By Andrew Pan
Jerry’s breathing became shallow, his vision narrowed and his head pounding. He looked around at the people of the party—laughing, drinking, and screaming their conversations toward one another, none of them taking any notice of Jerry tucked politely out of their way. He stood flush to the wall, gripping his solo cup tightly to his chest, careful not to bump into anyone for fear of eliciting a nervous breakdown on his part. The apartment was clearly close to, or over, capacity, but no one seemed to notice or care, except Jerry of course. People continued to pour in, the music growing louder and everyone’s conversations becoming masked and mumbled.
Jerry had been told that this would only be a small gathering of close friends. Obviously that was not the case, unless his friend happened to have hundreds of very close friends. He hadn’t mentally prepared for a grouping of people of this magnitude. His social anxiety alone was an issue of which was hard to over come, even though he did it often. Overcoming his intense claustrophobia, however, was a much more difficult hurtle to tackle. Looking around again, Jerry attempted to find his friend who was hosting the event, but he was nowhere to be seen. After only a moment of searching, he forfeited and began to search franticly for an escape route instead.
His first thought—the front door—was a negative, as people were still pouring in. From his position he could see people tightly squeezed in the hall beyond the entry door as well. He knew that going out that way would only heighten his anxiety. He jerked his head the other direction to the back patio that lead down to the building’s back yard. But that, too, was crowded and, what was worse, the space was where the drinks and snacks were being served, attracting more and more people to the area as the night went on.
His head pounding at the temples, Jerry chugged the rest of his beer in order to unsuccessfully ease his mind. Then he remembered that this building had fire escape access at the bathrooms. With this new information fueling him, he dropped his cup and made his way to the bathroom a few steps to his right. He pounded on the door hard until finally a short, thin woman came out with white powder dusting her upper lip and a stringy looking man sweating and clinging to her shoulder. Paying no mind, Jerry quickly went in and shut the door behind him. He took solace for a moment in the silence within the bathroom, the soft thumping of the music vibrating the walls but yet still not filling his eardrums. A knocking at the door quickly interrupted his sanctuary.
“Just a moment!” he yelled through the door. Crossing to the window, Jerry pulled back its thin drapes and raised the blinds only to be met with a brick wall and no fire escape.
“Dammit!” he yelled to himself, sitting on the toilet with his head cradled in his hands. He was now captive in an ever-shrinking bathroom, with its walls and ceiling seeming to come closer and closer to his shaking body. He had been so sure that this building had fire escapes off of their bathrooms. Not only did one of his coworkers live in this building, but also he had helped his friend find and move into this place only a week or two prior to tonight. Which is when he remembered that this particular apartment had two bathrooms.
Rushing to the door and swinging it open quickly allowed a drunken man to stumble in the bathroom. Surveying the crowd again he spotted the door to the master bedroom and shoved his way across the living room. The front and back exits still blocked and the crowd ever increasing, Jerry knew that this was his last chance for escape. He had to shove his shoulder into the door a couple of times before the door finally gave way, opening briskly and splintering the lock from its holder. He found his friend, lying on the bed under a woman, half naked and panting.
“What the hell, Jerry!” His friend yelled. Jerry yelled back a halfhearted apology and locked himself in the bathroom. He took another moment to breathe, and the breeze coming from the window on the opposite side of the room seemed to calm him slightly, cooling his sweaty face.
“Wind!” he thought. He ran to the flowing drapes that partially covered the open window. Laid beyond it was a black, rusted fire escape sprinkled with snow and glistening with ice, just waiting for Jerry to climb down it. He shot down the single flight of stairs and jumped to the curb with no help from the emergency ladder, careful not to slip or fall by any means necessary. He landed rough on his feet, his knees rattling against one another as a fiery pain shot up his shins.
The next day, Jerry went to his doctor and requested an increase in his nerve medication, which, based on the night before, was not working for him. As much as he begged, the doctor continued to explain that his current dosage was the highest legally available to individuals.
“I’m sorry Jerry, it just doesn’t seem like there are any other medical options for you. Are you going to therapy regularly like I suggested?”
