Fear of the Marketplace
I don’t like the opera. It has something to do with the types of clothes people wear to the opera or the high culture of it. I can only go if I take a pill first. Signs for the new season hang on every lamppost, red letters underneath a gold-faced woman. Maybe she has a gold mask held up in front of her real face. But either way, here I’m on the opera house steps, a handsome man kneeling beside me with kind, disinterested eyes. There must have been a fire—perhaps I was trampled.
“You fainted,” he says. His girlfriend stands over him, hovering, her feet not touching the marble staircase. Her jacket is beige and she’s holding it tight against herself. She reminds me of the angels painted on the opera house ceiling, their horrible feathered wings tangled in the glowing peach ceiling lamps. I let the disinterested man hold my head in his hands. I could sleep like this, the back of my skull cradled in his damp palms. My bed at home pales in comparison. I’m an agoraphobic. Not officially, but still I shouldn’t be out. The angel girlfriend wants to call a cab. Her wings flap furiously. She is jealous that her man is touching me with such tenderness. I understand, but I don’t tell her so. He and I could fall in love if we stay this way too long.
“We can’t just put her in a cab,” he says. I want him to win this argument.
Something hot and familiar is tightening around my lungs. I check to make sure the handsome man isn’t choking me. I close my eyes and wish. I don’t have an emotion, feeling, or even a word to connect to the way my body is acting. It’s anxiety separate from a source, a sea monster, a static comprised of everything but this moment. Blood comes out of my nose, trickles and sets. He must find me beautiful, full of such panic that it glistens from my skin.
“I’m OK,” I tell him. The sirens are already soft in the background, not their sharpest pitches, but a droning buzz. There are fields of wildflowers and places far away from this city—mill towns or apple orchards, cliffs and rivers. “I grew up in the country,” I say, by way of explanation. On a different coast entirely, near a calmer ocean, though I don’t add these details. As a little girl I knew I’d find a city someday, but feared that the forest would always lurk in me. I often rub my hands over my own arms to check for wolf fuzz. I lick my teeth to check for fangs. The sirens aren’t for me, and the couple puts me in a cab after all.
I get home safe, door latched behind me, and swear to never leave again. What a world. Last week three men got shot on three corners of one intersection, their bodies replaced by memorial photographs. Though even in the woods, where you should be safe, you might hike for the third time in your life and get knocked from your shoes by a bolt of lightning. This really happened. The girl was about to be engaged. The boy hiking beside her, ring in his pocket, was hit too—flung far, but lived. For good measure, I close the windows, not liking how and why they rattle in the foggy wind. Cyclones and hurricanes are the same thing, just different words. Neither one happens here, but still.
Then Dave comes over and convinces me to go to the bar.
“It’s next door. It’s practically your living room,” he says, and I don’t feel like arguing. He holds my jacket out to me, and I can’t resist turning my back to him, sliding my arms inside my own coat. I don’t tell him about the panic attack, a phrase that is inept but the closest thing to explain. He compares the intricacies of my agoraphobia to his own, a competition that has entertained us both for years.
“Whiskey and ginger, that’s my favorite,” he says. He doesn’t ask, just leans over and takes a sip. I feel shaky. At some point I lose my bracelet. I look down and it isn’t on my wrist. We look for it, its glowing white against the dark bar floor. When we don’t find it he touches my wrist where it was. The skin is more tender there, underneath the wrist, where the veins are closer to the surface of the skin. He’s here to tell me that he’s getting married. His band is playing tomorrow night too, somewhere nearby. He’s the lead singer, stands with his legs straight and apart, grabs the microphone with both hands and yells into it. I’ve known him ten years, but haven’t seen him for one. He’s sure of everything he does. Not necessarily that it’s great, but that he deserves to be doing it. He’s loud and sexy and makes me think of an 18th century war general, but maybe a little bit gentler. I don’t love him.
It’s a ghost town tonight, thick granite fog surrounding the palm trees, hot pink sky breaking through the cracks of night. The sounds of distant arguments echo from down the street. The air is the exact temperature of my skin and I wave my arm around.
“I went to see Eurydice today,” I tell him.
“I hate the opera.”
He notices the scrapes on my palms from falling, takes my hands to see that the injuries are symmetrical. “What happened to you?”
“No you didn’t, you fucking liar,” he says. He means it with affection.
