on the couch in Lex’s living room. We were hanging out, me and Lex and his then-girlfriend Nora. We were getting ready to leave when Lex leaned over the sofa and kissed me on the mouth. I wasn’t expecting it and flinched, and he laughed. I knew he wasn’t serious, so I laughed too, trying to act like it was all good fun. Nora shook her head. “You two are crazy,” she said. I shrugged it off, but at the same time, I was offended, not by what Nora had said but by the kiss. I didn’t know if he’d done it as a joke or to try and draw me out, if he didn’t believe me when I told him how I felt about Lana Dalton, the crush I’d nursed since our sophomore year, if he didn’t understand my affection for him was emotional rather than physical. At that point, Lex and I were still close, though the reasons our friendship eventually ended were already showing. They’d been showing for years, since the beginning, since Elisa. Whenever Lex had a girlfriend, he disappeared. Most of the time I didn’t need him around, so this was fine. This was how he was with his relationships, with his girlfriends. He was all immersive, intense. Every other aspect of his life disappeared, and he got lost. When he broke up with Nora, he fell into a deep depression. He dropped out of school, and I showed up. He refused to leave his room, and I sat with him every day. I was there for him, without judgment. But I wouldn’t receive the same consideration four years later when I needed him.


I was sitting at the dining room table in my parents’ house when I heard a knock at the door and my mom let Jim inside. It was winter break before my final college semester, and though I’d left the house the last few weeks to finish up the fall term, I’d been staying home since then, scared I’d have another attack. I hadn’t seen my friends since my twenty-first birthday. I’d taken their calls but dodged their invitations. I wouldn’t go to the bar and have a drink. I wouldn’t get coffee. I’d been busy with tests and papers. This was what I’d told them anyway. Papers and exams had never stopped me before. I’d gone to school and work and socialized without hesitation. But Jim noticed my evasions. Both Jim and Lex had witnessed my first attack. Lex had been driving, Jim in the back. They knew what was happening, even if I tried to play it off.

“So what’s going on, man?”

Jim had said this casually, but I sensed an off note in his voice that altered me to the fact that his visit wasn’t casual. This was something I’d learned being picked on in my youth, a way of listening that detected false tones, insinuation, mockery, sarcasm, insincerity, ulterior motives. I was sitting at the dining room table midday in front of my laptop. Since the band Lex and I had formed in early high school had dissolved, Lex had become a painter and I’d turned to writing. We could never get a bassist or second guitar player to fit our sensibility, rotating in a sequence of acquaintances to play shows, and eventually our passion diminished. What we wanted to do didn’t work as a two-piece. For a while, we threw our ideas on tape, worked with 4 track and overdubbing. But even this fizzled out. Writing and painting were solitary pursuits over which we had full control, there was no need to compromise in these media. We didn’t need to hire on an extra player and try to finagle them into playing like we wanted them to. We didn’t even have to convince each other our ideas were right anymore, though I sometimes regretted the loss of creative tension that made me push myself harder, improvise a new riff, a more melodic solo, better lyrics.

At the time Jim showed up, I’d been tinkering with a book of interconnected stories, most of which were amateur imitations of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesberg Ohio. They were set in a suburb loosely-based on Glenside that I was calling Fellow’s Grove. I’d published the first of these, a story called “The Haunting of John Creely,” in the Temple University literary journal. It was about a lonely office worker who’s driven mad by the sound of his phone ringing. Every night he comes home to an empty apartment and the phone rings, but no one answers on the other end. Over the period of a week, the frequency of these incidents increases until he has a nervous breakdown and destroys his telephone. I’d got the idea after I’d broken up with my girlfriend Christina during the spring semester sophomore year. When she’d left the last time, she told me she’d call me. The way we’d discussed our relationship had seemed open-ended. She had implied we might get back together. “You’re going to Rome, and I need time to think,” she’d told me. But then, I’d never heard from her again. When I came back from Italy with the study abroad program, she had disappeared. I’d hoped to see her on campus and maybe make up. The situation in Rome had changed me for the better, and I thought we could make it work, but when I looked for her she was gone. I called the house where she lived with her parents, and her mother hung up on me. I saw her brother at the train station and he ignored me, and when I confronted him, he was evasive. Polite but evasive.

“It’s something I’d rather not discuss,” he said.

