the hookah bar panic attack

I was out last night with my ex until 3 .m.: first at the Gables Ale House and then Empire Hookah Lounge and over the course of six hours we talked about our respective romantic situations and puzzled over what exactly we’re looking for (and all the ways we habitually sabotage ourselves). Eventually she drove me back to my car and I drove over and parked at my dad’s place, started walking home, stopped for a beer along the way and made it back to my place at 5:15 (thereabouts), went to bed at 5:30, and then lurched up in a chest-clutching panic at 7, my lungs on fire from the hookah, mind in knots about the $35 I spent and then of course (sigh) the belated flash-panic of Oh fuck where’s Mango and then remembering, Oh. He’s dead.

            I tried to lay back down and steel myself for a while but it didn’t work. I went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet and called my mom just for like a casual defusing conversation but she was in a meeting and so I called Elle but she was too groggy to function and so then I texted Bob to say I seemed to be having a kind of panic attack and could he meet me?

            30 minutes later we approach Latin Café 2000 from opposite directions at the same time. Bob’s just given up a troublesome supplement that normally helps him sleep and so now his nights are broken up into cat naps. Wakes up two or three times a night and takes his phone out to the living room.

            We both look a little haunted.

At a table inside we order eggs with coffee and he opens the floor to me and I riff for several minutes in a tight anxious voice about the excursion last night with R. and about all the ways that it brought up old thoughts and new ones–those newer ones being mainly a fear-the-reaper awareness of how I’m getting older; plus there was lots of dread, shame, regret about not being, at 28, where I seem to feel I ought to be (professionally, romantically, socially).

            Bob’s all brow-furrowed focus while I talk and when I reach checkpoints in my rant he’ll nod and thumb out some wisdom like it’s a card from some very tall private deck of insights. He’s got his elbows on the table and his fingers laced.

            He goes after this habit I have of framing all my concerns within this context of “at my age.”

            I’m not earning what I should be earning.

            I’m not as romantically committed.

            I’m not as “known.”

            I’m not as successful.

            “…as I should be at my age.”

            Bob starts putzing endlessly with his coffee, perfecting and then destabilizing the balance of dark stuff and creamer and foam, and tells me that “things actually happens in your brain” whereby, after 24 or 25, a person has pretty much become the person they’re gonna be for the rest of their life.

            “You’re paying too much attention to these external metrics of success. If you’re happy, deep down, with what you’re doing and who you are at 28, it’s really likely you’ll be happy with who you are, and happy to keep doing what you’re doing, for the rest of your life.”

            Afterward we go to his apartment and he gives me something to relax and we sit across from each other talking shit until it’s time to meet Lynda at Pasion and so we go there and the three of us talk about the teenager Jerry Seinfeld dated when he was 34 and then eventually we all part ways.

            I’ve had two hours of sleep in the past thirty.

            I’ve got my notebook and laptop and blog and thank God for it all.

            I’ve been sitting with an espresso I haven’t really touched and now I start drinking it as I pull up my notebook and, not knowing where to begin, I write:

I was out last night with my ex until 3 .m.

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