“Yes of course!” Jerry said, agitated.
He had gone to therapy three days a week for over four years now, and it was his most abhorred task. He hated the patronizing way the therapists talked to him. After changing therapists four or five times, he finally settled on his current practitioner based solely on her compatible levels of attractiveness and perceived intelligence. She would speak to him about his anxiety just like the others, as if he was simply over reacting and that the best solution for it was for him to go to these meetings and vent about his most recent tragedies. Her droning was particularly more painful to listen to than all the others, but Jerry kept her on anyway since most other therapists in the city were old white men that looked and smelled like a dried up prune.
Half the time Jerry expected that the only thing the therapist did was daydream during his sessions, she always asked the same questions in the same monotone voice without any variations and without the slightest bit of interest. He cupped his face in his hands and rocked himself back and forth. The doctor walked from behind his desk and sat in the chair beside Jerry. He began to rub his back and Jerry seemed to calm ever so slightly. Tears were softly and quietly rolling down his cheeks.
“I know its difficult, Jerry. This is just something we are going to have to work through. I wish there was a way we could magically take away your anxiety, but that’s not the world we live in! Overcoming anxiety sometimes isn’t something we could do by some simple physical or medical alterations. We must all learn to transcend ourselves, not allow our anxieties and fears rule our everyday. That’s something that we all have to work on little by little, day by day. There’s no one magical cure for anxiety, unfortunately. I mean, if there was a way for you to not be aware of the tight spaces that surround you then, theoretically, you wouldn’t be afraid of it. But I’m sure we don’t want blind you in order to do so.” The doctor laughed, clearly attempting to lighten the situation, patting Jerry on the shoulder.
“Could that be done?” Jerry asked, dapping his tears away with his sleeve. He looked up from his hands and the doctor furrowed his brow in confusion.
“What?” asked the doctor, removing his hand from Jerry’s back, keeping a smile that spelled out worry on his face.
“Can you take out my eyes, donate them maybe, so that I can live without this…this fear?” There was a dense pause in the room and the doctor’s mouth fell open ever so slightly as he tried to decipher whether or not Jerry was continuing the joke. “It’s like you said, if I wasn’t aware of the tight spaces, then I wouldn’t be afraid of them anymore! Give them to someone else who could actually use them, a young artist with failing vision or a rich celebrity that’s always wanted green eyes, just give them to someone that would benefit from it rather than me continuing with this shit!” His arms were waving enthusiastically and the doctor stood, crossing back over to his desk.
“You can’t be serious, Jerry. I was only joking!”
“I’m completely serious.” Jerry said, unnervingly. “If it will help me to live without anxiety then I think it’s worth it!”
“No, Jerry! Simply no. We will not willingly and purposefully blind a healthy patient for no good reason.”
“The answer is no, Jerry!” the doctor’s voice rose in a rage and he began to scratch his pen on some forms in front of him. “Now if you please, Jerry, I have another patient. In the meantime, here’s a refill of your prescription.”
Jerry stared at him intently before he snatched the note from the doctor’s hand and stormed out of the office. The doctor looked after him, worried, and thought briefly of calling Jerry in as a suicide risk. He had managed to reach his hand over to the phone to call when his next patient walked in and Jerry suddenly left his mind.
Jerry went to his apartment after picking up his prescription. Alone and depressed, he lazily made his way up the seven flights of stairs to his apartment, always careful to avoid the elevator. He had rented this apartment specifically because the owner had said he could do whatever he wanted to with it. He painted the walls a stark white and stained the hardwood a lighter coat as well. He invested a pretty penny in the renovation of each window making them as large as legally possible and removing all non-structural walls. He voluntarily transformed a 2-bedroom apartment into a large studio loft space, which was not an easy task for someone who was living off of his savings alone at the young age of twenty-eight. This was his sanctuary, he had made sure of that. This was the only place in the whole city that seemed to not be closing in on him.