I wondered what could have happened. We’d only gone out for six months, but she was troubled. Her parents were strict. Korean immigrants. They were pushing her toward medical school, but she didn’t have the aptitude. She was struggling with organic chemistry. She wasn’t supposed to be dating, let alone dating me. There were religious issues, she was Christian, I’m not, along with racial/ethnic ones, so she’d hid our relationship from them. Still, her brother had known. He’d even liked me, I thought. But maybe he hadn’t. I don’t know. All I know is she sometimes talked about hurting herself.

“Do you ever get the impulse to do strange things?” she’d asked me once. “Like sometimes when I’m driving, I get the urge to just run off the road and crash.”

I’d looked at her with concern.

“Do you really think things like that?”

She turned away.

“No, not for real.”

Christina was only the third girlfriend I’d had. There’d been a short-lived affair the semester before with a bisexual girl I’d met in my women’s studies class. Before that, I had to go back to eighth grade when I’d dated Susan Osmond. Neither had been serious. And neither had suffered from these types of thoughts. I didn’t know how to deal with it, what to do, so I held her.

“Let me help you,” I said.

But she’d responded, “I’m all right. I was just joking.”

She wouldn’t have killed herself, would she? I couldn’t get her off my mind. I’d hardly known her, we had little in common, but that didn’t matter. She was pretty and she’d liked me, and I’d liked her. I approached her brother again.

“You don’t have to talk to me,” I said. “Just tell me she’s alive.”

He stared me down a moment and nodded.

“She is.”

I thought knowing would offer me relief, but it didn’t.

My time in Rome, up until then, had been the best four months of my life. Since the college I’d attended was a commuter school and I’d lived at home, Rome had been the first time I was on my own. I had an apartment. I shared it with roommates. My roommates became my friends. We traveled together to various cities in Europe, Paris Amsterdam, Barcelona, Florence. And we drank wine and ate pasta. We went out dancing at clubs. I handled shopping for groceries, doing my own laundry. I went to the bank once a month where they doled out the monthly portion of our prepaid stipend, taken out of our tuition, walking out with a half-million lira which was really only 300 American dollars but felt like much more. I’d learned to interact with Italians, to speak their language. Living there had made the world seem full of possibility. I wanted to have every experience, to know all there was to know of the world. There were wonderful people at every turn. Lilo, who owned a trattoria down the street from the Medaglia D’Oro apartment complex, whose dream was to open the first KFC in Italy, who received American students with open arms. It might have been simply that we provided the majority of his income, but he seemed to be genuinely happy. The family friends of my roommate John, who were living in Paris, a filmmaker and his Parisian wife whose names I’ve forgotten but who invited us into their homes after we unexpectedly called them. They’d cooked dinner for us, engaged us in conversation, welcomed us into their home graciously. Random passengers on trains with whom we had random conversations, always of the utmost interest though I’ve forgotten the subjects now. The man in the newsstand in Cosenza who, when we asked directions to our hotel, called his son to come take over the stand and got out and drove us there. It always began with language, I noticed. The Italians appreciated our attempts at speaking Italian and responded to us warmly. We never assumed English, we never approached with English, we never started conversations in English, though often, when our Italian failed, they would indulge us.

I came home wanting to learn every language. I wanted to learn about everything every culture. I stacked my courses the next semester. Instead of the usual 15 credits I’d signed up for 20. I wanted to graduate early and get out and experience life. I’d touched down at JFK mid-winter. I was exuberant. When I got back from the airport, I ran to Lex’s parents’ house. I’d talked to Lex maybe twice via email while I’d been gone. Jim and Rick were there when I arrived. I had dropped ten to fifteen pounds in Italy, but I looked good. I wasn’t emaciated. I was beaming. As I arrived, his parents remarked on how happy I seemed. And I was. It took nearly a month to diminish, a month before reality set back in. Classes started. The first tuition bill arrived. I needed a job. I took a position as stock boy at Genuardi’s grocery store. They told me I had to be clean shaven, so the night before I started I shaved. When I got there, I had some shadow-growth and the alpha male ape who was running the department handed me a disposable Bic and told me to go upstairs and scrape it off. I cut myself and bled. The month before, I was in Rome, one of the world’s great cities, and now I walked the aisles in a hairnet with a bleeding face and a box cutter in my hands. I considered opening a vein. Frankie Vallie sang “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” every twenty minutes over the loudspeaker. I had vowed when I left for Rome that I’d never return to work at Rydal Park, the retirement community where I’d found a job in the kitchen when I turned sixteen, but one afternoon, when I saw a supervisor from Rydal shopping at the store, I approached her.

“Are you guys hiring over there?”

She recognized me and smiled and nodded. I’d left on good terms.

