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I Was Not a School Shooter | 2018 |


No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.  

-Terry Pratchett

To Fully Charge

Tiny, trapped, reflecting

Sarah T. tells us that Chris is concerned we don't like him, or that, having found her in the glory of her outgoing gregariousness, we will shift our interest from him to her.

I understand this sort of uncertainty. Daniel once assumed I did not specifically care about him because his ex and roommate Hannah was easier to get close to - a fact made retroactively funny given how tricky she found it to let people near her.

I know what it is to fear friends will decide I am not worth the effort.

I regret the evening with Sarah and Amber, eating in a chain restaurant and going to see The Shape of Water, because Sarah witnesses for the first time when my anxiety starts to carry me away.

Yesterday, I had taken my car in because all the dash lights flashed, and my car fought accelerating. The shop told me I only needed a new battery, which seemed an easy fix. Tonight, on my way to Sarah, the same symptoms recurred. I pulled over, asking Amber if I ought to check under the hood. She accurately pointed out that I am unlikely to know what the innards of a car mean, but I had nothing else to do in my panic but try.

The mechanics neglected to give me a new battery. I called them, they denied having an order for a battery. I pointed out that I was holding the receipt in my hand. They identified me by name, sent someone to jump me, and installed the battery.

Ten miles into the drive, I see a red battery light on my dash panel that I have never seen in my life, even when my battery was nearly flat the time I forgot I had left the lights on. Maybe this light is a left-over code that will clear itself? I cannot bring myself to believe this without research. I don't want to research. I want to enjoy my company and chicken sandwich, but I cannot help myself from searching on my phone under the table, apologizing for my rudeness. I specifically want the answer to be that my car will be fine and I will be able to drive back home later this evening. I want to know that I shouldn't leave now if I don't want my car to die on the side of the road.

Researching won't help this, though it does helpfully point out that my battery is not charging and will die after a set number of miles, faster in the night as I need to use headlights. I tell Amber this. She says she is not worried.

I fight myself from wanting to learn immediately everything there is to know: the availabilities of alternators, how cheap they are to acquire, how easy they would be in install myself. Or maybe the issue isn't that at all. Maybe the shop connected something wrong as they rushed to install the battery. There are many things that could have happened and I cannot keep the branches from spiraling until I feel myself slipping away.

But I don't want Sarah to see this building anxiety as I struggle against it. I want this to be an easy, fun night, because I have increasingly needed respite from my job, where no one feels supported. My weekends are a precious commodity as often my only chance to fully recharge.

I am being symptomatic. I am falling down a hole (albeit a shallow one) that causes me not to taste the sandwich as I chomp it, not to be the bantering guy I usually am. I am utterly focused on the possibility of tomorrow morning and that I could break down on the side of the road because someone didn't do their job.

My concerns are nothing to Sarah and Amber, who do not see this as a problem, but neither one of them is about to shell out even more money to repair this fifteen-year-old car. However, I do currently need this car and this might mean I have to buy a new one. I cannot stay in the present because there are so many possibilities that seem to require my consideration.

A month ago, I told Sarah that she would never witness my mental illnesses because my coping mechanisms run contrary to that - being this way is undignified, estranging, and embarrassing - but that is exactly what is happening, and I cannot seem to slow it down much.

My anxiety and depression are shameful aspects of my personality, ones I prefer to deal with in private. The Wednesday prior, Amber's mother had come over to go out to dinner. After work, the hatred and lack of support at my job, my already off-kilter chemicals forced me down stairs to moan with a pillow over my head. I may have napped, but I mostly felt the relief of a lack of sensory input. Amber came in after an hour to tell me her mother had arrived. I felt barely human, pushing myself out of bed with genuine aching. I only returned to humanity when the main course came, until which I was snappish. I saw how I was reacting, how little I wanted to, but my only remedy was not interacting at all. Until I had eaten something substantial, I wished Amber had taken my wallet and left me home to sulk.

I don't want to be known by my symptoms.

Ten days later, I drop Amber off at the radiologists - she persists in having ankle problems that workman's comp and physical therapy have yet to resolve - and I tell her that I have been having an anxiety attack for close to three hours.

Amber did not notice, which isn't to suggest she is not observant. I refrain from voicing illogical thoughts. It does me no good pretending illusions have substance.

Chris and Sarah T., while we eat sushi, didn't seem to realize I am going through anything. My lips began to feel tender and I am sure they are reddening from my nervous rubbing and chewing.

Amber doesn't give much credence to my distress, just says she is sorry, and then she moves on with her evening. To her, my anxiety doesn't amount to anything beyond my head being screwy. This might be the right tack.