Dave told me about his agoraphobia in college. We were lying outside in the wet grass of an open field, above us the low, dark ceiling of the night sky. We’d been at a party, and he had my lipstick in his pocket, an unfathomable intimacy. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to leave the house or was scared of going outside, as is commonly believed. It was a fear of space itself. Small or large, it didn’t make a difference. That space fills up with people, and then what? But it’s also a hyper sensitization to the body’s workings, to the dilation of the pupil, the intake of the breath, the firing of the neuron, the lacing web of arteries. Agoraphobia; it seemed exotic, old fashioned. Fear of the marketplace, it meant. That night, for the first time, I made a bit of sense to myself, and it was in relation to him. We agreed the field was the safest place to be and stayed there a long time. Systematic desensitization, he said. It got easier. Since then he has been able to reconcile parts of himself in ways I can only dream of doing.
“I am going to have a wife, Adrina,” he says. He’s told me this news with clear apprehension at my reaction.
“So what?” I ask. I look out the window at the bus wires crisscrossing each other. Sometimes they spark and pop, a quick flash of blue or gold.
“You’re a flirt,” he accuses.
“That’s rich coming from you.”
We’re quiet. I stir my drink and he looks over my shoulder into the sounds of the bar. But it doesn’t matter who else is here or what else is happening. My head feels light and my face flushed from drinking. My straw pops out of my glass and sprays his forearms with whiskey. “Sorry.”
“I hope you’re OK,” he says.
“I hope you’re OK too,” I say back, sounding like I don’t mean it. I might not.
“What kind of conversation do you want this to be?” he asks, “I want to say the kind of things you want me to say.”
“How about you say that you aren’t getting married? Jesus. You’re 26.”
“Some other time and I’d be an old man about to die.”
When I sip my drink I have to hold the liquid in my mouth, look away from him, then swallow. He’s thinking of buying a house, perhaps a lovely one in upstate New York. He’s been drinking too much, using drugs recreationally. He’s in love. She’s like no other woman. It’s such a stupid thing to say. The album is perhaps going platinum. But it’s grueling to live in a van either way. I tell him I’m not in love and this gives me a power over him. I know something he doesn’t know yet about the limitations of love, or how ridiculous it sounds to say the word out loud without any humility or self-awareness. I tell him I’ve been busy and things are good. I live in a studio with retro furniture and a fucking seltzer maker. I’ve been dating different men. Some have lovely hands with bitten down fingernails, take me to readings, or wear scuffed boots. One tells me that I am trouble, another that the way he feels is an ebb and flow. Some are quite passionate. Dave listens to all of this.
“I’m not worried about them,” he says, as if he’s still competing for my favor. “An ebb and flow of what?”
“Why would you worry?” I ask. Everything is soft and glowing. “I must save my wanting for only the most important things, things that deserve to be desired.”
“Not me, you mean?”
Dave and I always counted more to each other than anyone else did. He’d find me at crowded parties, push me backwards into the closet and say, “I found you.” Once he accidentally knocked me backwards more forcefully than he intended. “You ready?” he asked, and I was. Although now it does all seem risky and ruthless. It was the lure of agoraphobia in another person, yes, but much more than that. Knowing someone isn’t about facts—the date of their birth or the food they like to eat. It’s how their armpit smells, what they make you want to do. Now here is our ending, a quiet and finite thing. One song, meant for me, said simply, Get out while you can.
I hardly recognize Dave because of his new long hair and fashionable coat. I touch them both and frown. I feel the growling of my wolf-brain. The way he smells at any given point on his body makes me feel the animal part of me, the lion sniffing out who will give her the best children and bring her back the juiciest dinner.
“We have a chemistry problem,” I say. “Your hair is long.”
“You’re wearing pajama pants,” he responds and pinches my hipbone and leans into me, “You smell like nostalgia. Pajama pants and high heels, Adrina.”
“What does that smell like exactly?”
“Go outside with me,” he says. He puts his mouth into my hair, then against my neck. He puts my smashed up hands to his face.
“To smoke,” he says.
“To smoke,” he insists. “Not like for an alleyway blowjob or anything.”
“If it was for an alleyway blowjob I might consider it.”
“Hey, so do you want to come over to the hotel then?” he asks.
Dave believes that if you sleep with someone more than three times, you love them, whether you know it or not. He says shit like that because he likes how it sounds; it’s why he writes good love songs. We’ve slept with each other exactly four and a half times. So he loves me just a little bit more than he doesn’t.
“Are you coming to see us play?” he asks. “You’ll get to meet Leah. You’ll like her.”
“I don’t really think it’s about that.”
