Freedom Bagel

by Jessica Buckner

There once was an agoraphobic man who had not left his house in ten years. His regular psychiatrist tried for years to put him on Prozac, but the man was always too afraid of the side effects. The man desperately wanted the freedom to walk the few blocks to the local bagel shop. He loved bagels, and having his sister bring him a dozen every few weeks was just not the same as walking down to the corner and getting them himself.

The man often berated himself for not having the courage to leave his home. He wanted, more than anything, to just be normal. The bagel shop was twenty steps down his front walkway, and two blocks to the left. It was on the corner of Marsh and 45th. He must have tried over a thousand times to get over his fear. However, he never got past resting his sweaty palm on the inside knob of his front door.

The psychiatrist was doing another home visit in a few days. The man had been psyching himself up for the meeting, and planned on finally asking for that Prozac. He was so tired of living in his own personal hell. After years of contemplation, he realized that the only way to get over the fear of water is to jump off a bridge. The day after the psychiatrist's visit, the man's sister brought him his prescription. As he popped the first pill, he thought of how good his next bagel would taste.

The first week of Prozac brought terrible migraines and nausea. "This isn't so bad," the man thought. "I can deal with this." The following week, the man began losing sleep. No matter what he did, he could not sleep for more than an hour at a time. He suffered loss of appetite, weakness, and to top it all off, his anxieties did not seem to be getting any better. This went on for a month and a half. The man was a walking zombie. The headache never went away, he vomited at least twice a day, he had only slept ten hours in the last ten days, and he was so weak and frail that he didn't even have the energy to pick up the phone when his sister called to check on him. Although he felt as if he were dying, the man never missed a dose of his Prozac.

After six weeks, his headache began to fade. The man started getting excited. He was now down to vomiting only twice a week, and slept four hours a night. He started eating a little more, although he purposely deprived himself bagels in anticipation of his "Freedom Bagel". The man felt so good that he started to initiate phone conversations with his sister. He hadn't actually dialed a phone in three years. In their last conversation, the man's sister told him she thought the Prozac was finally working, and it was.

Two months after that first dose, the man tried again to walk down to Harry's Bagel Shop. He turned the knob, and opened the door. The bright light of the sun made him squint his eyes. Just then, a big rig sped down the street that his home sat on. This frightened the man, and he quickly closed the door. "It's ok," the man thought, "I'll try again tomorrow."

Over the next few days, the man got as far as his mailbox at the end of his front walkway. He started checking his mail everyday, even on Sunday. This was giving him practice for his big journey. A few days after that, the man made it to the corner. "One more block to go!" he said to the birds, then turned around and went back into his home.

Three months after he began taking the Prozac, he decided today was the day. He awoke feeling empowered, and knew that today really would be the day and he would not allow himself to turn back this time. When he got to his mailbox, he began to regret his high hopes. He took the mail and headed back to his front door. As he stepped inside, he felt an instant feeling of depression rising inside of him. "No," he said to no one. "I want that Freedom Bagel."

The man stepped outside for the second time that morning. As he started down the walkway, he tried to distract himself by marveling at the beautiful colors of the fall leaves. Before he knew it, he was past his mailbox. A woman on a bicycle whizzed by him at top speed as he turned the corner from his walkway to the sidewalk. "Move outta the way, ya asshole!" she yelled. The man could feel tears welling up in his eyes. He stopped in his tracks, leaned against his fence, and took a deep breath. This was about much more than a bagel. This was about reclaiming his life, feeling independent, and being proud of the life he has lived. He had to stop letting others control his life. He must take charge of his own destiny and get over the sickness that he thought was ridiculous, but could not control. Taking another ragged breath, he stepped back onto the sidewalk.

When he got to the first corner, there was an elderly woman there waiting to cross the street. As the man approached, the woman looked up at him with a beautiful smile. "Nice day we're having!" the woman said. The man cracked a small, timid smile. The traffic sped by, blowing a gust of wind through the man's hair. He looked further down the road, and saw the sign for Harry's Bagel Shop. A burst of enthusiasm ran through the man's bones. He smiled. The crosswalk sign flashed the word WALK in white. The elderly woman stepped into the street. The man followed suit, and started counting his steps. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10...11...12...13. He was a block from home, on the other side of Marshall Avenue.

As he walked the final block, he began to meet the eyes of his fellow pedestrians. Some smiled, some didn't. The elderly woman stopped to window shop. As he walked past her, he said "Have a good day miss." She smiled a thank you. A few more feet and one more street to cross, he thought. He could do this. He was nearly at his destination. He could taste his Freedom Bagel. He stopped at the crosswalk on the corner of Marsh and 45th. He couldn't believe that he was actually going to do it this time. As he waited for the white WALK to flash, he watched the patrons exit Harry's Bagel Shop. How easy it must be for them to do this everyday thing. They would never know how difficult his journey has been.

A woman walked out of Harry's Bagel Shop with the same flaming red hair as his sister. He was only getting small glances at this woman through the vehicles speeding by. The woman turned around in his direction. It was his sister. She had a small bag in her hand, and seemed distracted. He yelled her name over the roar of the traffic. His sister looked in his direction, and her eyes grew wide as she began to realize what he had done. He could see her face form into the unmistakable expression of happy crying. She dropped her bag of bagels as she brought her hands up to her mouth, in awe. Her fire red hair was blowing in the wind from the cars speeding by in between them.

They stared at each other from opposite sides of 45th. The man beamed, proud of himself, and shed tears of his own. The traffic finally stopped and the man stepped into the street. He walked with quick steps, wanting to hug his sister. As he looked ahead, into her eyes, her face began to contort into an unfamiliar expression. She waved her hands and screamed "STOP!". He didn't understand. He didn't see the bus speeding in his direction.

At the man's funeral, his grieving sister told this story. She told of how brave her brother was, and what he had endured. She told the other mourners of the irony of life. How could a man endure so much, only for it to end in such a wretched way? Among the mourners was the woman on the bicycle that sped by him that day. She worked with, and barely knew the man's mother. She did not know the man she called an asshole that day was the man laying in the coffin. She cried over the strength of this stranger that was now in heaven. It was such a moving story.

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