panic attack in the MoMA: a spoken word poem by Meara Maccabee

you were sitting in a theater in Manhattan and on the screen was one of those experimental, alt-indie, foreign language films with a plot so vague and ambiguous that you seriously considered the possibility that the Museum of Modern Art was pranking you.

so when you heard the moans and grunts sounding from rows behind you, you did not even open your eyes.

i’m not sure why; maybe you thought it was a dream.

for minutes the sound moaned and grunted and by now you knew it was not a dream but you did not glance behind you and you were proud of your self-control, like when you drive past a fiery accident on the freeway and stare straight ahead and feel damn dignified for refusing to look at the burnt wreckage even though you want to so badly.

by the time the sound had pierced your chest and rattled around in your rib cage long enough to stir up that stagnant pool of acid memories the lights came on and the teenage girl asked someone to help her mother--

you glanced.

you thought to tell the girl to turn her mother on her side so she would not vomit into her own throat and drown in what she had fed herself earlier today because sometimes we forget that the most common form of suicide is a body killing itself against the wishes of its occupant--

but you were embarrassed to have this knowledge and so you said nothing.

and in the aisle was one of those “i-insert-myself-into-situations-by-referencing-family members-who-are-suffering-the-same-way” control freaks

and she was explaining to the teenage daughter that insert-family-member-here is epileptic and this is what causes it and this is what fixes it and this is the medicine she should take and the mother was still on the ground

and the teenage girl started apologizing for her mother’s seizure having interrupted the film and this time you could not speak because you weren’t completely sure you hadn’t traveled back in time

to another young daughter dragging her thrashing mother from the theater into the sun-soaked tile-floored lobby when all you could think about was:

a. she is going to crack her skull on those tiles and you are not going to have a mother and you never really got to know here and you’re not sure where they will bury her and

b. everyone is looking at you.

everyone is looking at you, everyone is looking at you, everyone is looking at me

and my mom’s brain is electrocuting itself but i can’t stop apologizing to the crowd members whose show i have just ruined.

so you thought about pulling the teenage girl aside and telling her it is not your fault it is not your fault it is not your fault do not even think about apologizing again-

but you don’t. because you realize you never had this conversation with your mother whose own body sets itself on fire for the fun of it and all you ever told her was that she was the cloudy day that people love because it makes them appreciate the sunny ones.

i thought that locking myself in a room without my mother would be beautiful but the rainbows are always only veneer-thin and when the fog cleared i felt like praying for the first time in a long time. i felt like having a conversation with the one being that would understand my guilt because

only God can know what it’s like to kill someone who wants nothing more but to live.

so you try to tell the teenage daughter to remember that it is not her fault and it is also not her mother’s fault; it’s the fault of this god damn infinite cloudy day but instead you stumble out of the theater and traumatize the ticket guy with your gasps and sobs and fifteen minutes crouching in a bathroom stall still doesn’t do the trick.

you just had a panic attack in the MoMA. you think about how this might be a good poem someday.

and then you think about calling your mom. but you know you’ll just have to keep reminding her she has nothing to apologize for so instead you stay quiet and hope she’ll remember that she may be the victim of a cruel joke from heaven but then that would mean her body is the voice of God. so you walk back upstairs.

the mother and the daughter have left. you find your seat. and you fall asleep to that fucking ridiculous movie.