The Town House Turtle by Deb Tish

In some ways, my agoraphobic Town House protagonist, Jack Madigan, and I could not be more different. He’s the son of a rock star and a groupie. I’m the daughter of a medical laboratory owner and an artist. He’s passive aggressive with his therapist. I couldn’t appreciate mine more. He lives in my favorite neighborhood on earth – Beacon Hill in Boston – in a four-storey century town home with a groaning dumbwaiter and 12-foot ceilings on a street with cobblestone sidewalks. Sigh. I don’t.

Where we really get similar is, sadly, in our panic attacks. Jack’s started much earlier than mine – he was in his early twenties. Of course, he grew up in much dodgier circumstances – living on the back of a tour bus, napping in a splintered Coke crate backstage while his Ozzie Osborne-like father bit “the soft bits” off a snapping turtle onstage in front of a roaring crowd. (Animal lovers: Fear not. The turtle wins.)

Perhaps because my father had no interest in turtles–or because I spent very little time, comparatively, on the school bus–my own panic attacks didn’t start until I had kids and, for the first time in my life, was petrified of my own mortality. These tiny babies depended on me for life itself – could my body really be trusted? What if some body part or other just stopped working?

The panicky episodes came and went, vanishing for a few years then bubbling up again at inopportune times, such as when I was in the passing lane on the highway or atop a dressage horse in front of spectators. Like Jack, each and every time, I was convinced the panic attacks were going to kill me. Unlike Jack, I never experienced dizziness. Nor did I lock myself indoors. My every instinct recommended it, but with two young boys came a life that pulled me outside, day after day.

I’ve said before that I’m an agoraphobe waiting to happen. That hide-in-my-shell instinct is always simmering just below the surface. But maybe because I know where it lives, or maybe because my NY therapist is so bloody good, or maybe because I’m getting stubborn, I, like the turtle in Town House, am winning this one.

13 Replies to “The Town House Turtle by Deb Tish”

  1. Slow and steady wins the race, Tish. First Amelia and now Jack, such complex protagonists battling inner conflicts are certain to be characters that I love — i.e. unforgettable!

  2. Thanks, guys. I’ve been panic-attack free for 8 months. Turtle-free for nearly three decades. Tarantula-free too – but Boris is a story for another day. 😉

  3. You too?

    My panic attacks started in high school; I thought it was just a virus coming on. Now I know better and can safely blame my math teacher. Still, highways and alligators scare the bejesus out of me. My poor children will never see Disney World (did you know they have salt water crocs in Florida, too?) or get farther than a 20 mile radius of their hometown. Actually, the driving thing is better now. I don’t become faint when approaching an onramp anymore. I might, however, if an alligator crossed my path.


  4. I know how you feel, Tish. I’m probably an agoraphobe waiting to happen, too. Sometimes when I’m out and about with “the others” I feel almost overwhelmed, like I’m plugged into their thoughts and feelings. I can almost sense what kind of lives they must lead, and it’s too depressing. I run screaming for my safe little house. Thank God for sanctuary!

  5. Years ago I took that Myers Brigg test that said, among other things, that I’m in introvert in an extroverted body (an introvert in drag?). About a year ago I realized that I am actually a turtle in hare’s clothing. And now? An agoraphobe in the making (or, as my husband puts it, “The Bat Cave Returns”) …

  6. I think if you’d just go up to Errol Flynn’s late at night and have a glass of wine or sleep in the trunk of your car in front of your house, you’d get over all of your fears – you’ve got to get back a bit of that immortality of youth.

  7. Kerry, the trunk of the car sleeping was done by both of us and it was during E.T. at the drive in. And as for Errol Flynn – you should probably add “blueberry flavored” to the wine…

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