Passing Time

Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Write about someone facing their greatest fear.... view prompt

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As a child they called me hyperactive more than they called me Ben. Time just seemed better spent doing than sitting there, listening, and looking. I’d lose my recess due to talking, fidgeting, not paying attention, you name it. It truly was punishment to sit there and do nothing but watch the clock slowly tick by while the other kids were out playing; when I knew I could be doing something else, should be doing something else. The jittery feeling I got when I had to sit still, when I had to wait, having that clock in front of me telling me how slow time was passing by would make me break into tears some days. One day it got so bad I had to go to the nurse's office because I couldn’t breathe, was shaking, and sweating for no reason. I thought I was having a heart attack because at age seven you really don't know what that means. The nurse said I had a panic attack and that’s when my parents had me put on medication.

As an adolescent I had the opportunity to focus some of that hyperactivity on sports which helped keep me out of trouble to a certain degree. I was never an A student, but I was able to keep my grades up enough to play ball with help from the coach. Switching classrooms throughout the day helped too, as did hands on courses like wood shop and auto repair. Straight out of high school, I joined the Marines. There was no wasted time during my time stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I joined the Carpenter’s Union when I got out of the Marines to learn to work with my hands and have a skill valuable to others so that I’m always busy. Family and friends always had something needing fixing or a project they needed help with on the weekends. When there was nothing else to do on the weekends, I would hunt or fish, depending on the season, hitting the bars at night where I met Julie.

Julie was a schoolteacher and my polar opposite, but we were a match made in heaven. She was the brains, and I was the brawn. After a year of dating, Julie and I were married. Brian came along the following year, then Jason, then Zac. We bought our first home, a fixer-upper in the middle of town with five bedrooms and two baths. Job, wife, kids, friends, family, hobbies – there was never a moment to spare.

I was forty-two and Brian had just come home from his first year in college when I got the news. Cancer. I lived a physical lifestyle my whole life, so when I suddenly started feeling weak and having to ask for help with things, I was a little worried; but everyone talked as if forty was that age where your body starts to give out. I wasn’t just feeling weak though, there was a pain in my lower back and hip that was starting to announce its presence. I pushed through it, giving up on the less necessary, more leisurely activities. I became more tired. Not that good tired I was used to after a hard day's work, nor was it that sleepy tired either; it was more like pushing a wheelbarrow full of concrete uphill every time I walked to the fridge tired. Then came the weight loss. At that point, Julie was urging me to see a doctor, so I did. Six months is what he gave me.

Retirement was the only option at that point, although I felt I could still contribute. The doctor assured me that feeling wouldn’t last long. Julie and I talked it over and we decided we needed to take that family vacation we never got around to taking while the boys were young. We rented an RV a month later and headed out west from our home in North Carolina. We made it as far as St. Louis where I lost my bowels trapped up top in the Arch. I pushed through the pain and fatigue to spend some time with my family. I even swallowed my pride and bought one of those electric scooters. But that was more than I could handle. From then on it was adult diapers and I never went too far from home.

Julie let me keep the master bedroom, so I had quick access to the bathroom, but she moved into the guest room after we got home. Too many accidents on the road. I’d still try to do little projects around the house to pass the time. The boys were good about picking up supplies and materials, and it gave me a chance to teach them some basic home and yard care. Our biggest project was getting a garden started for their mom next spring. I wanted her to think of me every time she was out there washing the stress away with dirt. It could be a place where she could go and feel she was with me if she needed it.

Summer changed to fall, and my condition worsened. There wasn’t much I could do anymore. Life for everyone continued to go on, just as it will continue to go on after I’m gone. Julie worked. The boys were in school. My parents would occasionally check on me. Once in a while my sister or a friend would stop by. I slept a lot, but not all the time. I tried to fill those moments awake with television, but watching exaggerated takes on reality just made me long to be doing something constructive. I tried reading. Julie had plenty of books lying around the house, but I could never get past the first page of any of them.

That jittery feeling that I got during lost recesses as a kid came crawling back. A nervousness at first, but it crept its way into a gyrating of my soul, not allowing me to breathe. I would cry and sweat and eventually pass out. I asked Julie to set me up in a lawn chair in front of the municipal lake so I could fish. She didn't like that idea; even thought I was joking at first. I called Julie home from work one day it was so bad. I was praying to God to pass out, but I kept shaking, kept crying. The tick of the second hand echoed in my head like a stopwatch I couldn’t stop, counting down to the boom of the minute hand. When Julie got home, she found me lying in the middle of the kitchen floor with my knees pulled to my chest and my hands covering my ears as I screamed and cried. Julie helped me to my feet and didn’t even bother to let me get dressed or make an appointment with the doctor. She rushed me to the nearest urgent care where they saw me on the spot.

“Mr. and Mrs. Faust, this is called chronophobia, which is the fear of time, or at least the passing of time. From what I see in his records, dating back to when he was a kid, he might have always had this condition, but has been able to manage it. However, this does happen to people who know they are dying and feel they cannot accomplish everything they want to accomplish in life. I’m going to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help control the symptoms,” the doctor says.

We checked out and picked up the prescription. On the way home Julie asks me, “What do you still feel you need to accomplish?”

“See my sons graduate. See them married. Make sure they are financially secure and responsible adults. Play with the grandkids. Lay my parents to rest. Care for you until your dying day,” I answer, giving her the abbreviated list.

The medication helped, but I went downhill quick. Julie took a leave of absence and Brian came home. I could hear in my final moments, when everyone came to say their heartfelt goodbyes, but I couldn’t see. I heard lots of sobs and sniffles and felt a lot of hugs and kisses. For me it was a good day just knowing how loved and appreciated I was during my short time in everyone's lives. It was rather serene passing away. Like when you fall asleep without trying to fall asleep. You just get so comfortable and warm that everything around you just melts together, and then with one last exhale, the ticking stopped.

July 10, 2023 06:37

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1 comment

Michelle Oliver
06:45 Jul 23, 2023

Oh…. So sad. That last line got me. The way you brought the who story together with the fear of the ticking clock, a complete circle. Nicely done and thanks for sharing.


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