He sat for a while and thought about what the doctor had told him, dismissing himself with all of his might. He knew the dangers, of course and understood that any rational person would never halfway consider blinding him or herself for no good reason. Despite how much he argued with, he couldn’t help but think how amazing it would be to finally live freely. It was only a year ago that he quit his three-figure job in account holdings at one of the largest financial institutions in the city because they were relocating to a smaller office space. He longed for a time in the future where he could go to a friend’s birthday party and not be afraid that there may be more people there than he had anticipated. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to take an elevator after all this time.
The sun began setting behind the buildings on the other side of the city and his apartment filled with the blue-ish glow of nighttime when his decision came to a close. He walked slowly to the white stained cabinets that distinguished the kitchen area from the rest of the apartment. Opening a drawer, Jerry stared blankly down at his kitchen utensils, all perfectly spaced and categorized by type and size. Picking up and examining several spoons he finally chose one and enclosed himself in the bathroom, the only place in the apartment with a door and walls. He stared in the mirror as he downed an extra dosage of his nerve medicine mixed with a few pills of Tylenol as well. He tried once again to convince himself not to go through with it but his thoughts were becoming hazed. He ran through the conversation he had with the doctor, his mind reeling over the potential medications that the doctor had rejected. The more he thought, the more he came to understand that this was his one and final option for a life without anxiety, a life without the fear of everything. And isn’t that what everyone wants, to be free of fear?
He waited until his breathing was slow and steady and his mind began to buzz from the effects of the drugs. He raised the spoon to his left eye first and thrust it into its socket without thinking twice. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood but not one sound escaped him. He forced himself not to look at the spoon as he retrieved it from his socket, its contents sloshing around like pureed meat in a serving of soup. He placed the eye on a soap dish, careful to not let it fall on the ground less it be contaminated. He washed the spoon and breathed heavily through his nostrils and looked at his face. His vision from his left eye was now blurry but he could still make out a hole drenched in blood that once used to hold his eye. The pain was far more unbelievable than he had considered and tempted himself to stop. But that was not the way things were meant to go, he was convinced. He could feel himself growing weak at the knees and closed his eye, trying to regain any strength he had left.
After a moment more of steady breathing he raised the spoon again, this time to his right eye. The last thing he had seen in the mirror before thrusting the spoon into the second eye socket were tears of blood, streaming down his face and drenching his grey shirt. Still, he did not scream, and remained as calm as one could under the circumstances. He scooped out the last eye and set it on the soap dish. Finally, he let out a small grunt, his breath making whooshing noises from his nostrils onto his upper lip. The blood was trickling down across his lips and he could feel it creeping down under his shirt as well. He washed his hands as best he could before his knees gave out. He fell against the wall and sat against it for a moment, searching with his hands for the door. In a normal situation he would be freaking out that he was so close to fainting in an enclosed area but not for one second was he anxious that he was trapped in the small bathroom. He tried to catch his breath and finally opened the door. He crawled his way to the kitchen area where his telephone sat on the counter in its cradle. He reached for it multiple times, until he finally got hold of the cord and dragged it down, receiver and all. He dialed.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“My name is Jerry Parsons, I live on the corner of Grand and 7th in apartment 78B and I just gouged my eyes out with a spoon. If my estimations are correct, you have 15 minutes until I bleed out and die.”
The operator began to berate him with questions about his breathing, heart rate and other less important things but Jerry could feel his consciousness slipping. He could hear her frantically speaking to her coworkers and typing away on her keyboard, continuously asking him about his current state. The sound of the operator annoyed him and reminded him of the monotone droning of his therapists.
“Just hurry up.” He said and he clicked the phone into the receiver. His thoughts were increasingly hazy and the pain was stifling. He never screamed, letting out only grunts when he moved certain ways. He reached on the counter again and pulled down his medication. After taking a few more pills he sighed deeply and passed out.
Andrew Pan has worked in the visual and creative arts industry since late 2009. Working primarily in photography and illustration, he made the leap to writing in 2012. Having lived and worked in numerous parts of the country, he uses his experiences and observations in real life to influence his writing. He has many creative projects in the works including a short story anthology series set to premiere in August of 2016, as well as a novel trilogy of which the first is in the process of being edited. He currently lives in High Point, NC.
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