College graduation was now a memory concealed by monotony. Four years later, and I hadn’t left this desk. I was all about the money, as it was the one factor fueling any desire I grasped onto for getting up in the morning. Four days until the next paycheck. Three days. Two days. One. Today I get paid. I tore at the corner of the envelope, squeezed a finger through, and zip-lined my pointer across the length of it. Sometimes I cut myself. Other times I didn’t. It was irrelevant, though. The checks were already stained with my blood, but no one saw just how much with how quickly they were deposited. The balance in my savings account rose each week.
I worked at a nation-wide restoration company, where we estimated the damage of floods, fires, hurricanes, other natural disasters, and sent over our expert opinions to the insurance company handling that specific claim. How did I get thrown into the temporary mess that suddenly felt permanent? My mother was the director of operations of the company. My boss was the woman who cooked me dinner every night. It wasn’t my only job either. When three o’clock rolled around, I drove down Willis Avenue to Searingtown Elementary where I was the director of the after-school program, supervising 40 grade-schoolers and four staff members until six o’clock. I also valet parked at a catering hall in Syosset; a job I could never let go of simply because I walked away with wads and wads of cash by the time the last wedding concluded Sunday night. Didn’t mean I ever got a break, considering the next morning, I was back at it, billing and creating losses, and meeting my mother at the water cooler to tell her how much I hated life.
She understood, and would grant me leeway to bitch about my current situation. She wouldn’t say much, as it was a recurring episode of angry, confused, early twenty-something who lived with his parents with a mindset of what now. But the grace period of my complaints finished once the water in her cup did.
“Back to work,” she’d say, tossing the plastic into the garbage.
She knew I was unhappy, but what else could I do? I wouldn’t make as much money elsewhere and I, like the majority of this world, had no fucking clue what I wanted to do with my life. She was cool about the whole thing, occasionally gave me days off, and sent me home early sometimes when she really saw the struggle. That happened more in my fourth year with the company, specifically a day that it all became a bit too much.
I sat at my desk and clicked away, ten little insect legs storming across the keyboard. The morning was routine, meaning, I didn’t want to be there. The phone rang consistently. Four pages of losses in California that needed to be billed. An occasional email from admins, asking me about a file number. I too had a similar issue, and dialed Lexington in hopes that they could hook me up with the digits to a claim that had been missing from our records. I knew the drill too well. Claim numbers were always missing. The woman who picked up the other end of the line in Boston was so used to hearing my voice first thing in the morning.
“Claims, Claire speaking,” she already knew what was coming.
“Hey Claire, I have a claim in Jersey City…”
“File number,” she interrupted, when all she really wanted to say was, “You again?”
But it was a comforting voice no matter how annoyed she sounded. Everything else in my life was in a complete utter disarray, but she was consistent. I also had a job to do, so I dialed the number. Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Hey Claire,” I interjected quickly. “Can you…”
“This is Robert,” a strange voice said. “Claire is out today. What can I help you with?”
I told him I would call back, and hung up.
No Claire? I thought.
I picked up the phone again but placed it down immediately. My right hand tingled, a similar static of when a limb fell asleep. My left hand followed. I looked down and expected to see something different, a current moving through each finger, something that could explain this surprise. I moved to the keyboard and attempted to type. The tingling worsened.
My fingers curled into claws. My breathing altered and my stomach rang with nausea. I questioned if my childhood asthma resurfaced, palming every part of the desk in search of my Albuterol. Air drained from my lungs. My stomach spun, a dryer filled with nerves. My hands, attempting to stretch them, closed to fists. I stood, dragged my feet out of my office and tiptoed towards my mother’s. The admins smiled at me, unaware, before they dropped their heads to their computers. I was confused, scared, unable to speak. I reached my mother’s office and she sent me home.
It was the first anxiety attack of the succession that shortly followed. It wasn’t just the absence of Claire. It was my body announcing, “Enough.” As a man, I was embarrassed. Granted, Tony Soprano suffered from panic attacks throughout the six seasons of The Sopranos. He was the man, polarizing and self-abusive in his own ways, but fictional. My best friend suffered from them as well, although his first was induced by something far worse than feeling trapped at a job. What I realized was that, not only could it happen to anybody, but that it wasn’t about the job. Sure, I was unhappy, bored, unmotivated. But it was more so a question of my identity, of the time in my life where I figured to already be secure, and not working for the same person who yelled at me for not making my bed.
There were a ton of lessons to be learned following the parade of anxiety that marched through the avenue of my life. Money became irrelevant. I needed to work towards something more than just a paycheck. The end of the week needed to be filled with accomplishment, not moments of searching for a band aid because of how quickly I opened envelopes. It was also this stigma I had battled with that men weren’t supposed to panic. Men weren’t supposed to lose control over their body, over their emotions. Where my life was headed, I needed to lose control, in order to simply gain it, or to finally obtain it since it felt like I never had power to begin with.
There are certain things in life that we have no grasp of. But in experiencing that sense of helplessness, I became someone who learned to have complete control over everything. Not in some overbearing, take over the world way, but enough to be emotionally aware of what I’m working towards by the time Friday rolls around.
The attacks have subsided, for the most part. Last week, I felt one escaping the prison I had created for them, but took a nap, looked back to that time in my life, and remembered what it was like. I did that, not necessarily to stop the attack from happening, but to ready myself in case it did.
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