The library's lobby was as chillingly air-conditioned as most buildings in Florida, but it barely cooled me off. Odd, since I'm the sort of person who gets cold when the temperature dips below seventy-four degrees, but perhaps not surprising, as I'd been having hot flashes during the entire drive over. In retrospect, I should have recognized this as a bad sign. At the time, though, I simply chalked it up to a case of nerves. Everyone gets nervous when they start a new job, I reasoned, and today was my first day at the library. No one feels comfortable dealing with newness.
Still, my nerves seemed a little suspicious. I hadn't felt anxious about starting my new job before – I'd had a nearly identical position at the previous library I worked at, so I knew what to expect. I had decided that it was most likely the idea of meeting people and being in an unfamiliar environment that was making me anxious when the first wave of nausea hit me, hard, and I made a beeline for the fortunately close public restrooms. I raced into a stall and tossed my handbag onto the ground, not even bothering to hang it from the hook on the back of the stall door. I made it just in time; throwing up my partially-digested breakfast did not seem like the best first impression to make in front of my new colleagues and supervisor.
I felt a little better after sitting on the cold, hard tile floor for a few minutes. After rinsing my mouth out at the sink, I looked myself over in the mirror. Was I sick? Should I leave? How could I possibly call in sick before I'd even started working at this place? I decided that I needed to pull myself together and just get through my first day. I would look like a complete flake otherwise. Somehow, I managed to suppress the uneasiness I felt and find my new supervisor.
Despite the fact that I was still queasy, I noted that he was completely nondescript apart from his thick, caterpillar-esque eyebrows. As we toured the library, I had to force myself to stop seeing images of fuzzy insects creeping across his forehead. I tried to keep a serious, thoughtful expression on my face as he outlined what I would be working on. When the tour was over, he left me alone to complete my first task, and I wasn't even thinking about the strange incident from earlier in the day. The calm before the storm is always so deceptive.
The job that Eyebrows had given me to do was simple enough. All I had to do was go through the section which contained the new books and ensure that they looked presentable. It was something I could have done blindfolded at the first library I worked at, where day after day, I shelved books and made sure they looked neat and orderly. But strangely enough, I was having a little bit of trouble. The room seemed to be swaying a little, and I thought the air conditioning must be malfunctioning, because I suddenly felt stiflingly hot. Things started to seem a little hazy. Although I didn't know it yet, the worst was about to hit me.
The tiny job to which I had been assigned quickly went from doable to impossible. It sounded like my heart was beating inside my eardrums. A razor-sharp tightness had formed in my chest, and I was nearly gasping for air. In the midst of the incoherent jumble of thoughts that were lurching around my brain, I wondered, what the hell is happening to me? Was I dying? I had never experienced such an onslaught of fear in my life. The combination of the dreadful sensations finally overpowered me and I collapsed in front of several copies of the latest James Patterson release. Eyebrows must have seen all this, for he came rushing over.
“Mary! What's wrong? Are you all right? Do you need me to call an ambulance?”
I couldn't believe this was happening. And the fact that I didn't even know what “this” was made the situation even more terrifying. My brain was racing, mentally processing the dozens of episodes of House, M.D. I'd watched. Obviously, I had some sort of rare neurological condition that decided to present itself on my first day at my new job.
“N-n-n-o, I d-d-d-on't n-need an a-a-mbulance,” I managed to stutter. I had never stuttered before in my life, but my teeth were chattering and my body was trembling so badly by this point that the fact that I got any words out at all was an accomplishment. The violent storm that had just raged through my body had abated as suddenly as it had began, and all I could do now was try not to faint.
Eyebrows looked skeptical and a little harried. He's probably regretting hiring me, I thought. I hadn't even been officially working there for an hour and yet here I was, splayed out on the floor in the midst of an aisle, shuddering uncontrollably and sweating like a criminal about to be apprehended by the police. It's not as though causing a huge public scene was something I'd never done before, but usually I had done it intentionally. Whatever was happening to me seemed entirely out of my grasp.
“Let's get you to the break room,” he offered kindly.
He escorted me through the book sorting room and the back offices to the empty break room, where I sat down in one of the modern-looking plastic chairs. I was no longer shaking, and the flushed, overheated feeling began to recede. Exhaustion set in. My bizarre little episode had depleted me of any energy I had, and I felt like I needed a hundred-year nap. I looked at my supervisor forlornly.
“I think I probably need to go home,” I said weakly. He nodded in agreement.
I gathered my things and gingerly walked towards the hallway that led to the parking lot, aware that several members of the staff were watching me with interest. I suppose they were wondering why the new girl was leaving early on her first day. I didn't blame them. I felt ridiculous going home sick on my first day of work.
Once I got in my car, I closed my eyes and sighed. Goddamnit, I thought miserably. I had just about made an utter fool of myself in front of the people I was going to spend nearly every day with. What a great first impression. Sitting in the car, I realized that besides some residual tiredness, I now felt fine, though minutes before, I was sure I was about to exit this mortal plane. It baffled me. I didn't know what to do, so I just sat there in my car, stupefied, thinking, What just happened?
Though it took several months and doctors to determine that what had occurred was actually a panic attack, I didn't understand what had really happened until much later. My life as a semi-normal person had ended. Sometimes storms cause minimal damage that can be repaired, and some cause destruction so extensive that recovery is not possible.