Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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1257 words
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012


by William L. Alton

My son plays trombone in the jazz band at his school. The band is giving a concert. A lot of people will be there and I’m scared.

I used to have pills to control my agoraphobia, but I overdosed on them. I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to sleep. I took too many and my ex rushed me to the hospital where I explained over and over that I wasn’t trying to die. Still, they held me for five days. My ex dumped the rest of the pills down the toilet when we separated. She was afraid I’d O.D. again. So I deal with crowds on my own now. Most days I don’t have to worry about it. Most of the time, I’m alone in my apartment, safe and secure. I make sure the doors and windows are locked and I’m okay, but I need to go to my son’s event. To be a good father, I need to support him.

All day, the fear rides me. Twice I even vomit. I try to find things to fill my mind, so I won’t frighten myself so much, but I can’t stop thinking of the concert, the people everywhere. I shake and try to think of ways to get out of going. I could say I’m sick. I could just tell Denise I can’t handle it and she’d accept it, but she’d look down on me. Not going would be confirming my horrible weakness. I can’t be weak. I’ll go, even though the anxiety is nearly unbearable. I’ll just have to make do. Somehow. It’s never as bad as I think it’s going to be. No one has ever attacked me. Denise is the only one who will say anything to me. We’ll talk about the minutes of the day. She’ll tell me about work and what the boys are up to. I’ll find something to say to her, even if my life’s gotten despicably small and boring.


My ex picks me up, drives me to the school. She notices my shaking. There is a look of pity on her face. Or maybe what I’m seeing is her contempt.

I try to still my legs, but the trembling always comes back. I breathe deeply and tell myself no one is going to hurt me. I tell myself this is just a concert. People are here to listen to their kids play music. They don’t even know me. They don’t care that I stammer and smoke too much, or that I’m scared silly.

At the school, I find the exits and pick a seat with my back to the wall so no one can get behind me. My ex shakes her head. She asks if I’m all right. I tell her it’s just my stupid nerves. She knows what I’m talking about. She lived with me for twenty years before it became too much for her. Nerves are just another way of saying the crowd is too much for me.

She says it’s going to be okay.

But I’m still apprehensive, fearful. People file in and I watch as many of them as possible. There are too many. I can’t find the threats.

My ex puts one hand on my knee. My teeth are rattling.

I take deep breaths and concentrate on my feet. I try not to move. For a few seconds I steady myself. But then the trembling comes back. I think of moving to a row with no one in it, so I won’t bother Denise, but I like having her next to me. When she is close I’m no longer so painfully lonely. If something does happen now, my ex will be there with me. She’ll back me up. She knows how to take care of me and herself. She’s a strong woman. I’m a puny little man.

The concert starts and I calm down a bit. Everyone’s focused on the stage. They’re listening to the music and watching the band. I’m just an anonymous guy in the back. Again, my ex puts a hand on my knee and I force myself to sit still.

The concert is good. The music is thunderous. The bass booms. I like it. I like music that crashes into the audience like a wall. My son plays a solo from Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and I’m nervous for him, but he does fine. He always does. He’s quite talented.

When the concert ends, we wait for the crowd to thin out a little before leaving. When we get to the hallway, people are waiting for their kids and I have to force myself not to panic and shove them out of my way. I weave through the shouting, laughing, chattering throng and go out to the car for a cigarette while my ex waits in the courtyard for our son.

I did it. I didn’t come unglued or fall down in a fit. I didn’t hit anyone. I didn’t run. I did well. I should be proud. It all seems silly now. What was I so afraid of? No one even noticed me. I was just another parent. No one cared that I was scared stupid. They didn’t notice my shaking.

My ex comes out with my son and I grind out my cigarette with the toe of my shoe. All the way to my place, we talk about the concert. My son’s not happy with how his solo went, but he never is. We talk about his Confirmation. It’s coming up soon. Another event with a crowd. I tell myself I’ll be fine, but the burning fear is already starting. I don’t really want to be there and I feel guilty about that. This is an important part of my son’s life. I need to be part of it too, even if I’ve fallen away from the Church.

We pull into the parking lot and Denise says she’ll call me with details. I say goodnight and tell my son I thought he did really well. As soon as I’m upstairs in my place, with the door locked behind me, I kick my shoes off and go out on the balcony for a cigarette. I’m alone again and wishing I could have gone home with my family. I miss the quiet, comforting hours I used to spend with them. All I get now are events. My sons pick when they want to see me and they don’t want to see me often. There are always so many people around when I see my family. We get very few chances to just chat the way normal families do. I don’t know how the boys are doing in school. I don’t know if they miss me, miss their dad. They don’t seem to. They never call back when I call. They never stop by. Why should they? I’m an embarrassment. I’m their agoraphobic father. They don’t have enough time during the day to spend sitting with me in my apartment because I’m afraid to go out. So I’ve stopped calling. Denise lets me know when there are things happening and sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t. My sons are well-adjusted in spite of my influence. They’ve made it to adulthood without the baggage of insanity. Why would they take it on now that I’m gone. Their lives are easier. Their lives are cleaner. I miss them, but they seem to be better off without me. Maybe it’s better that I’m just a visitor now.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

William L. Alton

Photo of William L. Alton

started writing in the Eighties while incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. Since then his work has appeared in The Oklahoma Review, The Red River Review, Poet’s Corner, and Whalelane among others. In 2010 he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Alton earned both his BA and MFA in Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he continues to live.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury