There she was.
It was the annual flower festival and the streets and sidewalks were full of bustling excited people. The children were pulling their parents towards the old-fashioned carousel, with its strange, out-of-place organ music. Julia walked along the sidewalk not far from the carousel.
She was being caught up in her own personal difficulties. It’d been years since she’d felt the thump, thump, thump in her ears as the blood rushed through her body. She was having an attack of agoraphobia.
“Oh Jesus! Here we go again!” she started rationalizing to herself. “The fear of crowds. To me, it’s more a fear of being closed up in a crowd…a kind of “people” claustrophobia! It’ll pass….”
But it wasn’t working, the feeling was growing, becoming overwhelming.
“Luca!” a familiar note of panic had come into her voice as she gripped her husband’s arm. He immediately realized what was happening.
“Now I wonder what’s brought this on?” he pondered as he began to lead her out of the crowd.
“I don’t know, but I’ve got to get away from here!” her voice low, but still sounding like a scream to her.
“Not to worry…here, through the park…” he deftly guided her to a quiet lane in the park.
She thought back to that first attack, almost twenty years ago. It had happened in Siena during the season of the Palio. There were literally thousands of people. It hadn’t happened in Piazza del Campo, though, that she would have understood. No, the attack took place after leaving the piazza.
The streets in Siena, like in most Italian medieval towns are very narrow. Four people walking abreast is a good metaphorical way of measuring most of these “streets”: more like alleys to North Americans, come to think about it, she’d seen wider alleys in Athens, Georgia!
That day with the throngs of people pushing one another to get back to their hotels or to go to dinner, she’d suddenly begun to feel the thumping in her ears. A sensation of oppression weighed down on her chest. She looked up and it seemed that she was at the bottom of a deep well…the sunlit blue sky so far above…the world twirled…she felt dizzy.
Luca her boyfriend, looked at her, realizing that something wasn’t right: “Are you ok?”
“No! I’ve got to get out of here…now!” hers was a desperate whisper.
She began to push her way through the crowd, jostling the people around her in nearly full-blown panic. Finally, Luca grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into an art gallery. The show-room was softly lit, light being concentrated on the paintings all around the walls. They sat quietly on one of the couches in front of a beautiful pastel. The panic slowly seeped away. They looked around for a bit, commenting on the paintings…temporarily putting aside what had led them there.
Then Luca said solicitously: “Are you feeling better?” putting his arm protectively around her shoulders.
“Yes, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never felt anything like that before in my life!” leaning her head on his shoulder, feeling a little foolish, a like a kid again.
“Not to worry. I think you’ve just made the acquaintance of agoraphobia.” his matter of fact voice had just the right timber to clear up any embarrassment that she’d been feeling.
“Have you ever been afraid of being in tight spaces? Been closed up in any closets lately?” he gave her his lopsided grin that always warmed her heart.
“No, but I wouldn’t consider those alleys “wide open spaces” !” She laughed now, the whole terrifying episode nearly forgotten.
“Actually I think it was the crowd that got to you. You American’s and your personal space and all that.” he teased. They sat there for another half an hour, enough time to let the crowd thin out tehn returned to their hotel.
For a brief period of time after that, she’d experienced these attacks at odd moments. She could be at the supermarket or maybe during a ball game. Then, just as they had come, they had disappeared.
Luca had led Julia to a quiet corner in open air café. She already felt better…it was just a light attack. Maybe the noise, the crush of the crowd, the eerie music of that carousel.
“What can I bring you fine people?” the waitress wanted to know.
“Two Aperol spritz please.” Luca ordered.
They sat back calmly drinking their drinks watching the crowds ebb and flow.