“We need a salad chef, and we need good workers, too.”

This took care of part of the problem, but 20 credits was too much, especially working a 30-hour week. I’d piled most of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to let me work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I got to school at eight a.m and took the train home at ten p.m., and some nights, I secluded myself at the end of the Temple train station’s elevated platform where no one could see me and wept. I couldn’t keep up. There was no down time. I was rushing from one place to another and my ex-girlfriend had disappeared. Life wasn’t full of possibility but full of work and drudgery and shit. It was winter and the wind blew chill and biting through my clothes, and it rained all the time, and when it wasn’t raining there was a wet sleet falling, and the world was gray. I went to my adviser and dropped one of the four-credit courses I was taking, which meant I went home at eight instead of ten. The weather combined with the stresses of work and school took a toll on me. I was lonely, and my mind kept wondering back to Christina. What had happened to her? Had she had a breakdown? Had she been committed somewhere?

Everywhere I went I looked for her, thinking that maybe she’d show back up. Maybe if she’d needed help, she’d gotten it and she’d return. Lex had dropped out of life for a while, taken to bed. But he’d recovered. Maybe Christina would too. And as I looked, I began to see her everywhere. At concerts for the bands we both liked. Elliott Smith at the Trocadero. Rufus Wainwright at the TLA. Yo La Tengo. There was always a girl who looked like her at a glance, standing in the crowd. And I’d position myself to get a better view, only to find it wasn’t. I’d seen Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and I felt like Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie, roaming the city, watching women’s faces for hers. I didn’t admit that this was what I was doing. I kept it from everyone, Lex and Jim especially. I feared I was crazy. Yet I was obsessed with finding her. I knew I needed to think of something else, someone else. But I didn’t know how to go about it. I felt like getting together with her had been an accident. We’d had mutual friends at school. She took the same train as me. I saw her in Anderson Hall all the time. I’d asked her if she wanted to hang out with me alone. I wasn’t sure how I’d found the courage to do it. Among my friends now, there weren’t any unattached women. They all had boyfriends. At the nursing home where I worked, there were women, but they were mostly party girls, sorority types. I got along with them well enough, but I wasn’t into them. They liked party girl music. They didn’t read books. I didn’t know what we’d talk about if we went out. Then, too, the guys there, guys who went scouting for girls, weren’t the type I’d be friends with. I’d be washing the pots and pans in the back, and Scottie would sidle up after a waitress passed.

“You see the ass on her?”

I’d look up, shrug, and smile. The waitresses wore these baggy green dresses. Any ass he saw was his imagination. But to get along I’d mumble something like, “Yeah, she’s fine.” And Scottie would walk away. Satisfied? Did he think we’d shared a moment? Two guys imagining an ass behind frumpy green linen? All the guys were like this. Sports talk. Which I could engage in because I liked sports. It was one of the few traditionally masculine rituals of life I partook in. Cars, which I couldn’t, because I didn’t give a damn about cars. Strip clubs, which again I couldn’t because I’ve never been to one. Even music, which everyone likes, provided a disconnect. The guys there always had the station tuned to either WYSP or Power 99. Classic rock or hip hop. I liked some of the stuff on WYSP, Zeppelin for instance. But they spent a lot more time playing “Layla” over and over again. Or “Sweet Home Alabama.” Or “Hey Jude,” the most odious of all The Beatles’ songbook. And classic rock hits, no matter how good, nauseate me, simply because they do overplay them. The hip hop I liked at that time was anything Rawkus released. The Black Star record. Mos and Talib’s solo stuff. I’ve loved Pharoahe Monch since Internal Affairs. He’s still one of my favorites. I liked Wu-Tang Clan, but they didn’t play these guys on Power 99 FM. It was “Money, Cash, Hos.” It was Master P. Disposable hits. So I couldn’t talk music either.

I was good at the work, however, which left me with time on my hands. During my breaks, I became good at disappearing. I’d finish three hours of work in an hour and a half and go on break. Every forty-five minutes or so, I’d wander by my boss’s office to see if he was looking for me. If he wasn’t, I’d find a corner in the back of the dining room and read books. The Nabokov catalog. Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which reminded me of Christina, our religious differences, and soon became one of my favorite novels. Otherwise, I’d head downstairs to the cafeteria with a notebook and work on my stories. I’d thrown myself into writing, though the Fellow’s Grove stories that followed “The Haunting of John Creely,” had become increasingly worse. That first had come as a result of inspiration. With the others I was stretching to find subjects. I wrote about a firebug, an arsonist. I wrote about the local Vietnam vet who lived in the woods behind the library. I threw words on the page to get down content I could work with later, edit, revise. Before my dad had bought me a laptop, I’d sit in the basement and work, switching back and forth between school assignments and my fiction. Then I’d sit at the dining room table, listening to music low on the stereo.