“We could’ve been together, Addy. I wanted you to come with me and you didn’t.”
“I know,” I say. The truth was he’d been ready to go out into all the dangerous spaces of the open world, and I wasn’t. He was desensitized, and I wasn’t.
Walking home from the bar, the lights are forgetful golden flecks. I feel safe, which is its own kind of scary. White city flowers glow out of the black. I can’t go to his hotel with him. I must forget him–must forget more and more each day–for ten minutes, for twenty, until I can forget him for entire days at a time. When he described his recovery to me it went like that. Five minutes outside, then ten, then days. A year.
Dave was diagnosed agoraphobic as a child. As a teenager he took the subway with his therapist. Each day his therapist would leave him alone in one of the cars, gradually increasing the time. Exposure therapy. Systematic desensitization. He was meant to just get used to it, to get better simply because enough time passed. I didn’t have that history with agoraphobia, a first moment, a therapist, even a diagnosis. But I was. From the moment I heard him describe himself, I knew. I was him.
By the time I met Dave, seventeen years old, freshman year of college, he’d been almost entirely desensitized. He took medicine, was able to talk about it. His fear was worn down into something smooth and manageable. He was often the loudest one in the room, something about him fearless, the opposite of his truest self. Every night we sat up late in the kitchen of our dorm. He’d lie on the floor, a leftover tic that he didn’t resist, and I made us drinks, vodka and Peach Schnapps. He told me stories about his agoraphobia, growing up in a city, surrounded by every crowded and unsafe place. I told him about rivers, the ones my friends had drowned in, crashed their cars in. I told him about the Heroin House with the kung-fu movies and the back porch. He thought I made these stories up to entertain him, about the schizophrenia on my first boyfriend’s sixteenth birthday, about the gardens of sunflowers and marijuana.
It’s these stories we told each other that I think of now, back at home. Dave says that every space contains the utmost danger, rural or urban makes no difference. It’s important to watch how the space fills up and be ready to escape it, to have a plan for how you will navigate outside to open space. He told me about lying underneath his bed and smoking pot, touching his eyelids when he got stoned, or how at parties in college he’d run outside, fall to his knees, press his forehead to the parking lot. Maybe I liked him because there was so much proof he felt everything; the distinct sparkle of his nerve endings and every slurp of his heart.
At the end of this tour Dave will get married. Years from now he will go to school for philosophy. He will live in Los Angeles and have a job. Maybe he’ll be a bartender. He’ll have a house, a wife, and children. But right now, girls post messages on his band’s website about wanting to fuck his brains out, which is something I’ve done and can attest is worth anything. Sometimes we’ll be out and a girl will ask to take her picture with him. She’ll hand me the camera. When I take his picture l see the part of him that hasn’t been desensitized, just for a second I see the dark gleam underneath, and I believe in the existence of my own heart with a selfish arrogance.
“Do you want to come listen to my records?” he asked the night we first met. We wore similar clothes—corduroy pants, band t-shirts, and belts. When he touched my shoulder I touched his. When he touched my belt I touched his belt. It was unnerving and sexy to feel both similar to him and wanted by him. I felt something truly complicated and I enjoyed the intricate ache it left, as if my bones had shifted inside my body. We kissed for the length of four records, and then I snuck with him through the dark, cold hallways to deliver a note to a girl who later became his girlfriend and played violin in his band.
“What should I write to her?” he asked while I lay on his bed. At the time it didn’t bother me to help him think of the right words. I look back to that night often as proof that there was a time before I knew him, before I cared.
Another night that first winter in college, the whole town was decorated in white light. I wasn’t wearing shoes, having lost them at the party. We were walking to Dave’s apartment. My wet hair froze at the tips and the black pavement was cold on my bare feet.
“You lost your shoes, girl,” Dave said and grabbed my hand. Outside his apartment he made me take my shirt off so that he could look at me in the cold dark. Stray pieces of snow hit my shoulders, and he didn’t kiss me, but we stood there for a very long time, my feet going numb, my skin prickling up. He said nothing, never touched me, took his shirt off too. I wish someone had seen us there, had known they were dreaming.
Inside his apartment, I lay down and put my face on the floor. He gave me socks to put on. I wiggled my toes inside them, they were soft and gray and too big for me. He put on the Eurydice opera.
“This is the best story,” he told me as the music started, “he plays such sad songs that the gods let him get his dead wife back.”
“Yeah, it’s great,” I said, “but he looks back at her and she vanishes. She vanishes.”
He lay down on the floor next to me.
