We were in the men’s department when it happened. — a full-blown panic attack while looking at the Tommy Bahama shirts. This Christmas shopping in Nordstrom’s was the first she’d done in several years. We headed for the nearest place to sit down while the store clerk went for water.
A Xanax and half an hour later life seemed manageable again.
She realized that she could survive her worst fears. That was monumental — a downright bloody epiphany. We decided to tackle the cosmetics.
The Lancome counters were crowded so we scrapped the mission and decided to just go eat instead. I quickly scanned the perimeter for the nearest exit.
On the way through the maze of the women’s section, I was scraped and scrubbed into the circular clothing displays as we walked past. She clutched my arm so tightly that we had to walk abreast into spaces designed for only one shopper. It reminded me of how my horses used to try to rub me off on trees and fences when they were trying to get me off their backs. I clung like a small human burr so they were never successful. Instead of trying to ditch me, though, she was just desperately afraid of losing me or being lost herself.
When not facing impending impalement on metal racks, I had the distinct feeling that I was weighing her down … that if either one of us let go, she’d float away into thin air. She suffered from an unbearable lightness of being. More likely, she felt like she’d be sucked out of the room through a ghastly, gaping hole in the fuselage of life and cast into some outer darkness with nothing but wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Being a veteran of the phobia wars myself I was proud to be her protector from all things hellish. More than halfway across the room and no implements of sudden death looming, I could find humor in the absurdity of the situation and I noticed I was not the only one who thought it funny.
Bemused glances and twinkling eyes followed us all the way to the door. We really must’ve been an odd sight. Her extreme anxiety and crabbiness seemed to just make people smile. She didn’t notice how kindness and understanding lit faces like a traveling electrical impulse as we made our way across the room. But I did. The best kind of Christmas lights I thought to myself, the unexpected smiles of strangers.
Done dodging and happily upright I escorted her through the door, through the underground parking structure and out into the light of day. I was eminently pleased that we’d accomplished our goals. My friend couldn’t enjoy her small victories until we were safely in the car and she’d checked and double-checked her credit cards.
In the back seat were the fruits of our labor; two Tommy Bahamas for her son, some plaid pajamas for A daughter, and a lacy white camisole to go with them. With the spoils of battle secured we headed for a Jewish deli.
Matzoh ball soup and chicken liver for me; eggs and bagels for her. She was proud and hungry. There were lights in her eyes that weren’t there earlier that morning and tentative smiles as she thoroughly cleaned her plate.
On the way out I bought a Star of David cookie to bring to another client for Hanukkah, then lost it somewhere between the deli and the hospital. Maybe I left it on top of the car when I was buckling my friend in her seat. I remember how I once did that with a cake. I think it was a Black Forest cake, and it was all over the asphalt when I came back for it. So I am forgetful. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that but the truth is, we all have our handicaps.
Some just hide them better than others.
For those with the courage to give up self-flagellation, there’s a certain expansiveness that can come from making peace with one’s limitations. A curious sort of luminosity found in the dark corners of one’s soul. Even a secret strength in the midst of one’s weakness. Illumination and unconditional love; especially where we are most unlovely and when we need it most -that’s what Hanukkah and Christmas are all about.