Every once in a blue moon, I go against my loner/weirdo status and brainwash myself into thinking I totally rock in social situations. Recently I found out the hard way (and probably for the kazillionth time) that this is, unfortunately, not true. Social awkwardness is one of my most undesirable assets, and is as much a part of my being as my useless hearing ability. I know this. I’ve known this since forever, and yet I still go through the motions where I deny it. The result being that I put myself in the firing line for all and sundry to be witness to the bumbling mess that is me sometimes.
Like I did on Sunday. It was cockiness that done it. One entire week without a single puff of a cigarette had me convinced that I was invincible. Giving up the smokes had me drawing on every ounce of discipline and sheer determination I possessed. It was far from easy. The whole time, it was like a storm was going off inside of me and I couldn’t stop it. I kept myself locked up. I hyperventilated and got the shakes just about every day. I cried over spilled milk. I wrote endlessly. I even scared the shit out of myself by thinking unthinkable, murderous thoughts about Dez.
Side effects, you see. But after seven long days, and by the time Sunday rolled around, the nasty storm inside of me had abated, the sun had come out, and the worst was seemingly over
I awoke on Sunday brimming with success and armed with an “I AM” attitude. Fuck, if I could give cigs the flick, I could do ANYTHING. I felt on top of the world! Like nothing could stop me, and I could do whatever the hell I wanted to do and be whoever the hell I wanted to be!
It was Fathers Day, and going anywhere wasn’t part of the agenda. At first. The original plan was to just stay home, drink some beers with our nephew and let baby run a muck around the house. In the oven, I had pork, potatoes and pumpkins roasting. Stuffing and pasta and vegies on the side. A coffee cake for later on. Smirnoff going down nicely, and a few more chilling in the fridge. And the best thing of all, my nicotine cravings were very low. I was a week smokefree for the first time ever since I took up the disgusting habit, fifteen odd years ago.
It was the perfect Sunday!
And then Dez waltzes into the kitchen while I am poking potatoes, “Mubs, is it alright if we go to Ben’s for a beer?”
I’m sure my face fell ten feet. “But…I’ve made you’s a dinner?”
“I know, mubs. I’m sorry. We can still have dinner…when we get back?”
I shrug. I’m no good at pretending when I’m displeased about something, but that’s just me.
A while later, Barb (Ben’s wife) arrives to pick up the passengers. Ben and Barb are friends of our cousins, and they have been around for a coffee once or twice. They hail from New Zealand too, and have been in Australia for eight years. Just another Maori couple trying to get ahead for their family, and wise enough to know that it’s just not going to happen in New Zealand.
My nephew and Dez are out the door and in the car in a shot. Sullenly, I trod back into the house. I resign myself to drinking all by lonesome, staring at the walls and listening to Beyonce songs. Not to mention the Fathers Day memories of my own two dads, floating around in my house and in my brain. One father dead, and the other I havent talked to in years.
I’m about to take a long swig of my Smirnoff when Barb pops her head back in and is all “Why don’t you come?”
That doesn’t sound too bad, actually. But…”Um…I would. But the roast is on in the oven.”
“I can come back and pick you up in an hour if you like?”
Soooo…approximately an hour later, I am sitting amongst a group of people I just barely know, getting pleasantly drunk and playing the role of a social butterfly to perfection. Guitars and trumpets and harmonicas are being skilfully played. Rowdiness, loud drunken banter and cigarette smoke is in the air. And the roast, pasta, stuffing, vegies and coffee cake, which I spent all morning lovingly preparing, has been deserted at home.
“Awwww. Your baby is so cute,” Barb comments. She is downing Tooheys. I wonder if I could ever warm to her. She is very friendly, and has the smiliest pair of eyes I’ve ever looked into.
“Shes a cutie, aye.” I agree, keeping my eyes on my baby pottering around and wondering what kind of havoc she was gonna cause here. I could see potential for her to cause destruction everywhere. Guitars and trumpets sat on the outdoor seats. She was eating chips out of a glass bowl. Any second, she could just drop that. She could pull the blinds down? She could, in one swift movement, knock all those bottles off the table, send some smashing to the ground even…
“How old is she again?” Barb butts in to my thoughts.
“Two and a half. Shes gonna be three in December.”
“How many kids do you have?” I ask.
“Just the one, Julie.”
“Oh, so the boys belong to him?”
She nods. “Julie was three when I met him.”
Now its my turn to be all “Awwwww. Do you guys plan on having anymore?”
“Absolutely not!” she says, and we both laugh. “What about you?”
“Yup. When babies five and when I’m thirty-five. Thats when she’s getting her brother.”
“Awwww. You’ve got it all sussed out then?”
“I hope so.” I say.
To be honest, I’m having a marvellous time. It feels good being out of the confines of my claustrophobic house and just mingling with people. I sing. I smile. I drink. And when baby drops the glass bowl, as I predicted she would, and glass shatters everywhere, Barb shoo’s away my frantic apologies and forces me to sit down while she cleans it up.
“Hold the baby,” she orders. “And don’t look so guttered. It was only from the two dollar shop.”