Jim had been home for the month of December, the same time I’d arrived back from Rome. But he’d gone back to Up With People, a traveling theater program he’d signed up for. Before leaving for Rome, I’d severed ties with Rick over the matter of his fathering a child but not being much of a father. So with Jim gone, Lex was my only friend. The great friends I’d made in Rome lived far away; if not too far to see with effort on my part, too far for casual interactions. One was at Penn State, another at Haverford. One at Oberlin, another in Minnesota. I visited the ones at Penn State and Haverford. I went to parties with them. I spent a few days with my Oberlin friend in Boston over the summer. We emailed, but it wasn’t the same. Most of our conversations fixated on nostalgia for Rome. Lex had started working in a framing store on Old York Road while I was in Rome, and he’d met a girl named Marisa there and they were dating, which meant I never saw him. When they broke up, he started dating Rita, another woman who worked there, and it was the same thing. We hung out on special occasions, the nights his girlfriends made plans with their friends. My birthday. Maybe he felt I’d abandoned him in going abroad, even if he’d encouraged it, but excluding the short time he was single between Marisa and Rita, he didn’t expend much effort to see me.

I’d made it through my first semester back and reached the end of my junior year. Summer provided scant relief. Jim came home, and we hung out. But we didn’t have the same type of friendship Lex and I had. Senior year began, and I limped into it. Work, school, home, write. Work, school, home, write. Lex moved in with Rita in Manayunk, so I saw him even less. We’d tried to play music a few times. He’d move his drums into his basement instead of his bedroom, and it was bleak. We tried out a new bassist. He was good, but he had another band lined up and couldn’t commit to more than the occasional jam session. We wrote a few final songs, but once he moved, any vestige of hope the band might continue fizzled out.

I worried about what I’d do when I graduated. The plan for years had been for me and Lex to be in a band, to play music. I’d gone to college to satisfy my parents that I’d have something to fall back on. But I’d studied English. What could I do with that? I’d always been creative. Now I wanted to write. But writing and music, these were dreams. What would I do while I pursued them? I didn’t have anything lined up. What worried me too, was that I wasn’t as good at writing as music. Of course, I didn’t consider the fact I was more practiced with music. I eliminated the years I’d spent learning to play “Yankee Doodle” from memory. To my mind, I’d picked up a guitar, and I was stellar. I mythologized what a natural I was. I expected to pick up writing and be just as good without any practice. And the fact that my first story had been published right away, and I’d received compliments from staff and student body on it should have proved this was the case. The editors had told me at the release party that it was the only story they’d unanimously agreed should be in the journal. But nothing I put down after that was nearly as good. With music, songs had come easily. Writing took greater effort. I hadn’t yet experienced the same sense of zoning out, emerging with something magical, that I had when I played guitar. When writing songs, I was consumed in the act of creation. I could always tell when I was onto something, something good. I hoped this would come at some point with writing, but maybe writing was different. Or maybe I just wasn’t as good at it and never would be. I didn’t know, and this scared me. If I couldn’t be in a band, I had to write. And if I couldn’t write well, I was no one. I had to create to exist. It was all wrapped up with my identity.

I was drifting toward my twenty-first birthday without any real direction. My life had been structured by school. What would I do when it ended? I’d been friends with Lex for ten years, and he didn’t seem to know what to do either, which meant the friend I’d always looked to for guidance had nothing to offer. Working in a store that framed paintings and photos and posters and memorabilia, dating a series of coworkers—this wasn’t particularly what I had in mind. It seemed more of a placeholder. Lex acted as if he were going to marry Rita, but I figured it would end soon enough. She was thirty-four and he was almost twenty-three. I liked all the girls he dated, from Rita to Marisa to Nora to Elisa. But outside of Elisa, I wondered what he saw in them. He had so little in common with Nora when they’d dated in high school. She was an Irish dancer in her youth. He liked her body. But what did they talk about? He worked with Maria and Rita, which provided some connection. But again I wondered what their conversations were like. When left in a room with any one of them, excepting Elisa, it was awkward for me. I didn’t know what to say. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. It’s possible I was jealous they were absorbing all his time, and I didn’t care to know them. I was never outright rude, but I put forth little effort.

