On Being Impaired

I get panic attacks. I get anxiety attacks. I have had them since I was a young girl. The first time it happened, I was about five-years-old. I remember scrabbling at my parent’s bedroom door late at night, unable to speak for the terror gripping me, making small whimpering noises, silently pleading for reassurance. My parents were tired and exasperated. Following the prevailing wisdom of the time and without getting up or opening their bedroom door, they summarily told me to, “Go back to bed Nina. You just had a bad dream.”


I face it now because it is one of the reasons I write. I am a wreck in the world. It is unlikely I will hold a traditional office job again.


In my work in progress — That Ragged, Jagged Melody — I intersperse blog posts, written by the main character Heather Brochard, with memories and thoughts triggered by the blog. They inform and explain the underlying stories and motivations, telling the secret hidden stories. Here is one of them.

vintage manikin color corrected cutout
The next job Heather gets is working in a factory where they make barbecue sauce, salad dressing, soups and fruit juices. She lasts a little longer here. She works second shift this time, making it through three shifts on the barbecue line. The four women working the line regularly switch places; the self-designated time-watcher directing them to move onto the next station after each hour has elapsed.

At the first station, she stands watching the filled and sterilized bottles emerge, steaming and wet from the processor. They rise up at her in a giant mass, filling the metal platform. They bump and clink, pushing each other onto a slowly rotating disk. It corrals and compresses the bottles down to a single-file line. They impatiently await their ride on the rapidly moving belt, which leads to capping and sealing, labeling, and packing.

The capping and sealing station is the most challenging. If a bottle comes through uncapped, she has to quickly pop on a metal bottle top and slip the plastic seal over it. She discovers it is best if she uses both hands, keeping the metal top in her dry left hand. Placing it on the bottle with a quick plop and a gentle twist is all it takes. There’s a thin ring of rubber lining the cap. As the jar cools, it will seal tight.

In her right hand, she has the slippery plastic jacket. She quickly pressed her thumb against it, snapping her fingers together. The pressure opens the slimy sheath giving her a fraction of a second to slip it over the top of the moving bottle. The plastic wrappers are bathed in formaldehyde, its sickly sweet odor thick in her nostrils, its cold, wet sliminess running down her arm. As the formaldehyde evaporates, the collar shrinks tightly against the bottle, sealing in the sauce, sealing out tampering fingers.

The pace is relentless. An unbroken onslaught of bottles stream by, are processed and packaged, sent onto shipping. There’s no music to help make the time go faster. The machinery is too loud. The custom-made earplugs worn by everyone prevent conversation. The stations are too far apart for anything but hand signals and short, sharp shouts. There’s no laughter, no time for joking or fun. There’s nothing but concentrating on the infinite line of bottles.

The fourth night, a workman tells her to follow him. He has her stand in a corner hovering while he prepares a line for processing grape juice. She watches him, trapped and surrounded by hulking, clattering machinery, waiting, unable to leave. She feels her claustrophobia rise, feels oppressed by the massive pipes and containers threatening to engulf her. The fear takes hold. She bolts like an animal fighting to survive, blindly seeking to escape. She is captured, restrained. She fights against the enfolding arms and blacks out, the only recourse left to a mind overwhelmed by panic.

They regret they simply cannot allow someone with her particular problem to remain an employee. It is a safety issue, do you see?


Today’s music selection is Hover (Quiet Mix)
from Underworld by Trustcompany. Released: 2003. Track 12.

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