Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dispatches From the Edge: Panic

Day 38:

People always ask me how I'm doing, you know, in light of the little unemployment situation I find myself in. In general I tell the truth: I'm doing fine. Look, last time I checked God is in control of this thing, I'm holding up my end of the bargain and searching high and low (and sometimes middle) for jobs–what else can be done?

But there are sometimes. There are moments. I hit them, like a pocket of turbulence; usually gone before you can get your panties in a full twist (though that doesn't make them all the more bearable).

They start the way you would start if someone pushed you out of a car moving 30 miles an hour and told you to start running. It's coming and upon me and, yep, there it is. It is a rushing wind and soon I am seeing the shopping cart full of all my earthly possessions. I look down to see my shoes, ratty and worn with no material covering my toes. Oh the humanity lord the humanity. What is wrong with me why coudn't I get a job? Why couldn't I work? Why did I fail? Now I will be friends with bums and I'll begin to care about the things that they care about. Collecting bottles. No one will help us. The social safety net will not break our fall. I won't be able to find a footing. Now, now right now I have to start taking stock of well-covered areas. What will cover me, Jess and Gretel in the rain? It would be nice if we could find a heated someplace, but dream on. Oh me. Oh lord, lord no. I'll never have stuff again. I won't be able to escape poverty. I'll be on the streets.

There is my bedraggled wife beside me, she has an eye patch on, though her face still shines. She's looking at me, looking into my eyes and it's awful to see her believing in a man who couldn't provide, who dropped the ball. There are verifiable idiots out there who have made it, who have not shipwrecked their lives, and they have done better than me. They helmed up. They made it.

Just thinking about the cold, the sheer hell of it. And now the knowledge that there is no out, this is your life, you are a street person and now you have a street family. The wind is going to blow and it's going to freeze me and there will be no escape.

There is this scene in American Splendor where Harvey wakes up in the middle of the night in absolute terror. He clutches his chest, eyes wide, then breathes a sigh of relief and says, "Oh, I have a job." Restful sleep ensues.

That stings so badly now.

The only thing left to say is that these panic (attacks?) aren't unique to my employment status, they just happen from time to time. Many times they're tied to my salvation—what if I burn like charcoal and the devil is going to be sticking a fork in me for eternity? What if a meteorite slices through my head, what if a nuke goes off? What if I someday have to stalk my dinner?

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