September 1, 2015

Close Call

by Jeff Solimando
February 1, 2005

The buzz continues to ring through his brain. It does not completely void out reality; somehow, strangely enough, it begins to accommodate it.

Marty sits alone on a filthy bus station bench, having to wait another hour for his transportation home. Mirroring his current mood, the sky is bleak and it is bitterly cold.

Impatient and bored, the only entertainment available is watching an equally filthy paper cup blowing aimlessly in an acidic combination of wind and exhaust.

“How appropriate,” he thinks. “If there were one phrase that could actually describe my…” Suddenly it reappears. That feeling.

His sudden heightening sense of awareness begins to overpower his ability to concentrate. He shifts and fidgets, knowing this sensation all too well, and is painfully aware of the road it may be beginning to take. Uneasily, he reminds himself to follow the doctor’s guidelines, or at least make a fruitless attempt to try to follow them before this menace once again claims ransom on his ability to focus.

“Here we go again. Another roller coaster ride,” he thinks with mocking despair. His breathing grows labored at the realization this dreaded anxiety is not subsiding like they told him it would. The quickening of his heart, and the blood racing to and scorching his face, neck, and hands were nothing more than a screaming reminder the doctor could be, or worse yet – is – very wrong.

“Quick. Marty. STOP. Think. You can do this, you know you can.” Marty begins to barter with his subconscious; all hope begins to drain from his stomach.

Abruptly, the feeling of ice water being thrown onto his face momentarily stuns him, causing him to drag a shaking finger across his surprisingly dry forehead. “OK. OK, just calm down,” he whispers to himself, unaware he is rapidly running his left hand through his hair and sitting on his right.

This is the point where the numbness in his extremities usually sets in. As his heartbeat increases to a dangerously high rate (about 125 at the moment, Marty thinks), he desperately attempts to figure out a way to take his mind off his
current situation. He has to figure out a way to end this horrific “roller coaster ride,” as he calls it.

“I can control this,” he tries to reassure himself. “I can strike up a conversation with that pretty Indian lady sitting next to me. That can help.”

Marty’s mind sinks, however, fearing she won’t understand his sudden urge to flee – to run and escape, should his heart rate continue to climb during their potentially pointless conversation.

Feeling increasingly trapped, sitting on the filthy bench, Marty attempts to ignore the sensation, and continues with his vain attempt to outfox his old nemesis: his Subconscious. He knows what is happening. He is intelligent and educated and it is painfully obvious to him how ridiculous this is. Why won’t it stop? Why can’t anyone help?

Marty shifts his gaze forward; the sudden blurring of faces and colors and the sound of voices beginning to drift away tell Marty that his subconscious is unfortunately going to win this one. This depressing resolve causes his stomach to drop and his body to start shaking.

Thinking about the strangers around him causes Marty’s panic to increase. A sudden wave of nausea combined with the view of his current world (through what he now believes to be a paper towel tube) causes Marty to initiate an impromptu bargain with God. Quite appropriately, he believes, since this is the day Marty may meet him. Pure fear is beginning to set in.

“Please make this stop,” he prays in a meek, almost silent voice. He is silent because his growing terror is beginning to rob him of that physical luxury. Twitching uneasily, and with an unhealthy overdose of adrenaline coursing through his veins, Marty suddenly and without reason, rises – pushing away the bench in his unexplainable haste. He has to. The Indian lady shifts and gives him a disapproving stare. She has no idea what’s going on. To hell with her, he thinks.

Attempting to focus his spinning head, he peers through the glass door and sees a marble water fountain at the opposite end of the wide station foyer. On shaking legs, he heads towards it, unconsciously and obsessively tugging on his shirt and shaking out his sweaty, tingling hands. As Marty opens the door to the bus station, the blindingly bright fluorescent light hits his eyes and almost shocks him into a mini-seizure.

He tries not to focus on the pounding, racing muscle heaving in the middle of his chest. He glances down only to see his shirt rapidly thumping. Something tells Marty that his heart rate must be approaching 135, the fear of which causes the life-sustaining muscle to move closer towards a frighteningly self-destructive goal.

