I read Howl in college, and then read it again. And again. Not out of love, any real understanding, or even some sophomoric connection to the beat generation - but out of curiosity. It changed each time. Confusing and enlightening, hopeful, empty. But it stuck, words and verses that pop up when the occasion calls, and sometimes when it doesn't.
About a month ago, in the machinery of the night, I couldn't breathe. Not completely, but just enough to erase every other pain I had at the moment. It went away, and the next day the pain started. It was mobile and sporadic, sometimes worse than others, but always there in the background. For weeks it hung around, surprising me when it came. Sometimes as a dull burn in the background, and others as sharp as a needle, pushing through me in a flash so cold I was left shaken from head to toe. After a while it was like I'd grown a tail - heavy and clumsy it changed how I moved. Waiting for it to show itself again, I was living in slow motion, gingerly moving from one part of my day to the next.
... which led to panic after a while. When there is an endpoint for me, when there is a light at the end of the tunnel, pain settles into a comfortable old foe. Working in the kitchen has its good points - one of them is leaving everything behind when I go home. When I walk in our front door, and everything is finished, I don't carry around the stress of the day like I did with every other job. In return for that luxury, I pay with flesh, sweat and blood while I'm working. Busy days are an assault on my feet, back, hands and arms; and busy days mean we leave with scars and makeshift bandages. But it ends, you just push the pain away, like it was never there. With this I couldn't see the end, and it was terrifying. Each icy needle that would creep into my chest would send me into a panic, and I was scared to be alone... scared I would be driving the kids when it happened, scared that they might need me and I couldn't help, and scared that some morning I wouldn't wake up.
A week ago Sunday I was working alone in the kitchen, then drove out to Lafayette Hill to make a delivery, and I found myself hoping I would make it there. Then hoping I would make it back, hoping I would make it home again, and I couldn't shake it. For an afternoon I was Carl Solomon, without any way to dig myself out of the panic... but I made it home, kissed Sara and the kids, and went to the hospital. Walking through the doors, getting fast-tracked onto a bed, and just being there, was the first time I felt safe in weeks.
They tested, and still are, everything. At first for the obvious things, then for the possible, and now, for the guesses. The panic is gone, but I'm left with hands and a heart that don't feel like mine, and no desire to write a lighthearted post. What I know is that this will pass, and something else - good or bad - will fill up the space that this leaves behind.