Miami, FL

The Prince And The Panic Attack

Glenna Gill

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On a hot summer night in 1985, my then-boyfriend gave me a birthday present for turning sixteen that I thought would change my life forever. He handed me an envelope with a red bow in the center and inside were tickets to the Prince concert in Miami for the Purple Rain tour. I nearly fainted at the sight.

It wasn’t just that I was obsessed with Prince Rogers Nelson, I loved his style and his music and everything about him. Anytime my friends and I went to Blockbuster (an ancient video rental store), I always wanted to rent Purple Rain. The movie didn’t have a whole lot of plot, but the performances were so amazing that it didn’t matter.

I started wearing long jackets and black boots everywhere I went. Living in Florida, I'm sure I looked ridiculous dressing like I was in Minnesota. The Purple Rain tape stayed constantly in my Walkman (an ancient listening device), and I knew all the words to the soundtrack.

I couldn’t believe I would soon see Prince face to face or as close as I’d ever get. My boyfriend shot up to number one as my favorite person of all time. Truth be told, he wasn’t into Prince nearly as much as me. For that, he scored extra points from me.

The closer to the concert I got, the more excited I felt. I picked out my outfit the night before, complete with my long black jacket in Prince’s honor. I wondered if he’d spot me somehow in the huge crowd. What if he gave me one of his flirty winks? Truth be told, just to be in his presence would be enough for me, hearing him sing the songs I so loved. I drifted off to sleep with my Walkman in my ears listening to “The Beautiful Ones” on repeat.

The trouble started early on the morning of the concert. My stomach felt a bit jumpy, so I turned down breakfast when my mother offered. Around noon, my boyfriend called to finalize the pick-up time.

“Are you excited?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I answered. “My hands are even shaking.”

I noticed that my hands were still shaking in the shower. Trying to will them to stop didn’t work. When I was finished, I sat on my bed taking shallow breaths. What was happening to me?

My mind began to race. What if we had a car accident on the drive to Miami? What if some of the hundreds of unruly people there tried to start something with our group? How would I find my way to the bathroom at the concert if I had to go? How would I find my boyfriend again when I came back? Before I knew it, there were real tears in my eyes.

I lived in a time before people really talked about panic attacks, but that’s what I was experiencing. It broke my heart as I realized there was no way I could go to the concert no matter how badly I wanted to see Prince. Too many things could have gone wrong, and due to my mental state, I didn’t think I should be around any of my friends either. They would have known I was different and weird, facts I tried to hide from them at every opportunity.

“Mom,” I said as I walked toward the living room. “Can you just ground me without asking any questions?”

My mother looked at me like I was nuts, which was just how I felt.

“But you wanted to go so badly,” she said with a look of pity. “Why don’t you want to go now?”

I rolled my eyes. “Mom, I can’t talk about it right now. If anybody calls, just tell them I’m grounded, okay?”

My mother searched my eyes for something that made sense. “Okay,” she said in a sad voice.

When my boyfriend came to the door, my mother (God bless her) told him what I’d instructed. Since I was hiding in my room at the time, I didn’t know if he was sad or mad or disappointed. Asking my mom would only garner me another round of sympathetic looks.

I stayed in my room for the rest of the night and didn’t talk to anyone. I thought about listening to Purple Rain, but I figured it would only remind me of my failure. I imagined my life in the future, too afraid to do anything or go anywhere. Not knowing what was wrong with me made it even worse. Would I spend the rest of my life watching other people live out their dreams because I was too afraid to go after my own?

I fell asleep for a while until there was a knock at our front door around midnight. I tiptoed down the hallway. My mom was sleeping, so I opened the door quietly. My boyfriend was standing there looking sweet and handsome, and I smiled for the first time in hours.

“How was the concert?” I asked him without looking him in the eyes. I felt so guilty and sad.

“Pretty good,” he said. “I have something for you. Close your eyes and put out a hand.”

I did what he said. When he told me to open my eyes, there was a lavender-colored ribbon in my hand.

I held it up as my boyfriend talked excitedly. “That is Prince’s ribbon that was hanging off his guitar tonight, his actual ribbon. Prince held it in his hand and threw it out into the audience. It fell right in front of me. I snatched it right before a security guard could get it.”

I looked down at the ribbon as tears formed in my eyes. My beautiful ribbon, once in Prince's hand, was now in mine. It completely blew me away. I swore I'd never let it out of my sight. It felt like hope in my hand that there was still a lot of living left to do and that I could be brave and claim some of it as mine.

Several decades later, I still have the Prince ribbon. It’s in a Tupperware bin in my garage along with my children’s artwork and important papers. I don’t think my boyfriend ever knew what getting that ribbon did for me on the night of the concert. It made me feel less alone and loved at a time when I couldn’t love myself because I was “weird.” Boyfriends came and went in those younger days, but I never forgot what it meant to be truly cared about.

The night Prince died, I sat my husband and 12-year-old daughter down and made them watch Purple Rain. Even though they didn't love him quite the way I did, they understood what made his performances so great. They teased me gently when I got teary during the songs, but I didn't mind. At that moment it was about Prince and me and memories of a purple ribbon that made me feel less alone.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL
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