There I was sitting on the floor of a cold corridor having had my second anxiety attack. It was 3:00am back home in India and the kindest man I know was on the phone with me listening to me crying as I was unable to breathe. It must have been 4 degrees that night, the dimly lit corridor was closed on both sides, and I sat on the floor so tired and unable to move, crying and waiting for help to come. My friend on the phone started asking me questions to keep me engaged. What did I have for dinner? A coffee and croissant. Was it snowing? No, but it was cold. What can you see? I looked up at the large wooden door towering next to me and through its small glass window, I saw a bulb hanging overhead shining on a cobbled Salzburg street. It was an orange bulb inside a cloudy glass case and I saw silver particles fluttering around it, the sound of my laboured breathing, and my friend asking me, “What can you see?”
I always knew I would have anxiety, but I had never had a full-blown anxiety attack before that night except once when I was with the same friend and for a short while I was unable to breathe. He rubbed my back, spoke to me, and I was fine. Then, that night in Salzburg it became a reality to me. I would have anxiety attacks. It was one thing I knew I had coming, unlike most other things that have happened to me in the past year. For that, I am thankful.
Sometimes when I travel to work and back, we see a dissimulation of white birds in the sky, forming patterns, flying across the weightless wind. It always makes me pause, their perfected performance. Momentarily, they hold my attention making me think there was never a more beautiful thing I had seen in my life. This, of course, is not true, but from time to time I think of those white birds dancing around against a muddy blue sky. I have seen many beautiful things in my life. Take for instance that night in Salzburg. If I didn’t tell you about the anxiety attack, I would tell you how that small nestled town was bathed in gold lights that night, its cobbled streets flanked on either side by old European buildings in which the quietness permeated cosy homes, a tall church at the end of the street stood guard and the cold wind waltzed around youngsters whose sounds of laughter and a foreign language broke the silence intermittently. It was gorgeous. And wait till I tell you about the beauty of Hallstatt. Some day, I will.
They say that one of the ways to build comfort with a creative endeavour is to do it completely, no matter how badly. By doing so, you may not be able to get everything right, but you tend to find out how you would behave during the process. By doing so, you eliminate the fear of what you would do when you encountered a bump in the road or find a shiny diamond. In order to get yourself to write well, you have to find out how you would behave in the journey. I have applied this principle to grief. The past year has taught me how I behave in grief — in heart-wrenching, trembling grief. I know what kind of a person I am through this. I do do not cry. I am dependable. I do the necessary work because no matter how badly your heart is broken, there is always a form to be filled out somewhere. I do not sleep well. I do not tell anyone. I tide it through, I wait for others to grieve. I tend to them. I keep it all together. Then, someday, I find myself weeping and it could be months after. I do it alone. This changes me. Something inside me has been wrecked. The reckoning comes much later. I do not fault anyone for it.
One week after that night in Salzburg, I am on a plane back home. Once again, I am full of anxiety, I don’t know why. I read a book on the 5-hour journey from Krakow to Dubai. My hands are cold and sweaty through all of it. I buy in-flight Internet to check on my folks back home. They are okay. I attribute the anxiety to my newly found distaste of cramped, closed spaces. At Dubai, I worry myself sick about catching the C-virus. I envision hundreds of scenarios none of which end well. I tide the time, hate myself for a little bit, and 12 hours later I am home. I am glad to be home. Next morning, I am woken up by a phone call to deliver the news to my mother that her brother has passed away in his sleep. I look at her unable to speak. I ask my dad to tell her. I watch her cry. I watch her tell his widow. My heart breaks into smithereens and falls to the pit of my stomach. We go to their house. My uncle’s 3-year-old and 5-year-old are running around in an overcrowded house. They see me, I bend down to talk to them. They tell me their dad has passed away. They don’t know what it means. I hug them. I don’t know how this has happened but I know exactly how I am going to behave.