I smile gratefully. And then Barbs husband is calling out to me from across the table. “I think I know someone your dad might know,” Ben yells out. Ben hails from Te Teko, New Zealand, which has got to be some kind of coincidence, as that is where my biological family come from. I wonder if he’s yelling because he knows I’m deaf, or if hes just had one too many. Either way, I’m just glad I don’t have to ask him to repeat himself.
“A Douglas? He was this big dude,” he puffs his arms out. “And black. And scary.”
“That sounds like my Dads brother, Douglas.”
“He’s about…sixteen, seventeen?”
“Oh nah, that’s too young.” I say.
“I think his name was Douglas. Did your Dad have much brothers?”
“Shes adopted, bro,” Dez butts in. Unnecessarily. “She was brought up with another family.”
“Oh true.” Ben nods and everyone looks at me as if I am from Mars. Except for Dez, whose looking at me with…pride? But I could have got that wrong.
I wanna kick him in the toe. But he’s sitting way across the other side. I smile in a way that’s meant to appear benign to everyone else, but threatening to him. “Fostered, actually. My real mother dropped me on my head. Thats why I’m fucked. Ha ha ha.”
And no-one laughed. Well, they laughed, but it wasnt genuine laughter. It was the kind of laughter that is meant to humour somebody else, in this case me. Not because it was funny but because it was, well, the opposite of funny. It was unfunny. But what of it. I’m use to that. I let out another mirthless laugh, and tug at babies clothes as if to straighten them. Trying to detract the attention away from myself before I make things worse.
And then it happened. Things did get worse. It swooped down on me so suddenly, I literally gasp out loud. Luckily Barb was too busy sweeping up broken glass to notice, and everybody else was fully immersed in singing a rendition of The Eagles ‘Hotel California.’
I smile at the sea of faces. I mime the words to Hotel California, and clink my bottle against Becks when she returns to her seat. I engage in conversation automatically. Meanwhile, my insides are slowly, but surely, turning to shit. My vision blurs. My pulse quickens. My heart begins to thump away like a bongo drum in my chest. After a few minutes, the rowdiness becomes faint, and the only sound I can hear is the trombone-like sound going off in my ears.
Actually, it’s the worst anxiety attack I’ve had in years. Many years.
I turn to Barb and, without thinking, I say, “Can I have a smoke please?”
She raises an eyebrow. “I thought you’d given up?”
“I have. But…one won’t hurt.”
And she gives me a lecture about how I’ve done so well, and how I don’t really want a smoke, and is all encouraging and telling me to be strong. She can’t see that I am gasping for a breath and near ready to tell her to shove her lecture and just give me a fucking smoke before I kill her. But that would be unfair. And so out of line.
I just manage an exasperated, “Ohhh…alright then.” Then I add, “Is it ok if I feed baby? She must be hungry now.” We look over at my girl, who is staring with fascination at one of the Koro’s. He is strumming the guitar, singing, and playing the harmonica all at the same time. She is jacked up on chips and chocolate and looks anything but hungry.
Barb looks at me oddly. “She’s ok, doll. Here. Have another beer.”
“Umm I think I’ll feed baby first. Is that ok?” I squeak. I sound desperate and out of breath.
She just nods. Its begun. Shes looking at me sideways. “Ok, doll. Help yourself.”
In the kitchen, I dish baby some food into a plate, all the while trying to catch my breath. I wipe at my forehead, and realise that I’m dripping sweat. My heart is racing at a hundred kilometers an hour, and it feels like an invisible hand is squeezing at my throat. I have to fight back the urge to burst into tears. I dump baby at the table, dump her plate in front of her, then make a big show of feeding her, even though she’s perfectly capable of feeding herself.
I cant believe this is happening to me. I don’t know why this happening to me. It must have been the lack of nicotine in my body that brought it on. All I know is that I havent felt it this badly in years. My throat is dry as paper, and aches. Tears are bursting out of my eyelids disobediently, and rolling down my cheeks. I angrily wipe them away. I take my time feeding my girl because I cannot fathom going back out again. I cannot face anybody. I just want to go home. Back to my four walls. Back to my claustrophobic house. Back to being a loner/weirdo with bugger all friends.
Back to the only place I feel safe. I gaze down at my girl who is chewing her food silently, staring up at me, wisdom in her big brown eyes, as if she knows. And so she should. She is pretty much the only one besides God who ever witnesses me in these sorry states.
In the end, I ditch Dez, who is away with the fairies anyway and doesn’t even notice me leave. My cousin takes me and my baby home. On the way, I blabber on nonsensical to her just to keep myself from falling apart. Cant even remember what I talked about, to be honest. All I remember was wanting to get the hell home so this grip on my throat could loosen, and this ridiculousness could come to an end.
Which it did. Eventually. And later on, when it was over and my breathing had returned to normal, I jumped on the internet and began looking it up.
Been a sufferer of that shit for years. And its something that you will never understand unless you go through it yourself.
It was the look in my babies eyes that did it. That was a defining moment for me. I want her to be a strong, confident woman, and its pretty obvious she’s not going to be one if I continue to let her see me in all my anxiety-ridden glory.
Knowledge is key – that’s how I gave up smoking. I’ve come to a few conclusions about my anxiety attacks, but nothing definite yet.
I’ll get there. Anxiety attacks, I’m gonna fucking get youuuuu!!!