As my birthday approached, I decided that rather than barhop, which seemed a trite expression of this approaching rite of passage, I’d organize a dinner. I invited Lex and Rita (though she couldn’t make it) and Jim. I invited my roommate Jon from Rome, who now attended Haverford College right outside the city. I invited Angela and Maria Kitch, who I’d known tangentially in high school but who I’d been hanging out with from time to time, and I made reservations at Marrakech, a Moroccan restaurant just off South Street. Jon had told me about Marrakech while we were in Rome. It was down a side alley, he said. Almost like a speakeasy. You had to make a reservation beforehand and had to knock to gain admittance. There was no secret password, of course. But it felt like there should have been. Each booth consisted of one long crescent seat with throw pillows. Before eating, they brought out a pot of water to wash your hands, and the dishes were communal, each person shared, tore of chunks barehanded, and ate in this manner. It sounded interesting to me. I’d experienced nothing like that before, and I wanted to try it.

I didn’t drive. I didn’t have a license, since there was no need. I took the train to school or the city whenever I went and walked around or took the subways. Yet, Lex borrowed his parents’ red Dodge Neon, the same small car he’d used to chauffeur me to prom (he hadn’t been able to go himself due to dropping out, but offered his services to make sure that I had transportation, which I’ve always appreciated). Jim was already in the back when he came to pick me up. I took the passenger seat, and we sped off. Lex took the back roads out to Lincoln Drive, and up until then, I felt fine. I kept turning around to talk to Jim, fiddling with the radio, trying to find something we could listen to. It was only when we reached Lincoln Drive that I noticed a slight sour feeling in my stomach, and as we went along, it got worse. I turned to Lex.

“I think I’m gonna get sick,” I said.

Lincoln Drive, with it sinuous turns and lack of a shoulder, was a bad place to do this.

“Can you hold on?”

The night was important to me. I wanted to make it. I didn’t want to get sick. I tried holding back. I waited for a shoulder, for us to be off the Drive. But a pressure rose. I had to get out. I smacked the window with my palm and rolled it down just in case.

I’ve heard that some people mistake anxiety attacks for heart attacks. They say they thought they were going to die. But I didn’t. To me, an anxiety attack, even that first one when I didn’t know what was happening, felt like what it was—my body and mind overreacting to stimuli, flooding my system with adrenaline, the flight or fight response triggered beyond all rational measure. I was nauseated, my bowls felt tight, my bladder was full, pressing against the walls of my sphincter for exit. I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up, shit myself, or piss all over the car. But we made it to a stop. I got out. I didn’t throw up. Rather, I rushed to a tree by the side of the road and urinated, long and hard. Then I sat on a picnic bench and breathed.

“You want to turn around? Head home?” Lex asked.

I shook my head. “No, I’m all right now.”

And I was. I enjoyed the rest of the night. Dinner, the wine, the conversation with my friends. Perhaps it wasn’t as memorable as doing twenty-one shots in twenty-one different bars, and it might have passed just as another pleasant evening, if it hadn’t set off a sequence of anxiety attacks that would hit me during my commute to school during the last month of that fall semester. Each time I boarded the train for the twenty-five minute ride to school, I’d start to feel tingly. And I’d have an attack, not every ride, but enough for me to start anticipating anxiety, getting nervous before boarding. My fear of having one had started to trigger my having them. The attacks became self-perpetuating. And I fought against them. I tried to distract myself with books. I was reading Dostoevsky’s Demons and tried to bury myself in the nineteenth-century Russian countryside but it did no good. I couldn’t concentrate on the words. Then I tried doing crossword puzzles, and this was more helpful but didn’t eliminate the anxiety altogether. I made it though, I handed in my final papers, took my final exams, and nearly collapsed. When the winter break came, I decided to hole up. Perhaps if I didn’t go out, if I staved off having another attack for a while, my body would forget, my mind would forget, I’d be clear.

That was when Jim showed up in my dining room with his, “So what’s going on, man?”

I knew what he’d come to talk about. I almost always know when people approach me this way why they’re there. Sometimes I feign ignorance, but that’s all it is, pretending.

“I’m working on a story,” I said.

“Let me buy you a cup of coffee.”

“We have coffee here. I could make some.”

“Come on. It’s a nice day. Let’s get outside.”

