Hot Springs used to have a huge metaphysical bookstore, The Golden Leaves Bookstore (seen above). It's no longer there from what I can tell, but in the early 1990s I had an experience there that kind of changed my life--just probably not in the way Starr (yes, with two Rs) imagined it might.
It's been a long while since I told a Baby Huey story, and while he's in this one, he's a very minor player. I remember the year this happened only because when we came back to our Martin Street apartment, my beta fish Taliesin had gotten too cold and died. We only lived in that apartment for about six months in 1992, right after I graduated with my BA.
Despite that period of my life (and the years that followed it) being what I can only describe now as being rather hellish, I loved that apartment. It was set off the street a little and had a huge bedroom downstairs. You went up the stairs and through a second door to the living, kitchen, and bathroom area. I'm pretty sure it had been a garage at some point that was converted. I still occasionally dream about that apartment, and the dreams often have to do with there being a "forgotten room" that I discover while there. Of course, the mystery room is upstairs, and it's usually filled with all kinds of objects, like someone just tossed a bunch of things in it and shut the door.
Not much trouble in analyzing that bit.
Anyway, it's fall of 1992 and we went to Hot Springs and to the bookstore. I remember it being very wood-centered on the inside, with a long wooden counter and wood floors. I can see the interior even now in my mind, and I remember feeling very self-conscious, aware of someone watching me closely. At the time, I'm sure I was a mess. I'd already been having panic attacks and was convinced I was dying.
The panic attacks started before we moved to the apartment. I'd been having them since I lived over on Helen Street. Time gets really murky for me in those years. I know that we lived on Ash Street for a bit, and I think it had to have been after Martin Street and before we moved into the duplex I lived in during my year off from grad school between my MA and PhD and worked at Edge. So much of my life between 1991 and 1995 in particular is hard to remember, likely in part because I was so out of touch with who I was.
In the early stages, my panic attacks tended to happen at night. I'd wake up on Helen Street feeling as if I couldn't breathe--I'd lurch out of sleep clutching my throat and gasping for air. Part of my anxiety was likely driven by my lack of direction. When I reached the end of my bachelor's, I had already decided I wasn't going to stay at UCA for my MA, but I didn't get assistantships anywhere I applied, so I didn't know what I was going to do.
The other more important cause was that I was deeply closeted. All of those things about myself that I refused to voice, that I swallowed and tried to keep down, kept choking me when my guard was down.
By the time we moved to Martin Street, the panic attacks had reached the point that I'd have them any time of day if I didn't keep myself completely busy. And, given the lack of good sleep and lack of direction in my life, it was hard to maintain focus on anything long enough to keep the panic attacks at bay. On top of not having a direction myself, I was also almost out of money and Huey had been working on a losing political campaign for free, betting on the candidate winning and getting a paid job at the end of the campaign.
At some point early on in that summer, I was diagnosed with bronchitis. I felt a little better knowing there was a physical reality to what I was feeling, but still didn't feel right, even after the antibiotics were done.
I managed to snag a job at the laundromat nearby that did drop off service and I held on to my sanity long enough to regroup.
By the time I walked into Golden Leaves, things had started to calm down somewhat, but I was still a mess. Norbert Schedler had come to my rescue and told me that if I got my application in he'd hire me in as the graduate assistant who organized and promoted the weekly High Table series. I was miserable in that spot (let's face it, I would have been miserable anywhere) and kept rolls of antacids in my backpack and ate them like candy that fall semester. But, I had a paycheck, I was working on my degree, and I had direction--all of those things helped with the panic attacks, at least the overt ones.
But, I apparently still looked like hell. Starr kept staring at me. I wondered if she thought I was going to shoplift. Her attention irritated me. I don't remember what I bought that day, but when I got up to the counter to check out, she said something to me about helping me figure out what I wanted to know. I remember asking her if I was healthy. She said, "You know you are. The spirits want to know, though, when are you going to write that book?"
As a 23 year old who still believed in all types of magic (which is not to say that I disbelieve everything now) I was floored. Now, of course, I tell myself that a person in a bookstore is pretty easy to read as a wannabe writer. In that way that 20-somethings don't realize how much they say in public, too, I'm sure I had said something or Huey had about my writing.
Still, even almost 30 years later, I remember details about that afternoon. The assurance that I was ok physically comforted me enough that I got my act together. I got out of the job I hated and managed to go back to the Writing Center where I belonged. We didn't live on Martin Street much longer after Taliesin froze and Starr psychically kicked my butt. We moved to Ash Street shortly thereafter, which was a darker time in many ways.
But I stopped having panic attacks. I got angry. I started questioning why I was letting fear stop me from doing what I wanted to do, and I narrowly avoided making some pretty bad choices at the time while still getting what I needed. I realized I could make it on my own. Huey moved out to play house with someone he probably had been seeing back when we lived on Helen Street. I found out that was going on and fell sick with strep throat. I survived it and was happier for having survived on my own. No matter how rotten I felt, I had no interest in him coming back. I have no clear sense of how long he was out of the house, but he did eventually come back.
The thing is, my hypochondria wasn't true hypochondria. Something was horribly wrong, and--not to sound all woo woo about it--the psychological became physical because I refused to deal with those issues properly.
By then, I was wearing a ring I'd bought myself--it wasn't anything fancy, but it was a wide silver band that hugged my finger. It was my armor. I started telling everyone I was married to graduate school. I never did finish that particular novel, but I did workshop it a lot in grad school classes. And, that book was filled with people who weren't who they seemed to be, of dreams where the protagonist disappeared and ceased to exist, and huge questions of identity.
Once I got appropriately angry and let myself feel that anger, I stopped having panic attacks. I also started focusing on what I wanted, rather than focusing so much on what I thought I had to do or be to make other people happy--note that I was careful to say "I started" to do that. It would take a good bit longer for me to fully deal with my tendency to apologize for everything and to try to fit who I thought other people expected me to be.
I think about Starr every now and then, though. About how obsessed I was that there was something wrong with me, some disease, some ailment. Some time bomb about to go off.
The thing is that when the bomb finally did go off, it freed me.