“You know how she dies, right?” he asked. “A snake bites her.” He bit my shoulder, and it hurt somewhere deep inside my stomach. He pulled the straps of my dress down and hissed at me. I lost one of my earrings in his carpet. Later, I ran my hand over the carpet looking for the glint of red. It was not unusual; I was often losing small things in his apartment and car.
“It leaves proof of you where you aren’t supposed to be,” he reprimanded one night as we searched his car for my pink flowered sock that had been, moments before, on my foot and pressed to the ceiling of the car, his fingers wrapped around my ankle, pushing it back.
Dave’s show is at the North. He has my name on the list at the door and the girl runs her finger down the page until she hits my name.
She stamps my hand and it only glows when I put my hand out for a drink over the bar top, the black light shining down to illuminate the outline of a bird. I think of the hands of that man holding my head at the opera.
“Addy, do you want to dance?” Dave asks.
I cannot allow him to put his hands on my waist, or anywhere on me. “Remember when I used to hang out on the stairs near your room drinking Schnapps?” I ask, looking around the club. I think about getting to know new men, how it is that you become bound to another person, unable to extricate yourself. It happens over a long period of time and then in one split second. “You weren’t wearing a bra.”
“You called me country girl.”
“Dance with me, and stop pouting.”
My heart, I know, is made of hard white rock wrapped in velvet. His demon heart always eats his words before he even says them and smoke comes out of his mouth. I don’t mention my heart to him, ever, and how he has burned away the velvet layer, leaving only the hard center.
Even now, supposedly cured, Dave gets agitated and moves to stand closer to the door that opens into the nighttime and open air. He might prefer to be out in it, amongst the trees, the warehouses, and the dark. I don’t ask if he’s OK. I don’t go to stand with him. Instead of getting smaller and smaller the room gets bigger. I don’t mind the space or how it feels. This makes me happy, that he and I exist differently inside the same place.
During Dave’s set, between songs, he asks for a whiskey. A girl walks up to the stage and hands him a glass. When she turns I see that she’s beautiful, pale, with giant eyes. It’s Leah. She’s wearing an amazing pink dress with black stitching. I feel something close in me; something just ends. For a moment I flicker and disappear. Afterwards, we meet briefly. Leah says, Nice to meet you. I say it back. I tell her that Dave and I are old friends from college.
“She knows who you are, Adrina,” he says impatiently. But by the way she is looking at me, pleasantly and with soft eyes, I can tell that she doesn’t know at all.
The club is emptying out and there’s nothing to do but leave. They’re driving to Oregon in the morning. They have to get up early. We talk about little things, where the tour is headed, how the van needs to get fixed. When I leave, he hugs me quick but hard, says, “OK, yeah.”
“OK, yeah,” I say back into his ear and hope it burns his skin.
He comes outside after me. I’m already across the street and he runs to catch up. “I don’t know, Adrina, maybe people just aren’t supposed to feel this way, the way you and I feel. It’s too much. It just doesn’t work. I mean, it makes us crazy. With Leah, it’s just calm. It’s good. She’s sweet.”
“That’s shit, Dave,” I tell him, though he’s probably much more right than I am.
“It’s just real life, Addy. There can’t just be passion on top of passion, and drama all the time.”
“I’m going home,” I say, and turn from him, everything underneath my skin sinking deeper inside. Our life together could have been long and happy. Outside the club there is no one and nothing. I keep walking and he doesn’t follow me further. I walk empty blocks and blocks. The city is full of the crazy, the poor, the blind, and the old tonight. I’m part of it, one of them. The old men don’t have teeth; they wail in my direction. Crime scene tape has been discarded in loops, as if, on second thought, the crime scene wasn’t worth cordoning off. It’s so late that all the stoplights blink red, and the intersections sit empty. I’m aware of the air in my lungs, the slope of my spinal chord, the silent workings of my body, its gray cells like miniature jellyfish or a string of pearls.
The seven by seven miles of this small city shrink around me in the days and weeks after Dave leaves. Nashville, Juno, Topeka. I trace Dave’s path as he tours. I touch the cities on the map with my fingertip, knowing my touch sends lightning bolts crashing down splendidly into the center of wherever he is. He is navigating the dangerous spaces, and I’m proud of him.
