So many people are out today. So many faces mulling about those hard sidewalks, bustling from square to square. I have yet to even make it to my building’s small lobby, but I know they are there. They always are, normally not taking notice of me as I join them. Normally a regular part of my day, no more alarming than a cloud in the sky or a tree in the park. Normally. This isn’t normal. I can feel my heartbeat. It pounds on and on, faster and faster. I eye the chinks separating each of the floor’s large ivory tiles, trying to occupy my mind by placing my steps within their boxed lines. Yet each step my shiny leather shoes take, is a step farther into the world. A world so full of people. So many people. I’m turning back.
Despite the efforts put into quickening my stride, my nerves calm as I approach the door. Hastily, I seal myself inside. Though small, I always find this apartment a tranquil place to escape from the worries life presents. Now its walls give even more comfort. I fall into the soft cloth of my empty loveseat and exhale. My decision of retreat relieves me, to a slightly frightening extent. I close my eyes, trying to get away.
Escape comes in the shrouded form that only a dream provides. I am now mounting a gorgeously polished black grand. I gracefully guide the tail of my suit coat and descend towards the cushioned seat; admiring the subtle gold inscription I love so much: Steinway & Sons. The audience quiets as my hands feel those familiar keys; crisp and clean, a perfect contrast of dark and light. I begin to play. My hands, just as polished as the instrument, move without thought. Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor fills the hall with its haunting trills and colorful stretches into the high treble. Bringing life to so beautiful a piece always calms me, no matter who listens. I stand to walk away and the piano follows along, in orbit of my being. I continue down the steps, off stage, and start through the crowd. I effortlessly make my way through the doors of Orchestra Hall, out to the busy streets of downtown Minneapolis.
The music seems to shield me from whatever fear I felt before. Much like my hands, my feet begin to guide themselves across the street. I comply, heading toward the illustrious Hilton Hotel’s brightly lit entrance. A gaping hole replaces the large revolving door, allowing me to perform right inside. Crossing the lobby, my song’s life dissolves. I feather my way up to the final note faced by a staircase. Upon ascending, the Moonlight Sonata begins. Its moody assonance darkens the tone. The large glass panes of the hotel’s lobby cease their shedding of soft afternoon light, and begin casting heavy dusk laden shadows. Ceiling lights flicker painfully to a dim life. I Reach my climb’s peak and begin to enter the large, empty “Symphony Ballroom”. The walls lack any color, pale and devoid of any life. They hold no windows of any kind, hiding secrets from those who would peer in. I keep walking. Quickly, the room’s void like end approaches. I need to stop; yet my feet continue against my will. A flicker of familiar fear rises in my chest. I cannot stop myself! The front of the piano impacts the far wall with a wave like jolt. It thunders downward and spreads its inner workings across the carpeted floor. With my shroud lifted, crippling fear returns.
I snap into consciousness and spring upright. My breath wheezes, an unseen weight obstructing my lungs. I gasp for air and try to halt the nonsensical chaos that has taken over my head. Slowly I begin to come down, only a dream. A dream that should not have startled me so. I awoke as if in the midst of some life threatening medical crisis. “That was a panic attack,” I conclude aloud. I stand and move for the counter, unclipping the watch cemented to my wrist in cold sweat. Comforted by my new grasp of the situation, I click my answering machine to hear the inevitable message awaiting me. The Minnesota Orchestra music coordinator’s fluttering British accent finds its way out, “David, this is Janelle. I’m a little worried; it’s not like you to miss a rehearsal and even more odd that you haven’t called. Get in touch if you get this. If not I’ll try your apartment later in the day.”
I smile at her worry for me. Okay, back to the panic attack. My thoughts search for any buried remnants of a college psychology course. I remember Agoraphobia as the fear of an exposed panic attack. Some victims even fear leaving their homes. This must be what came over me. Not insanity, a completely human illness. Janelle has always comforted me through an especially dry rehearsal. We are both very young for our positions and like-minded. We seem to understand each other; she will help me sort this out. Happy with the plan I replace my watch, it's 5 o'clock. That did not seem like seven hours worth of dreams. Over exhaustion probably also plays a role in all of this. I head for my small washroom to clean up. She will arrive soon.
