Rob Starr felt ill. His hands were shaking, and he couldn’t catch a breath. He leaned forward with both palms flat on the dressing room vanity to stop his legs from trembling and bent his head to his chest. The air in the dressing room had started growing thicker. When he raised his head to try to force the air into his lungs, he caught his reflection in the mirror.
His eyes filled with panic, the corneas almost covering the iris. He shoved the long hair behind his ears and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of one hand. He could hear the crowd in the auditorium even over the pounding of his heart.
Turning from the mirror, he spun around the room. He needed air. He needed air now! Tearing frantically at the buttons on his shirt, he flung the shirt aside, gasping helplessly, and dropped to his knees on the tiled floor.
“Oh, Jesus,” he moaned. “What do I do?” Then the thought came to him, and he almost laughed hysterically at his impotence. “My phone!” he thought wildly. “Where’s my goddamn phone!”
Crawling on his hands and knees, almost crying with relief, Rob inched toward the vanity and reached a hand up, feeling the top of the counter for his cell phone. Yes! There it was!
Grabbing the small device, Rob fell back to the floor and pressed his face against the cool tiles. Then he dialed the number he always kept on his phone for help.
She answered on the third ring.
“Casey,” he whispered into the phone. “Help me!”
He heard the sigh in her voice. “What is it now, Rob?”
“I think I’m dying.”
“You’re not dying.”
“Please, Case, help me. I can’t breathe!”
“You’re just having an anxiety attack. You need to relax. Did you take your meds?”
“Please, Casey,” he begged, ignoring her question. He needed her, not a bunch of damn pills.
She lowered her voice and spoke to him as she would a child. “Baby, you know that you have to keep taking the medication for it to work. Just because you start feeling better doesn’t mean you have it under control. The whole point of taking medication is so that you stay feeling better.”
“Aw, God.” He wished she would stop with this worn-out lecture. He knew what he was ‘supposed’ to do. It was just doing it where he failed. He never could keep the days straight when he was on tour. And the medication dulled his creative ability, and there was no way he could write a decent song while taking that crap. “I know. I know. But I don’t know where I put them. Case, you have to help me. I have to be on stage in ten minutes!”
“Jesus,” she sighed again, more with exasperation than with sympathy. “Rob, listen to me. Slow down, take a deep breath, and concentrate.”
He was starting to feel a little better, just hearing her voice. He knew she would talk him through this. She always could. “Okay, Casey, I’m trying.”
“Now, take another deep breath.”
He breathed deeply. “Okay.”
“Okay, you can’t think because you can’t breathe, which means your brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. Now, take one more deep breath, try to relax your muscles. Start with your toes, Rob. Remember? Start with your toes and work your way up. Are you feeling your toes relaxing?”
“Now, your calves. Relax those muscles. Does that feel better?”
“Feel your thigh muscles. Are they relaxing? Let that tension flow upward, through your body, out the top of your head. It’s all going out that way. Feel it leave you. Now it’s leaving your stomach, going out the top of your head. Now your chest. You’re starting to breathe easier. Now your shoulders. How does that feel?”
“Better,” he whispered. “Thank you, Casey. You should have gone to medical school.”
Coulda, Shoulda Woulda, she thought, but instead said, “Just give yourself a few more minutes, Rob, the audience can wait. They’ve waited for you before. You’re a star. People love you. Your fans will never leave you.”
“I love you, Casey.”
“I know you do, Rob.” He heard the catch in her voice. It had been this way ever since their divorce ten years ago. “I love you, too, and I always will. Now go out there and kick some ass.