I sit outside on my steps and take his tour schedule out of my red high heel where I’ve kept it folded into a tiny square. He wrote it on a napkin and handed it to me at the bar. I open it and tap my heels on the stairs. Everything is ensconced in fog, except for one dime sized space miles away that is a circle of sunlight. I want to be that one spot. What good is the world if I can’t go out and be in it? I spend all night marooned in the fuzz of my empty head. I think about his rough fingertips, his dark hair. I think about going to get him, arriving on a bus in Nashville, a town I’ve never seen, and telling him I’m not afraid.
To explain himself to me, Dave once said, “I am all effects and no causes. I make the causes up.”
That’s what agoraphobia is, symptoms with no real reason. Any feeling must be that though. We make the reasons up. We are chemicals and electricity, and we try to name how that feels at any given moment, and maybe sometimes we’re right, but mostly we aren’t.
I get on the computer to see where he’s playing in Nashville. I lie in my bed and wonder if I will disappear. Some agoraphobics cannot leave their house; some cannot even leave one particular room. I think of the cross-country bus, of really leaving, of the lulling up and down into the dark blue city mountains, and then further, out of the city entirely.
His postcard arrives with a simple wish written on it, I hope you’re getting out. I want to write a letter in return and say, Fuck you. I like the idea of his startled look as he opens the envelope expecting something sweet or full of longing. We’ve been stupid, careless. All this time we’ve been obsessed with each other because we are obsessed with ourselves. Outside my window I see a boy half break dancing, half ballet dancing. I want to write him and say, Outside my window I see a boy half break dancing, half ballet dancing. I want to list what I’ve seen each day. I want to make a long and detailed list of my life and hear him sing it. As a young girl I had a white diary with a lock. In it I wrote,Must learn how to flirt. I sprayed my perfume on the page and drew an arrow; This is how I smell.
The world outside my window is luminous, mimosa trees and the plants that are strong enough to grow up out of the cement. The violent water of the ocean sits beside the still water of the bay. The ground has an opal sheen. The sirens scream. The air is incandescent. I have a hundred years to live. Whatever gets me in the end is going to get me no matter where I hide.
So I begin packing up my things. I empty out the apartment, making trips outside and leaving everything on the sidewalk. Sheer pink curtains hang over the windows like moth wings and I leave them hanging there. The walls and windows shake around me. Each room of my apartment reminds me of a giant open mouth. Someone will come looking for me and I will be gone. I will have disappeared into the house, existing somewhere in its wooden heart or plaster stomach.
On the bus to Nashville I start letters and crumple them up. I write, Dear Dave, Love Adrina. I’ve left my apartment behind, gutted and echoic. There are things I am scared of. It is easy to be scared. As the bus leaves the city, the fog rolls in heavy as an avalanche, and maybe disappears forever behind me.
In my purse is a packet of red poppy seeds. I will plant them as I travel, make myself a path to follow back. Perhaps I won’t need it, though, as the view outside the window transforms quietly. I fall asleep and dream about this path, dotted with red petals, lush and radiant in a way that is geographically and botanically unlikely. When I wake up the bus has stopped at a rest stop in the middle of California, in one of those dark green towns where no one seems to live. People must live here, though. I think of my own childhood town, those people lucky and unlucky enough to never leave the safest places they know the best. I get off the bus and walk around the gravelly parking lot. I go into the bathroom and wash my face over and over, like they do in the movies when they look at themselves and wonder what the hell they’re doing.
Outside I borrow a cigarette from another passenger. He lights it for me with a match, his hand up against the wind, cupped protectively around my lips.
“Thanks,” I say.
He smiles at me and his eyes are very warm. I almost tell him about the time I finally took the bus outside the city. I dangled daringly on the cliffs of Highway One like a trapeze artist, I went in search. Something just opened up, and the million spaces of the world transformed themselves into a voyage.
I enjoy the gesture of smoking here in this empty parking lot, looking out into an unfamiliar landscape. Dave will never look at any view and feel what I feel right now. He will be looking for how to get out, continually almost cured. Maybe we don’t need to constantly be hatching an escape route, and could instead just breathe a gentle breath into the space of ourselves. He will always feel the sky or ceiling sinking down upon him. I don’t have to go to Nashville. I can let him go instead. His wedding will happen far away on a sunny afternoon. The wind is slow; the trees darken, and the space opens. A knot of anxiety and misgiving unfurls at the base of my throat. I press on it, and it lessens, dissolves, like something I can swallow. My whole body feels it, this untangling. Today I will forget him for a few hours. Tomorrow, a few more. I will ride the bus to some brand new place. I will walk across streets, over bridges, and back out into the wild.
All rights reserved to Laura Schadler.