After making myself presentable, I work to straighten out the jacket I had sprawled on the floor upon entering. My attempts to apply logic return. I do often bury emotions that obstruct work ethic. Perhaps this episode stems from nerves regarding an upcoming performance. Maybe it's genetic, whatever the case we can to handle it. I peer at my watch. It’s almost six; she should be here by now. Maybe she won’t show up after all. I flip on the TV for some distraction.
An hour crawls by, and with it fear slowly returns. Perhaps she forgot about me, or got too tired. I am counting on her. Now what? My fear relapses in full. What if I never get better? What if this ruins my career? Yet another musician driven mad by their trade. This is really not like me. I always avoid paranoia, exchanging it for meticulous planning. I need to get ahold of myself. I need to face my nonsensical fear. I need to get out of here. I grab my now perfectly ironed coat and march out the door.
Through the hallway, I experience all the same stomach-turning tensions of before. Equipped with the knowledge of their foolishness, I do my best to channel them into determining anger. With a little self-immersion therapy, I can definitely overcome this. I walk onto the street. Even in the cool dusk, sweat beads on my forehead. I will myself to continue. While nearing my parking garage, I have a premonition. As my fear magnifies, it becomes increasingly peculiar. The normal level of arousal exists. Like that a rollercoaster or packed audience would create; but sorrow better describes the emotion behind it. I have truly never felt this way before, proving the phony nature of my phobia. I reach for my key fob and create a familiar smile coaxing beep. Before me lies a testament to both aerodynamic and buffing perfection. My 911 glints what little light exists down here from its mirror of a jet black body. I jump hastily into the low-slung seat. With the touch of a button its deep throaty voice speaks.
Soon I sprint down the street, jumping through gears. Not quite sure of my destination, but encouraged by the distance behind me. Freeway lines blur past as I weave through the tangled mess of evening traffic. A smooth roaring engine my only guide, I slide into a downtown exit and relax my pace; walking my way through stoplights until Orchestra Hall faces me. Without thought, I corner and glide into the Hilton valet lane. Emerging, I face what's before me. The strange stirring of emotion leading me here heightens. I enter the large revolving door.
Time to face my fear. This breaks the pattern. Here I will regain myself. I hand the doorman some bills to leave my car and tell him I will only take a few minutes. The stairway stands regally, just ahead. I smile at two children chasing each other around its foot and brush past to begin my second assent. Night has completely taken effect, leaving only artificial light. Despite this, the dramatic flicker has left; my path illuminated by unquestionably truthful beam. Quickly I conquer the single flight, bringing me back to the stair’s peak.
Vibrance and life now carefully disguise my bleak vision. Crisply clothed tables fill the ballroom, each holding an ornate display of flowers. Still no windows, but huge golden bows liven the walls. An admirable amount of perfection has gone into this setup. After parting through the crowd of tables and chairs, I come upon a boxy makeshift stage. I make my way around the bridal table that it holds, running my hands through a soft flowing cloth draped over. I stop in the same spot I had before and the same weight begins to compress my shoulders. This time I stand tall, presumably desensitized to the strange forces puppeteering my heartstrings. I face a completely unthreatening bare wall. My feet are planted firmly on the carpet, aside from a loose shoelace. I go down on one knee. Sure I still feel questionable, not quite back to normal. My attitude has changed though, from here things will fall back into place. A curious garbage bag lies under the stage’s open back end. I reach in to see its contents. Here lie the rejects, undoubtedly once among the perfect flowers in the room. A bag full of the ugly and broken future that all of these table decorations overcame. Reaching through them I feel something small and metallic. I pull out a little golden hammer, modeled after those inside of a piano. My breath shortens; my ears begin to ring. It falls from my grasp, the necklace chain sprawling out on the carpet. I reach back in and bring out a handbag. The only purse in the world I would recognize. Light grey with an aqua tint, like beautiful blue eyes. Accented with one lightly stitched “J” and now fresh blots of red blood.