The striking and overwhelming awareness of this potentially fatal “Catch-22” (mental vs. physical) catapults Marty towards the zenith of his horrible experience. He now believes today is the day he is going to die. Marty manages to keep his trembling legs moving forward. Fast and forward. Visions of an ambulance, doctors, and stretchers race into his head. His mind spins out of control as he continues his lame attempt to weave through the crowd of shapeless, “normal” strangers. Calm, smiling, and oblivious people fill his immediate surroundings; they are completely unaware of his living nightmare. He suddenly feels a surge of jealous anger, but only for a brief moment.

Reaching the fountain, Marty’s fear begins to overtake his sense of reality. “Help. I need… help,” he thinks as he grasps the cold, wet marble; the image of an ambulance races through his mind.

Bending to sip the crystal arch of water, Marty subconsciously finds himself making plans to find a place to disappear. “Should I go lie on the bathroom floor?” he thinks. “Maybe that will help.” But he knows there isn’t any escape. It will only make things worse.

Marty grasps both ends of the water fountain for support, but his sweating palms abruptly give way, causing him to slide off with a bounce and a jerk. He regains his footing and spins wildly around, only able to concentrate on his pounding heart and twisted stomach. His breathing becomes irregular. Sweat forms on his forehead, and he knows he is going to pass out.

Out of the corner of his eye, and only for a moment, he catches the stare of a seven-year-old girl in a purple coat. Anxiously cramming his dripping hands into his coat pockets, Marty thinks, “Don’t talk to me. Leave me alone!”

“Oh, OK, OK, please,” he thinks again. “Just for a moment, let me be that little girl. Let me breathe again. Let me be anyone else for that matter – just someone who isn’t going to die today.”

Grasping the back of his neck and obsessively picking at the front of his beige sweater, he suddenly feels like crying. “If only I were home, this would end. I HAVE to get out of here. I can’t wait for this DAMNED BUS. I can run. That’s it. I can just run as fast as I can. I have to!”

Somewhere on his right leg he feels a sudden, twisting vibration. Taken by surprise, Marty spins once again comes face-to-face with the brown marble wall behind him. Leaning his hot forehead against the refreshingly cold yet dirty marble, Marty realizes his cell phone is ringing.

He maneuvers his badly shaking right hand into the sweat-soaked pocket of his black trench coat, retrieves the phone, and answers.

“Jesus, Marty. Why are you so out of breath?” comes the familiar voice of his annoying younger sister Kay.

“I, ugh,” Marty swallows hard, trying to find his voice once again. “I’m catching the bus,” a scratchy voice – his voice – replies into the cell phone. “I’m taking the car, so don’t even think about it,” Kay tells him in her ever-so-demonstrative tone.

Pacing back and forth, still shaking, Marty is suddenly incensed. His concentration moves from his heartbeat to the annoyance known as his sister Kay.

“Don’t think so,” replies Marty. “I lent you that car for a week because you’re such a loser, and I’ve been taking the bus since then in order to get to work. I’m stopping by Mom’s tonight on my way home to pick it up. It better be there, Kay. Or else.”

Kay, twelve years Marty’s junior, teasingly shakes what sounds like a set of car keys into the mouthpiece of her phone. Says Kay, “Gee, ya think? At least I was nice enough to call you. I need it. I’m here, you’re wherever. I’m taking it, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. At least I’m a loser with a car tonight, Marty.”


Enraged, Marty feels his heart racing still. Slightly dizzy, Marty thinks, “At least it’s for a damned reason this time.” He looks at his watch, and noticing the sweat on the hair of his forearm, realizes the bus is due to arrive in three minutes. Heading towards the gate, Marty fishes in his breast pocket for a green bus ticket, and simultaneously begins to plan his annoying sister Kay’s sudden demise.


With thankful realization and a relish of sudden relief, he stops in his tracks.

“God, it’s over,” he thinks – or at least hopes. Checking his reflection in the glass of the bus station door, he believes he looks tired. A bit disheveled. But he’s alive, and it’s over – for now.

Still shaky, and feeling like the bus he’s boarding has actually hit him, Marty realizes he’s in for a long night ahead. Anxious sleep, crazy dreams, it’s all happened before. But for now, for a while at least, the worst is over. He can breathe. He finds himself silently thanking Kay for her phone call.

Exhausted, Marty settles into his seat and closes his eyes, thinking, to himself, “What the hell – let my annoying sister Kay have the car tonight.”