Stream

By Melissa Baron

        I am thinking about … this heaviness in my chest. This anxiety I thought I’d long since abandoned, although it’s of a different flavor than the old faithful of my youth. It’s not acute in the same way; it’s a low level dread coursing through my whole body. I can’t shut the valve – I can’t even find it. I feel like a car left with the engine running and no one’s there to turn it off. So it’ll just keep running until it burns itself out. I can’t collect my thoughts very well, enough to concentrate on any one thing. I keep on thinking of his glasses, the dark frames, his calm eyes. Recalling it sends a spike through the anxiety, like someone revving the idling engine. I don’t know how to calm down.

 

Why didn’t I react like this with the girl? Was it because she was clearly in a more panic stricken state than me? Was it her shaking hands and voice, her low key panicking, the big sunglasses hiding most of her face – was it because I had more people around me? That I was able to let my coworkers know what was happening? Then, I was able to take the note and show it to my manager, and the girl was making a scene. I was still just as bewildered, still flooded with that unbearable heat, but I didn’t feel alone. I even had room to feel pity for her when she ran. She’d never done anything like that before. I could see it. She’d never robbed a bank, and she was young, desperate. I heard she vomited in an alley nearby; that they found her because of her fear.

        This man knew what he was doing. And he showed no visible signs of being in a stressful situation.

        I couldn’t show it, either. I couldn’t let anyone know. I don’t think he was fueled by the same desperation of the girl. I couldn’t get a read on him at all, only that he was absolutely sure I would not try anything. That I would comply.

        My coworker was right next to me, putting her drawer away, but she might as well have already left. A chasm stretched between us, one I could not bridge out of fear of retaliation. I felt utterly alone. I could not alert her that I was being robbed. His focus trapped me in his eerily confident, calm stare, watching my every move, and I couldn’t break free of it. I gave him what he wanted, and even then, I still didn’t know what to do. I held the money, and stared at him – we locked eyes for the longest time, and I had to ask if that was it, because what else do you want from me? If I’d gone for the bait money, even though you specifically told me not to, would you have lost your calm? I can literally do nothing but exactly what you tell me, because I don’t know if you have a weapon, and if you’re concealing one, I don’t know where it is. I can’t see both of your hands. Your one hand is holding the note, because you won’t give that up to me – very smart – but I can’t even reach for the alarm without giving myself away. What would you have done? Would you have pulled a weapon? Run? By the utter confidence and complete lack of nerves on your face, I would more readily believe the former. You were not worried about leaving the bank without money.

        You waited patiently in line for your turn. I never even suspected. I wonder what you saw in my face when I read your note and looked at you, and opened my drawer. Because I could see your face. You never bothered to hide yours from me. I felt like a deer that spotted the hunter a foot away from her.

        Nothing even happened, not really. You didn’t speak to me, other than to shortly answer my question, and then you left. You didn’t menace me; you did nothing but stand and wait for me to hand over the money. You waited so patiently. I hope you don’t remember my name. I hope you forget what I look like. I hope you don’t consider coming back, because it was so easy for you to get the money the first time. Don’t consider me a threat, because you didn’t even bother hiding your face. You let me see what you looked like. Don’t look for my car; don’t come back to the bank. Don’t follow me home.

        Don’t take the robbery at the bank outside of it; I already don’t feel safe at work. I don’t want to watch my back around town, or when I’m driving home. But it’s already leaking out, that stupid fear, into my daily life, outside of the bank. It’s already left the bank. I know this irrational fear will die with time, so the therapist tells me, but its presence alone infuriates me. It was nothing. Nothing at all compared to the violent crimes against other people. And yet I shook like a child in the therapist’s office. It makes me feel weak. I should be handling this better. I don’t know why I’m not. I try to put it in perspective; other people go through much, much worse. They probably handle it better. I don’t know if this is exacerbated because it’s on the heels of my uncle’s sudden death. Staring at the bloodstains in his carpet and on his wall less than two days before, knowing how he died, seeing the evidence of a painful, bloody death, sorting through the things of a dead man who has no use for it now. It was too soon. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Again. And then to go back to work, and have customers ask questions, and they mean well, but they go about it the wrong way. No, I’m not going to tell you what happened. If he was armed. I’m not going to satisfy your morbid curiosity, because you want to gossip about it to your friends and family. ‘I know the teller that got robbed – twice- and she said…’ Don’t remind me that I’m lucky it wasn’t an armed robbery. That it could have been worse. I know that. I know it very well. I don’t want to find out what would happen should this occur a third time.

I hate that all he had to do was calmly slip me a note to completely shatter my sense of safety. To make me leery of leaving my car in the morning before work.

But.

I will gain my peace of mind back. He might have taken it for a short while, but I can reclaim it.

That is where I am not helpless.