Ghost town: An agoraphobic’s guide to Berkeley

Hannah Cooper/Senior Staff

It was the middle of summer 2016. And every morning, right when the clock would hit 9:45 a.m., with each passing minute, the temperature in the hatch of my Prius would percolate through the tattered fabric of air, driving it up one degree higher. Salty beads of sweat gathered along my brows and armpits while I scrambled over my yoga mat and across the crusty Mexican blankets looking for my bottle of lorazepam somewhere in the crevasses of my folded seats, between the crumbled burrito foil wraps and Kirkland bottles of fermenting body fluids. I untaped some of the pillowcases draped across the back window and peeked outside for a moment.

I was parked on Ellsworth Street a couple blocks south of the Recreational Sports Facility on campus, hidden between some recycling bins in front of someone’s residence and underneath their sycamore tree.

From what I knew, it was now 193 degrees Fahrenheit inside my car.

I was watching an old Asian lady tending to her lawn right next to my parked car, and I began to feel something not dissimilar to a spiritual connection (although it could’ve been symptoms of a heat stroke) to this person. In some ways, I saw myself in her — a weathered and forgotten being spending their time raking leaves in the wind, clad in a bucket hat and paisley blouse.

My agoraphobia was peaking.

I scanned the environment around her, outside of my car. The sequence of events that were about to unfold before my bloodshot, darting eyes were a scattering image of fear and trauma coagulating into puddles of sweat flooding across my body.

“In some ways, I saw myself in her — a weathered and forgotten being spending their time raking leaves in the wind, clad in a bucket hat and paisley blouse.”

It had been a few years since I last gone to the RSF as a student. Every corner on every street that I had ever meandered across in this town connected to any other corner — where every past moment of hyperventilating humiliation or anxiety occurred, eventually lead to my nervous breakdown. It was a town filled with ghosts hiding in their own transparency, distorting the shapes and colors of everything in between us.

Fifteen minutes passed before I stepped outside and gave a toast to the hazy silhouette of the stranger inside my car window’s reflection as I chugged back the lorazepam. I had to walk over to the RSF with a backpack full of books, electronic devices and toiletries to change in the locker.

Any semblance of a routine was important for me to stay grounded, and if I couldn’t connect the dots of my assignments throughout the day for my own sense of normalcy, I would start to feel lost. And for me, scrubbing my junk in a shower filled with balding and akimbo alumni and horny teenagers playing dice behind the shower curtains was my main source of normal.

I never was able to discover what was normal for the me that was, before vanishing from Berkeley in the middle of the night without a word during midterms week. The only reference points I had were these grandiose visions of myself and their icy relationship with the sexy and financially secure prodigies molded from an ancient, monolithic kinship built from kings. I was just this ethnically amorphous amoeba that found its way out of a broken home, with nothing or no one to guide me. Once that relationship was fully and permanently severed, I found what was once blood pumping the beating heart of a bright-eyed child morph into this indescribable, boiling ailment flowing through my veins and controlling me.

I found it leaking out of my pores, dripping off my hands and feet, gradually flooding the entire campus I walked on. The water levels were rising inch by inch through each passing day, and it seemed like I was the only one who noticed. I didn’t know what it was or why it was only coming out of me, but I had this growing feeling that it would some day kill me.

And there was nowhere within my known universe, let alone any proverbial or literal infrastructure on campus, for me to step off of it. I once found myself studying in a janitor’s closet at 4 a.m. next to a large auditorium in Dwinelle, just hours before hundreds of students were going to step in and take the final exam with me. I wasn’t in there to suck on mops or engage in other traditional pastimes that those who hang out in janitor’s closets by themselves usually do. It was the best shelter I could find.

“Because of this, there was hardly anywhere for me to reside in and thrive as both a student and human.”

Although the aesthetics of diversity swamped across the landscape of this liberal bubble I tremored in and percolated through —  the mixture of clothing, the saturation of flesh, the shape of our genitals — none of it seemed to find a place for me. Perhaps because what I was experiencing couldn’t manifest into any distinguished corner for me to display. It was an oddity I zigged and zagged through with only the iridescent glow of neurotypical elements shining across my horizon.

Because of this, there was hardly anywhere for me to reside in and thrive as both a student and human. There were no dark, windowless, memory foam-padded decompression chambers enforced by the ADA inside any of the buildings along the campus, or inside the confines of student housing. I was as invisible as the disability corroding inside me.

At this moment in time, I was homeless. Housing couldn’t find a designated space for me and I couldn’t afford an alternative. Much like my former self, I was living inside a town where its concept of itself clashed with the markets of reality. But as all the salty pools of sweat washed over my pink flip flops into the drain below me, I began to feel this force over me back off for just a moment, as it always would. But its ebbs and flows were now waving inside a framework that I built myself from a growing database of dots I would connect and configure into an image I understood and could live in, no matter the circumstance. The naked old man across from me watched in admiration.

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