Of course, in addition to pretending I didn’t know why he was there, I had to pretend nothing was wrong. That way I’d show him we didn’t have to have the conversation he’d come to have. To this end, I shrugged and got up and put on my shoes. There were a couple coffee shops nearby, but he walked to his car and got in. I stopped and stood a moment. Cars were a problem. Trains were a problem. Enclosed spaces. I didn’t get anxious on foot. I’d taken to timing the distance between train stops to make it to school, charting the public restrooms. If I knew where they were and how long I’d be in the train, I was calmer.

“Where are we going?” I asked Jim.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe Chestnut Hill.”

The lack of a clear and distinct destination set my system to shutter. I could feel it coming on. I sat as still as possible in the passenger seat and tried to contain it.

“You don’t seem anxious,” was what I’d later get from my therapist. “You look depressed.”

My therapist didn’t strike me as particularly bright or insightful.

“Aren’t they connected?” I said.

But right then, with Jim, I hadn’t considered seeing a therapist. I could handle it myself. And I looked just like this, depressed. I shifted in the seat, held my legs together, leaned to one side, and when that stopped working, I moved my legs and shifted to the other. Jim drove a white and blue Bronco, a big SUV type of truck. A few summers before, right after I’d graduated high school, Jim and Lex and I had taken it up to Maine. We’d driven fourteen hours straight to attended a Phish concert called Lemonwheel even though none of us liked Phish. I went because I wanted to see Maine. I wanted to camp out. It was where Stephen King lived and I’d always liked Stephen King. Lex and Jim went for the drugs. There was a large campsite and an area for the stage. When the band came on, we stayed in the campsite. I sat and read. Jim and Lex sat and stared at their hands. It was strange to think I’d endured fourteen hours in this car when right then I couldn’t endure the next fifteen minutes.

“You all right over there?” Jim asked. “You need me to pull over?”

Was he trying to provoke me?

“No man, I’m fine. Just keep going and get there.”

I bit down and bore it. I tried counting, and then counting backward. I watched the clock. I gripped the sides of the car, and we made it. He pulled onto Germantown Ave. and parked. There was a Border’s bookstore on the corner, and we got out and went inside. We went to the cafe on the mezzanine, and Jim ordered coffee and I got water. I wasn’t planning to drink it anyway. While I was out, I couldn’t fill myself with liquid or I might have to pee. And that was part of the problem. If I didn’t drink, I wouldn’t have to go, and this was one less thing to concern myself with. It wasn’t crowded, and we sat on a couple of plush chairs in the corner.

“So how’s that anxiety?” he said.

He smiled. I could see that he was uncomfortable.

“I’ve got it under control.”

“Control? You were nearly imploding on the car ride here.”

“It’s getting better.”

“You’re not leaving the house,” he said. “Come on, man. Be real. You need to get help.”

“What, you mean a psychiatrist?”

“That or go on meds. You’ve got to do something.”

“I don’t need a psychiatrist.”

“Look, do what you want. You like spending time at home?”

“I’ve been writing, working.”

The truth was I’d paid off my last semester and planned to quit the nursing home when school started again.

“What does Lex think?” I asked.

“Fuck Lex!” he said. “He’s already written you off. He doesn’t think you’ll beat it. He thinks this is it for you. That you’ll live at home the rest of your life.”

“He said that?”

“He said as much…”

I leaned back in my seat. This was unexpected. I’d confront Lex with this later.

“I was with Rita!” he’d say. “She was dealing with MS! She had a debilitating disease and I couldn’t be there for both of you! She was my girlfriend! I was thinking of marrying her!”

After four months, I thought. Ten years of friendship with me. Four months dating her.

She had the advantage, of course. She was fucking him. I’d figured it would end in six months tops. And sitting with Jim, I felt pain. I felt I’d been sucker-punched. I felt I’d been betrayed. I took a sip of water.

“Wrote me off, huh?”

I’m willing to forgive a lot. My grudges are intense but fairly short-lived. The one thing I’ve always seen as an unforgivable sin in any friend is betting against me.

“Fuck Lex” was right. As I sat there, I reconsidered. I hadn’t wanted to go on meds or see a shrink. I’d been resistant to Jim’s prompting, but things had changed. I had to get past it now. I had to get out of the hole, if only to prove to Lex that I could. I’d go see a shrink. I’d take my meds. Whatever I had to do. I was going to beat this, to beat my attacks, to climb back out of depression. Most people would think I was doing it because it was good for me, that I’d chosen the path to health and well-being for rational reasons. I alone knew the truth. I wasn’t fighting for any sense of wholeness or completion or health. I was doing it out of pure. fucking. spite. I was doing it because Lex didn’t think I could. He was the only person who ever had this effect on me.

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