I was hit with another panic attack that morning. I stepped onto the train for Glasgow Central and as soon as the doors slid shut it swooped down on me.
The panic went straight for my throat. I wanted to claw the doors open and jump onto the tracks. I wanted to strip my coat off and howl. I moved quietly towards the doors, in a quintessential British terror of ‘making a scene,’ and stood there praying for the next station so I could jump out.
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Why did I get back on a train? I placed the fingertips of one hand on the glass of the door to try and feel how close fresh air and escape was. I screwed my eyes shut and tried to make my mind glide off somewhere cool and empty. As we pulled into Crosshill, I had given up my British decorum and was hammering the ‘open’ button. The doors slid apart and I got out onto the beautifully cold platform and watched the train disappear. It’ll be an hour and a half walk into work. I’ll be late now and will have to explain and apologise and get my pay docked but I was just so glad to be off that train. I put my iPod on and tackled the long hike into work.
I couldn’t face the train home that night. Friends were advising me to ‘conquer’ my fear. You’ve got to get back on a train right now or this panic will just build and build but no. No way. The thought of the thick press of people on that 5.29 rush hour train was making my heart thump and jar and skitter off into palpitations.
At my desk throughout the day I kept having to consciously force myself to relax. I’d realise I was tensed and hunched over my computer. I’d make myself sit back, flex my toes, unclench my hands and stop grating my tongue over my back teeth but then a few minutes later I’d be at it again. There was no way I was getting back on a train. I’ll just walk everywhere. It’ll be fine. Three hours a day, walking to and from work? Fine. Thank God for Gary, though. He didn’t urge me onto a train. He just said, ‘aye I’ll walk home with you.’
When we finished at five there had been a snowfall and so the walk home through soulless Tradeston, seedy Eglinton and downright dangerous Govanhill actually seemed quite festive. Being free from work, tramping arm-in-arm with Gary through the snow, and with the Clown date on the horizon, I felt chirpy for the first time in ages.
And so, naturally, we began to sing.
We made up a song about The Clown. Gary, being a cynical wee man, called it Why Did That Clown Fall Asleep? as he was adamant that’s what would happen when I finally got my night with The Clown: I’d be delirious with joy and fulfilment whereas The Clown would be for snoozing. It was a country and western style song, going …
'Oh now why did that Clown fall asleep? Yessir, I gave him ma soul and yet he made me feel so cheap. Well, he tasted like darned candy floss. Ain't no man got no business tastin' like candy floss...'
The song stopped there as Gary wanted to follow with an obscene line about a pantomime horse but I refused to let him defile the Clown in this way.
(We also made up a song about a very creepy colleague of ours called Baw Gag Dummy, but that’s for another day.)
Strange, I thought, so strange how everything can change just because I’ll be seeing the Clown. My anxiety at work has transformed into nervous excitement; my irregular heart beat is now just anticipation; the long, dismal journey to work is now a chance to listen to my iPod and think about him.
At my trapeze class the next night, I was flooded with this new, weird energy. I became fearless and tipped myself backwards off the bar and up and around and I dangled and twirled and positively revelled in the aches, tumbles and rope burns.
Leaving trapeze in the dark to walk home alone through very dodgy parts of Glasgow I didn’t fret and jump at shadows. All my anxiety has been channelled away from myself and onto thoughts of The Clown. A thousand different scenarios streak through my mind about what could happen. The thing I have wanted and pined and begged for, it’s so close, so terrifyingly close. He can’t possibly know, The Clown, what this means to me.
I almost feel sorry for him. He has no idea who he’s inviting to dinner. He’s probably anticipating a quick supper and a one-night stand whereas for me I’m going to do battle with my Ginger Tormentor. I’ll either fall in love with him and be lost forever or I’ll see the ‘real’ man and he’ll finally crash from his pedestal and I’ll be free.
Walking home through the snow with Gary the following night, we stopped off for a brandy to warm us up, then continued our mammoth trek back to the south side. We were cheerful again. Another day over! Another day closer to The Clown. My face was flushed with the brandy and the frost and suddenly I thought, I don’t need The Clown.
I thought with a gasp how I could coolly text him and cancel and grab back all the power I’d given him. I could stop being a pathetic figure pawing at him and just jump clear. I can get through this depression. I have my friends. Walking home in the snow, singing with Gary. Everything looks gorgeous in the snow! And my flat is so cosy. I can go home and lock the door and read a book. I can write a book! I don’t need The Clown.
I clutched Gary’s arm to proclaim to him that I was cured! But the manic wave I was riding crested and crashed. I actually felt it die away within me.
Gary looked down at me, still grabbing his sleeve. ‘What’s up?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. I just thought I was going to slip there.’
I could cast off The Clown but I won’t. For whatever sad, silly, sick reason I need to face him on Thursday. It’s the only way to get rid of the ginger thorn in my side.