By E. Pugsley
I was 17 when my Mom saw that Wicked was playing in Toronto. Wicked is a musical and a family favourite; my Mom loves a twist on a classic, after all we’re all a little twisted sometimes. I know all the words by heart but had never actually seen it. Now, I hate Toronto at the best of times, it’s crowded, there’s strangers around every corner, the drivers are crazy, but it was Wicked. Mom said we could go if we all paid for our own tickets. Usually I’m too broke to do this kind of thing, as I wasn’t currently employed, but luckily I’d inherited some money from my Grandpa and was able to buy my ticket.
We’d bought the tickets so long before the show that by the time July came around I’d nearly forgotten. During July my sister Tessa and I were rehearsing for the play “The Secret Garden” which was to be put on at the end of the month. I love acting and singing! I hope to do it as a job someday. Unfortunately, I was experiencing health issues that made it difficult for me to participate, but there was no way in hell I was going to let some stupid pain get in the way of what I love; especially with the love of my theatre family supporting me through everything. About a week before Wicked my Mom told us that if we wanted dinner before the show we’d have to leave rehearsal early. Leaving rehearsal early was highly frowned upon, but seeing as it was in pursuit of more theatre I was sure my director would understand. She agreed to part with us early but made sure we knew how lucky we were.
The day of Wicked arrived, it seemed a gorgeous, sunny day, but the humidity made the air hot and thick. Nevertheless the air conditioned rehearsal hall was a refuge as I boasted to all my friends in the play of what I was going to do that night. With theatre kids it’s basically the equivalent of going to a super lit party. Everyone told me to tell them how it was, I get reviews from those who’d already seen it, and even promised to bring a playbill back for my friends collection.
As our pick up time neared I slipped out of music practice and into my play attire. I swapped my jeans and t-shirt for high heel sandals –which thank god were more comfortable than they looked– and a dress from my Mom’s closet. I looked in the mirror and felt slightly uneasy about going back to music practice in that dress. It was more revealing than I’d noticed before and once my Grandma had condemned it as entirely too short, and that was when my Mom was wearing it, I pictured her rolling over in her grave at the sight of her teenage granddaughter wearing it. Well, it was too late now; the only thing to do was to walk in filled to the brim with utterly fake confidence. It totally worked, as I walked in my girlfriends ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ and commented on how smooth my freshly shaven legs were. Eventually their reactions were encouraging enough to make me feel comfortable.
Tessa finished getting dressed and we left for our car. My brother and his girlfriend were already there so we drove to East-Side Mario’s. Dinner was lovely and quite uneventful. What happened next can only be described as a hail storm of bad luck. The GPS said we would get there twenty-five minutes to the show –would’ve preferred thirty, but it was fine. We hit every red light, –twenty minutes to– traffic, –fifteen minutes to– car accident, — seven minutes to– road closure, — three minutes after the show starts— more traffic — twenty minutes after the show starts. As the situation deteriorated so did my mother’s composure. There were a lot of “I knew we should’ve eaten dinner,” “we should’ve left earlier,” “stupid GPS,” “we’re going to miss the show,” “they won’t let us in till intermission,” and “ughhh”s. Needless to say this was stressing me out to no end. Finally my Mom cleared her head enough to make a plan; she dolled out the tickets so that she could drop everyone in front of the theatre and then find a parking spot.
When we got there the parking garage was right across the street, so everyone, except my Mom, jumped out. Tessa, my brother, and his girlfriend simply ran across the road to the theatre. There was a couple of issues with this: 1) I have a medical condition that prevented me from keeping up with them, and 2) I have major anxiety about crossing the road and getting hit by a car. My therapist says I have disturbing thoughts OCD, meaning that everytime I see something that is a possible danger I picture every single way it can go wrong, which is especially strong around crossing the road because I have no control over what the cars do. Plus, let’s be real this wasn’t a road, it was a downtown Toronto street. It might as well have been a four lane highway. As cars flew past I couldn’t help but picture myself being hit by them. I tried to get my Mom’s attention but she was already pulling into the parking garage beside me.
