Sara Benincasa’s struggle with panic disorder began with childhood anxiety attacks and intensified until, at the age of 21, she developed full-on agoraphobia. Her fears were so severe she was afraid to leave her own bedroom. She sank into suicidal depression. Garbage piled up against the wall as her appetite for food—and life—slipped away. Finally, one day two college friends contacted Sara’s family out of fear for her safety and state of mind. Here is an excerpt detailing when Sara’s parents have first been notified that their daughter was dealing with some very real problems.
“Hello?” I said hoarsely.
“Hi, Ra-Ra!” chirped one voice.
“Hey, Ra!” boomed another.
It was my parents.
I had forgotten about my non-dinner conversation with Alexandra, so I couldn’t imagine why they were calling me. Had I been of sounder mind, I might have noticed that the clock read 11:00 p.m., which to suburban middle-aged white people is like 4:00 a.m.: they’re only up at that hour if something very big is going on. In addition, they were both on different extensions in the same house, something parents only do when they call to tell you something awful, like that your older brother knocked up that terrible girl who works with him at the carwash, or that your grandmother drowned the cat in the bathtub.
All these details escaped my attention. “Hey, guys,” I said, and it sort of came out smooshed, like Hayguysss.
“How’s everything going, Ra?” my dad asked with a feigned cheer that, again, escaped my notice at the time.
“Great,” I mumbled. “Awesome. Really, really good. Like the best.”
“Whadja have for dinner?” my mother asked, her voice the same high-pitched mode of perky she used with her elementary school students.
I had to lie, because otherwise—otherwise—I couldn’t think past “otherwise,” so I mumbled, “Food. Really good food. Pasta and … hamburgers and … salad and … water and … other pasta.” The Thing sat heavy on my shoulder and dug in its claws. “And watermelon ice cream,” I added, inventing a dish that sort of sounded like the kind of interesting thing you’d eat in a city.
“You sure, Ra?” my dad asked, and his voice wavered a little.
Oh shit, I thought, alarm bells going off in my head. He’s on to me. This dude is psychic! How does he know I’m lying? I said “water¬melon ice cream”! That’s too good to be a lie!
I thought fast, and came up with the perfect answer to shut him down.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said, and cleared my throat elaborately.
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line, and my mother piped in. “How’s school going, Ra? You getting good grades?”
“Yeah. Yup. Oh, yes,” I said. “Like As … Bs … one B-minus, because this teacher didn’t understand what I was trying to say, but she’s letting me do it over so … I feel pretty awesome about that.” I punctuated every few words with a cough. I real¬ized I hadn’t spoken to them at such length in a very long time. It was surprisingly tiring.
“Good grades?” my dad said. “You sure about that, Ra?”
Goddammit, I thought. This motherfucker’s good. Maybe he really does have like the eighth sense or whatever. This is getting eerie.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Ra, is everything okay?” my mom asked, and I relaxed a little. Mom was an easy sell.
“Totally,” I said. “I’m pretty busy right now, actually.” I reached out and turned on “Satellite.”
“You sure about that, Ra?” she asked.
Not her, too! What are these people, wizards? Are they fucking soothsayers or some shit?
I jerked my head to the side and caught sight of the paper towel I’d put over the urine spill earlier. It had dried and yellowed. The bowl of piss had been sitting there for two days … or maybe it was three, I couldn’t remember. I’d kept telling myself I would wash it out in the sink, but the sink and I were having issues be¬cause it was giving off a hostile vibe and I just wasn’t interested in the drama.
“You can tell us if something’s wrong, Ra,” my mom said.
And then I knew it was over and that they knew everything, even though, really, they didn’t know the half of it. I thought they must be omniscient or something, that they could see all the bowls of pee and the dirty clothes everywhere and the gar¬bage and all the rest.
“I don’t think I’m feeling too well, Mommy,” I said. This greatly confused the Thing on my shoulder, which commanded me to commence rocking back and forth. I obeyed.
“We didn’t think so, honey,” my mom said. “Would you like us to come pick you up?”
My shoulders dropped about a foot, which startled the Thing so much that it disappeared for a moment.
“Yes, please,” I said, and I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while—tears, real ones, bubbling up in my eyes.
“Your mother will drive up tomorrow, after she’s done with work,” my dad said.
I looked at the urine-soaked paper towel and then the empty bowl and then at the full bowl sitting under my bedside table, and then I thought about all the sharper knives I had in the drawer, the ones hadn’t tried yet. And I thought about how much I wanted to die.
“I think I need you to come now,” I said. “I don’t know if I can last that long.”
“You feel pretty bad, huh?” my mom said. It was as if we were discussing a nasty case of the flu, which is to say, she spoke to me just as if I had any normal illness and wasn’t totally fucking bat-shit crazy.
“I think I might be really sick,” I said, and began crying in earnest.
“Oh, honey,” my dad said. “It’s all gonna be okay. We’re gonna get you some good help. You don’t need to cry like that.”
But I did. Because as soon as I told them how fucked up I was and that I needed them, I realized that I couldn’t go home to New Jersey, because I couldn’t leave my house. I could never leave that room ever again. I was going to die there, which would be really inconvenient, because they’d have to break into my house to retrieve my corpse, and that would probably involve a lot of paperwork and the police, and my dad really couldn’t stand bu¬reaucracy and my mom really didn’t like stairs, and they’d have to climb the stairs to get me. It just really sucked how everything was going to turn out, and it was my fault.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I kept saying. “I’m so sorry, I’m really, really sorry.”
“It’s okay,” they kept saying. “It’s okay. It’s really, really okay.”
“I want to—I want to hurt myself,” I said through a sob. I was so embarrassed. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
“I’ll be there in five hours,” my mother said. “Read a good book.” She made it in four.
The foregoing is excerpted from AGORAFABULOUS! Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa, which will be released on Feb. 14. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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