This story contains sensitive content

This story contains intrusive thought mentions and detailing of panic attacks.

My pills lay sprawling on my nightstand. I must have knocked them over in my sleep. I pick up the bottle and scoop in the white circular tablets. “Fluoxetine,” the label reads. I pick one off my nightstand and pop it into my mouth, swallowing hard. I place the transparent bottle back by my lamp. 

The gray cotton of my pajama pants pools at my ankles as I walk to the kitchen. I find the wooden chair at my kitchen table, the same one I have sat at for as long as I can remember. No one else is in the house yet; it’s just me in the dim lighting of the kitchen. 

I glance at the stove. “6:09,” it reads. It’s a Saturday, but school has me in the habit of waking up. I open a few of the white cabinets and pull out the ingredients to make a perfect bowl of cereal. I pour the cereal and then the milk, as all good people do, before grabbing my spoon and slurping it down.

My mom strolls in from the hallway, chipper as always. I guess I was too loud making breakfast. She grabs a bowl and starts making herself a bowl. 

“So, honey,” she starts, sitting down at the table across from me, “I was thinking we could go Christmas shopping today.” I pause with the spoon in my mouth. 

“Like, online?” I ask around the spoon. 

Mom sighs, “No, in a store. The one in town.” The nearest store that sells more than fresh produce is almost three towns over. My heart beats harder at the thought. 

“I don’t go shopping with you,” I try before spooning a few more bites of cereal into my mouth. 

“I just thought since it’s a special occasion, you could try.” My eyes dart over her looking for any sign of giving up, but I don’t see any. 

“Have you taken your medication this morning?” I nod. 

“Then there shouldn’t be any problems.” My eyes sharpen on hers. She meets my stare with soft eyes, almost pleading. 

“How far is the drive?” I ask into the bowl I am currently slurping the milk out of. 

“Just half an hour.” She says as I get out of my chair. My mind races. A whole thirty minutes away from home. 

“What if one of the cats needs help? What if we crash? What if one of the cats needs help and we crashed so we can’t get back to help them?”

“Jessie, how would we even know if the cats need help if we are in a crash? They can’t call us.” Mom says, laughing a little.

“Exactly! We should stay just in case something happens. Or better yet, you go and I’ll hold down the fort here.” I smile at her but she’s not buying it. She walks over to the sink with her bowl. 

“We’re leaving in twenty minutes. You have to face the world sometime,” she says before walking back down the hallway she came from. I rinse my bowl and trudge to my room, dread swirling in my stomach. 

My eyes fall on a pair of white jeans. I reach for them but stop inches short. White jeans will stand out. If I stand out people will look at me and I don’t want that. They’ll think it’s weird to wear white jeans. I grab the black pair next to it instead. I pull on a grey t-shirt, and a hoodie on top of that. I turn in the mirror, checking different angles to make sure there's no holes in the clothes, or folds that could make me look weird. My belly comes out too far and my arms are too big. The bulky clothes only add to these problems.

I think about calling to Mom about not going again, but she would probably drag me out the door. I head back towards the kitchen to see Mom waiting in her midnight blue cardigan and yellow jeans. 

“You ready, honey?” She asks. 

“I’m never ready,” I tell her as she walks for the door. I follow her towards the doorway, but my breaths quicken. Mom opens the door and I’m instantly bombarded by everything that lies ahead of me. The scent of pine drifts into the house. My nose burns. What if I’m allergic to pine? I could have an allergic reaction in the car, and then there will be nothing we can do. 

“Come on, sweetie,” Mom says, standing by the car. 

I walk out this doorway every day for school, but it never gets any easier. And at least when I’m going to school I know I’ll be somewhere safer in a few minutes. Now, I have to go thirty minutes away from home to a crazy store and then thirty minutes back without dying. I’m bound to have a panic attack. 

I take a step out of the door. The wood of the porch creaks under my feet. It could fall and then I’d break my legs and never be able to walk again. I take another step, my knees wobbling. That placemat is in the middle of the porch. I could fall. My head is airy. Maybe it’s from the pine. I take another step. Slowly, I make my way across the porch and down the steps to the car. 