I looked around, desperately searching for a way out. There was a door leading out of the garage, and I hoped my Mom would walk out soon. I would’ve texted someone, anyone, but I didn’t have anything to do it with because this damn dress didn’t have any pockets to put any sort of phone in. Tears started to stream down my face and I was hyperventilating. I clung to my ticket — it was the only thing truly me about my entire disguise — my dress made me feel naked, and standing on the street corner in it and those heels made me feel like a prostitute.
I was fully thrown into my panic attack now. The whirlwind of bad luck was now closing in around me. I was alone and exposed in a city I hated, and trapped between the dark abyss of the parking garage and one of my greatest fears. I tried making myself as small as possible so no one would take notice of me, it didn’t work. A sleazy looking car with an even sleazier looking driver stopped beside me in the entrance of the parking garage. The guy stared at me as if he was sizing me up. Thankfully a car pulled in behind him and he was forced to go into the garage.
It had been forever, where was my Mom? Or my brother? Hadn’t anyone realized I was gone? The tears still poured out of me and it was so hard to breathe and think I could’ve sworn my heart was exploding. A second man approached me, this time on foot. The man was about my height, black with dreadlocks, his lips were slightly parted and his brow furrowed in what I’d assumed was an odd sort of determination. I am usually confident in my ability to defend myself against nearly anyone, but not in the state I was in then. I didn’t have a weapon and I had a strong feeling I would pass out from my erratic breathing before even taking a hit. He stopped a respectful distance away, which was strange for someone so obviously trying to murder me. Nothing, no scenario in my head, no after school special, could’ve prepared me for what he said next. “A beautiful girl in a beautiful dress deserves to hear my dad joke.” I was so taken aback by the statement I didn’t hear the setup, but I asked “what?” in the appropriate spot anyways –maybe once he’d finished the joke he’d leave. He said the punch line but I don’t remember it –something about bananas I think. When I didn’t stop crying he said, “or musically speaking…” and proceeded to sing the punch line, in an oddly soothing vice. At that Moment I heard my Mom call my name, I ran to her and said nothing to the man. To my surprise she thanked him before leaving. It would take me awhile to realize how truly kind that man had been, his brow actually furrowed with concern and lips in an endearing smile.
We went into the theatre, I still hadn’t gotten a grip, as we walked up the large marble steps the splendor of the gorgeous lobby seemed a cavernous blur through me teary eyes. The usher saw my obvious discomfort and asked me what happened. I told her that I’d had a panic attack and she generously offered me a glass of water and some napkins for my tears. We had missed quite a bit of the show and had to wait until there was no singing to take our seats, so I stood there in the lobby, glass of water held gingerly in one hand and my mother’s hand clenched in the other, watching a monitor with a pink blur sing one of my favourite songs, Popular, unable to enjoy a single note. The song finished and we were escorted to our seats, once there I did everything in my power to stop crying and enjoy the show. The closest I could come was to admit how genuinely beautiful everything was, the set, the choreography, and the costumes were married to accents of the story and songs and it all flowed wonderfully but even then I silently cried until the intermission. Amid the crashing storm of bodies trying to get snacks before act 2, I asked my Mom to take me home and my cousin to drive my sister, brother and his girlfriend home after the play. The next day everyone asked about the show and I lied. I hated lying to me friends but what could I say that would make them anything other than concerned? Better to lie than to rehash the events and worry them or admit I’d only seen half and risk alienating myself. I only told one person what happened. One of my most trusted friends, my main support system that summer.
After talking through what happened with them, I came to two conclusions. 1) Panic attacks are the worst, and 2) I never wanted to put myself in a position where I would have one ever again. So, I started cutting people who gave me unnecessary anxiety out of my life. Goodbye toxic friends. Goodbye drama. Goodbye people who can’t support me. That day was one of the worst and most impactful of my life, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. Without rehearsal I would’ve never been late. Without being late I never would’ve been forgotten. Without being forgotten I never would’ve changed my life. Without that day I would never be defying gravity. Panic attacks are still the worst, but I genuinely believe I am happier today because of my Wicked panic attack.