Magazine & Press

“How to Survive a Panic Attack: Parking Lot” by Lillianna Kiel

  • Swerve off the road and into the turning lane. The car’s brakes screech. Find a spot and shakily shift into park.
  • Light a cigarette, a Seneca. A shit brand that you bought a carton of from a girl named Mary. Feel the smooth click of the lighter, purple and covered in sparkly nail polish. You stole it from a friend’s house.
  • Run your fingers over your shaved head. Remember the look on your mother’s face after she saw the absence of the long locks she coveted. Her feline eyes fizzled with fury; her boney hands curled into fists.
  • Inhale the stench. It reminds you of your dad’s old work shirts, cigarettes mixed with motor oil. You remember hugging him as a little kid. He’d come through the front door, damp with sweat, eyes bloodshot. He’d set his Marlboro Reds, wallet, and hat on the counter next to the kitchen phone. You could use one of those shirts to bury your face in to muffle the sobbing.
  • Your upper arm prickles where he left bruises when you were 8 years old. Be honest: you never were a daddy’s girl.
  • After turning off the radio, listen to the silence simmering in the car.
  • You want it to soak in, to numb that persistent panic and release it like smooth steam.
  • Shake your hands, ring them out like a wet towel, hope something will drizzle out.
  • Slam the steering wheel and shake it as hard as you can. Try to rip the damn thing off. Beg it to make the anxiety drain out of your ears, the way you begged your mother not to leave when Dad had her up against the wall.
  • Open the window, bid the cigarette farewell.
  • Grab another one, you strike it. The blazing ember lights the growing darkness. It reminds you of a birthday candle, when Mimi would shut off the dining room lights and the only illumination would be the candle’s flames.
  • You can’t make a wish on a cigarette.
  • Think about lying in your old bed with the porcelain white headboard and the flannel sheets with people ice skating on them. How warm they were. Shut out the persistent snarls that echo from the living room. Ignore the sound of Dad’s meaty palm smashing against the hollow wall. He missed Mom’s head this time.
  • In the parking lot, a small child runs behind his mother with a cherry Slurpee in his hand. He yells, “Mommy, wait! I love you.” She turns around, scoops him into her arms, and kisses his brow.
  • Getting out of the car, stubbing out the cigarette, and running up to hug that child and his mother crosses your mind. You want a taste of their joy, you crave every ounce.
  • Grab your phone out of your purse. You stare at the reflection in the cracked screen, unlock it and scroll to his name. Your heart purrs. It always does when you see his name. It used to light up Babe when he texted you. Now it’s just John.
  • Your fingers cha-cha above the screen, itching to text him, ask him to save you.
  • He’s too busy getting off on the girl you found in his bed.
  • Turn the phone off.
  • The moon settles herself. The sticky, evening breeze bleeds through the cracked window. It tries to caress your shuddering body.
  • Clamp your fists together, try to feel your nails dig into your skin. Hope it will jolt you awake. You want to feel the pain, feel something other than your heart racing.
  • Suck in air, tug at the peach-fuzz atop of your head. It’s smooth against the nail marks on your palms.
  • Turn the keys in the ignition. Put the car into gear. Drive.



Lillianna Kiel’s work has been published in the literary journal, Great Lake Review. She won the Georgia Barnes Award for Creative Writing in 2019. She studied Creative Writing and Digital Humanities at the State University of New York at Oswego. She requests that readers consider donating to support the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

1 Comment

  1. majon wright

    I thought this was a very good and interesting story, reading this story gave me an instant to just want to try to help just to know what she was going through and knowing the type of love she wanted.

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