The leather of the seat is cold beneath me and the warm air pushing its way in can’t move fast enough. I shake in the passenger’s seat, teeth chattering and knee bouncing, but not from the cold. I pull the seat belt over me as Mom puts the car in drive. We cruise through the cluster of houses before we reach the train tracks. Once we cross, there are two roads we could take. One leading to the school, and the other to town. 

I try to pretend we are on our way to school, like every morning, but when Mom’s blinker comes on, I can’t anymore. 

“Are you sure we can’t just go back?” I say, my voice wavering. I lean my head back against the seat, closing my eyes. 

“Jessie,” Mom says sternly, “I am going to town today and you are coming with me. You have sat in that house for the whole Thanksgiving break and I’m tired of it. You’re just being lazy. So, you can complain and grumble about it, but we are going shopping today.”

“It’s not being lazy,” I whisper, “I have a disorder, Mom.”

“You’re letting anxiety control your life.” She says as so many therapists have said before her. I look straight ahead. I’ve argued this with her too many times to count. We drive the rest of the way in silence apart from my fingers drumming on the console. 

I rake in a shaky breath as we pull into the parking lot. There are cars everywhere. My chest fills with air, but I can’t let any of it out. 

“What do you want to get your dad?” Mom asks me. 

“I don’t know.” 

“Well maybe start thinking so you know where we need to go when we get inside.” She says as she pushes open the car door. I stare at the handle to my door. Before I can even reach for the handle, Mom pulls it open and stands in front of it. I crawl out, my teeth chattering again. 

What if we’re walking and a car pulls out in front of us and hits us? I walk out from between the cars. What if someone goes on a rampage and starts running everything over? The asphalt under my feet is uneven. What if I fall and knock my teeth in and everyone thinks it’s gross and never wants to see me again? I grab Mom’s arm and she pulls me through the cars into the mall. 

As soon as we walk through the door, my feet start stumbling. The world is spinning around me. I am still being led through the hallways, but I don’t see anything as we walk. I just watch my feet go forward and back, back and forth. 

I’m pulled through the detectors and into a store. Dresses and shirts hang from racks all around the store. The lights are dim. Someone could come from any corner and kidnap me. Someone could kidnap Mom. I follow Mom through the store as she pursues the racks, but my head is swiveling, checking all the corners. A woman stands a few racks behind us. My palms sweat. She comes closer. This is it, she’s going to take us and sell us into sex trafficking.

My eyes won’t focus on anything. I’m seeing nothing and everything at the same time. A flurry of people moves around me, but my feet are planted underneath me. Something is thudding in my ears. My heartbeat, I realize. My breaths come faster until I have to be wheezing, but I can’t hear it over the pounding. I have to get out of here. Get me out of here. 

“Get me out of here,” I shriek. Mom turns to look at me, and for a moment her face is the only thing I can see, as if through a fish-eye lens. She scrambles in her purse. Hot tears stream down my face. Mom pulls out a bottle and pours out a handful of tablets. She grabs my chin and pulls my mouth open. My vision blackens around the edges as I gasp for breath. The tablet gets stuck on my tongue. My mouth is dry. 

“Just get me-” I’m cut off by a water bottle being shoved in my hands. Sweaty palms grab my wrists and bring them toward my mouth. Water slides down my throat along with something else. I gasp in a few breaths, but they slow. 

The Christmas lights around the shop come into focus, strong before my eyes adjust. The green and red garland hung on top of the clothing rack reminds me of home. It’s the same as the one hung on our mantle. I close my eyes, the warmth from the anxiety medication swirling in my stomach. I let out a sigh before I slowly open them again.

December 04, 2021 01:40

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Jamie Gregory
23:23 Dec 11, 2021

Hi Kendri! I was randomly assigned to your story for last week’s critique and I enjoyed reading it. You really painted the picture of the main character’s debilitating anxiety which was in stark contrast with the festive atmosphere she was in.


Kendri Petersen
16:55 Feb 11, 2022

Thank you! I appreciate the feedback. I really wanted to give the experience of repetitive thoughts. I'm glad you think it was done well.


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Amanda Fox
15:40 Dec 06, 2021

"I pour the cereal and then the milk, as all good people do" - Yes! Thank you!


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Cassia Allwyn
08:52 Mar 23, 2023

Hello Kendri, may I know what was your inspiration to this story?


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