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JASON STARR

Panic Attack

For Chynna and Sandy

A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them:

They are legitimately what direct his conduct in the world.

- SIGMUND FREUD

She came from a happy home

A very happy home a very happy home

-THE RAMONES

one

Adam Bloom was having a nightmare. It was the one he’d had before where he was in his office in midtown, treating a female patient, maybe Kathy Stappini or Jodi Roth- both of whom, interestingly enough, suffered from agoraphobia- when his office suddenly became a white, square- shaped room, the size of a prison cell, and Kathy or Jodi turned into a large black rat. The rat had long fangs and kept chasing him around, jumping at him, making a loud hissing noise. Then the walls started closing in. He tried to scream but couldn’t make any sound, and then a long, narrow staircase appeared. He tried to run up it but couldn’t get anywhere, like he was trying to go up a down escalator. Then he looked over his shoulder, and the rat was huge now, the size of a rottweiler, and it was coming at him, baring its long fangs, about to bite his head off.

He felt a yanking on his upper arm. Startled, he tried to turn away, onto his other side, when he heard, “Mom, Dad, wake up, wake up.”

He opened his eyes, disoriented for a moment, terrified of the giant rat, then realized that he was home in bed in his house in Forest Hills Gardens with his wife, Dana, lying next to him. He had the comforted, relieved feeling he always had after a nightmare. It was a rush of reassurance that everything was going to be fine, that thank God the world wasn’t such a horrible place after all.

But then he heard his daughter whispering, “Somebody’s downstairs.”

Marissa had graduated from Vassar last year with a degree in art history- Adam and Dana hadn’t been exactly thrilled about that choice- and was back living at home, in the room she’d grown up in. She’d been acting out lately, exhibiting a lot of attention- seeking behavior. She had several tattoos- including one of an angel on her lower back that she liked to show off by wearing halter tops and low- rise jeans- and had recently dyed pink streaks into her short light brown hair. She spent her days listening to awful music, e-mailing, blogging, text messaging, watching TV, and partying with her friends. She often didn’t come home until three or four in the morning, and some nights she didn’t come home at all, “forgetting” to call. She was a good kid, but Adam and Dana had been trying to encourage her to get her act together and get on with her life.

“What is it?” Adam asked. He was still half- asleep, a little out of it, still thinking about the dream. What was the significance of the black rat? Why was it black? Why did it always start out as a patient? A female patient?

“I heard a noise,” Marissa said. “Somebody’s in the house.”

Adam blinked hard a couple of times, to wake himself up fully, then said, “It was probably just the house settling, or the wind-”

“No, I’m telling you. There’s somebody there. I heard footsteps and stuff moving.”

Now Dana was up, too, and asked, “What’s going on?”

LikeAdam,Dana was forty- seven, but she’d agedbetterthanhe had.He was graying, balding, had some flab, especially in his midsection, but she’d been spending a lot of time in the gym, especially during the last year or so, and had a great body to show for it. They’d had some marriage trouble- they’d nearly had a trial separation when Marissa was in high school- but things had been better lately.

“I heard somebody downstairs, Ma.”

Adam was exhausted and just wanted to go back to sleep. “It was nothing,” he said.

“I’m telling you I heard it.”

“Maybe you should go and check,” Dana said, concerned.

“I’m really afraid, Daddy.”

The daddy part got to him. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d called him daddy, and he could tell she was seriously frightened. He was awake anyway and had to go pee, so he might as well go check.

He breathed deeply, then said, “Fine, okay,” and sat up.

As he got out of bed, he cringed. He’d had on- and- off- again lower back pain and stiffness for the past few years, an overuse injury from running and golf. His physical therapist had given him a list of exercises to do at home, but he’d been busy lately with a couple of involved patient crises and hadn’t been doing them. He was also supposed to ice his back before he went to sleep and after he went running or worked out, and he hadn’t been doing that either.

Massaging his lower back with one hand, trying to knead out the stiffness, he went across the room, opened the door, and listened. Total silence except for some faint wind noise outside.

“I don’t hear anything,” he said.

“I heard footsteps,” Marissa stage- whispered. “Keep listening.”

Dana had gotten out of bed and was standing, in her nightgown, next to Marissa.

Adam listened again for around five seconds, then said, “There’s nobody there. Just go back to bed and try to-”

And then he heard it. The house was big- three stories, five bedrooms, three and a half baths- but even from where he was, on the second floor, at the end of the hallway, the sound of maybe a dish clanging or a vase being moved was very clear. It sounded like the person was either in the kitchen or the dining room.

Dana and Marissa had heard the noise, too.

Marissa said, “See, I told you,” and Dana said, “Oh my God, Adam, what should we do?”

They sounded terrified.

Adam was trying to think clearly, but it was hard because he was suddenly worried and frazzled himself. Besides, he always had trouble thinking when he first woke up, and he never felt fully functional until after his third cup of coffee.

“I’m calling nine- one- one,” Dana said.

“Wait,” Adam said.

“Why?” Dana asked, the phone in her hand.

Adam couldn’t think of a good answer. There was someone downstairs; he’d heard the noise clearly, and there was no doubt what it was. But a part of him didn’t want to believe it. He wanted to believe he was safe, protected.

“I don’t know,” he said, trying to remain calm and logical. “I mean, it’s impossible. We have an alarm system.”

“Come on, Dad, I know you heard it,” Marissa said.

“Maybe something fell,” Adam said.

“Nothing fell,” Marissa said. “I heard footsteps, you have to call the police.”

Then from downstairs came the clear sound of a cough, or of a man clearing his throat. It sounded closer than the other noise Adam had heard. It sounded like the guy was in the living room.

“Okay, call the cops,” Adam whispered to Dana.

While she was making the call, Adam went to the walk- in closet, flicked on the light, reached to the top

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