There is a function to anxiety, but tonight it has been excited beyond its utility like an immune system attacking itself.

I can't talk myself down adequately. I use tricks - five things I see, four I hear, three I feel, two I smell, one I taste - but they don't shake me out of it. I held wasabi and ginger in my mouth as a supernormal stimulus to provide a sharper focus, a trick that can pass unnoticed by my friends.

Eating helps, because my imbalances are soothed by food. Maybe I am tired. I tried to sleep in with Amber, which either can be wonderful or make me a half second behind all my reactions, partly affected by whatever the weather might be that day.

It's all so boring, obnoxious from the inside and nothing from the outside, aside from prodding the point of the bat ring I wore today into the meat of my hand to try to give myself a sensation on which I can concentrate to bring myself out again.

After dropping Amber off. I go to the Crafted Kup to meet Chris and Sarah again. There is an open mic night. It is insufficiently distracting, so I immediately set up my Kindle and keyboard to give myself on which to write, which I do while the acts play. Sarah sings a song about dogs -from a musical, but I miss which one - and then recites "Jabberwocky." Usually, she reads The Princess Bride, bit by bit by bit, but she left the book at home.

I used to attend open mics when there had been a different coffee shop here, The Cubbyhole, during which I would cuddle close to friends and scribble ideas that seemed profound at twenty. I always loved that, music and prose from earnest amateurs while I wrote, part of what was going on but separate in my work.

That was twenty years ago, a hard concept to reconcile.

I don't know why my mind fights me, though I grant it is something in my blood, some genetic inheritance that was illogically passed down through generations. Was it less maladaptive in the past? Was the remedy so readily available that no one suffered as I do? Is it comingled with some great talent that would permit survival? Was this condition distracted eras before by a better society? Am I just built for a culture that no longer exists, a community I cannot find? I'm an author, which is something most people cannot manage, fed in part by unnatural levels of introversion and a desire to spend hours staring as a screen in hopes of making myself precisely understood to people who likely do not exist. I am susceptible to honest bouts of graphomania, so I feel the first relief of the evening as I tap on my keyboard to Sarah's bemusement. Only faintly hear the crooning covers of songs vaguely know.

Though naturally peculiar, I do not want to be too weird in the eyes of new friends because they could reject me. I wouldn't think that was unwarranted. The anxious, the depressed, we carry a heavy burden for the people on whom we might want to lean. I try not to make Amber provide much emotional support, because she is at last building her own future. She is the best thing in my life. I want her happy. I keep myself healthy in part of her, though I cannot deny I'm fighting hard for my own good.

After three pages of typing, I feel well enough - though not fully myself - that I consider performing a poem and postcard fiction I have memorized, though this might be pushing it. Shortly after I find this courage, the MC says that the venue must close and I do not get the chance to prove myself.

Over a decade ago, I performed at an open mic three poems in what I took to be a tryptic. The crowd was not appreciative, as it was neither melodious nor attractive enough to get away this pretense. I was also not nearly as confident, which is strange because I was much stupider then.

I want to get this nervous energy out of me, but I don't have a good outlet for it. I am just so anxious over nothing, this feeling like an emotional headache. Something that could possibly be treated with a pill, but I do not have the right flavor. It is not prudent to experiment when forty minutes from home. I doubt anything in particular would happen, not with what I could take, but I have been wrong about that in the past and would not care to be wrong again.

What really is anxiety? It depresses me, but it is not depression. It is the cousin, because I have heard depressed people also mention their anxiety. Comorbid conditions. Anxiety is yet another chemical imbalance that pretends to be real. It can impel me to do things that can be constructive, because obviously I am a massive failure if I don't. It is, however, a huge pain in my ass because it is too much. Jittery, as though I am scared of something and I am just uncertain as to which something bothers me. You can see how this would invite depression to the party. My logic doesn't ever help much, any more than someone can argue long term against their rumbling stomach.

When we leave the coffeehouse, I explain what I was going to do on stage. Sarah and Chris encourage me to at least do the postcard fiction, which I preface with a story about asking the author for the whole thing and him responding astounded to the request, but neglecting to follow through. After I perform it - not well, but I haven't practiced - Sarah comments something about my energy this evening.

"You mean my mental illness," I correct.

"Yes, but I was being polite."

"Never be polite about it."

Soon in Xenology: Meaning. Anxiety.

last watched: A Series of Unfortunate Events
reading: Acceptance
listening: Tool

I Was Not a School Shooter | 2018 |

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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