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My First Victim: the Little Girl with Black Eyes | 2017 | Fantastic Beasts and How to Lose Them


Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.  

-Philip K. Dick

Sometimes the Abyss

Preying mantis
Not a monster, Thomm.

When I was small, the summer night terrified me into insomnia. I got it in my head that the incessant croaking of the tree frogs, in conspiracy with the chirp of crickets and the sudden insectile whine of cicadas, amounted to the monstrous. I'm not sure an adult ever attempted to correct and reassure me, partly because I doubt I had the courage to ask why the night screamed for sacrifice during the warmer months. (I likewise refrained to tell my parents I had chicken pox because I assumed it was lethal and I didn't want to worry them prior to my early death; I am not great expressing my fears.) I eventually understood I heard crickets but the sound of frogs - so obvious at ground level, while near a pond - made no sense elevated into dry branches.

A primal part of me, even knowing what I am hearing, still assumes malevolence of crickets, which was warranted once I realized they are kin to locusts, really grasshoppers who turn cannibalistic with a lack of elbow room. I still misinterpret stimuli in ways I know are irrational, but from whose effects I cannot free myself, even as I can tell myself that I am only hearing a horny amphibian or a loved one having a difficult day, neither of which has the least bit to do with me despite how it feels in the moment.

I don't know if this was the origin of my anxiety, these long nights when I felt no one could help or protect me, when there were only frogs and bugs in the place of some ancient evil with a gaping, chittering mouth, or if this merely represented the first outbreak I can easily recall.

I remember being a nervous kid, but have no way of knowing now if this is true or if I am seeing my distant, hazy past through the lens of my uneven present. I used stories then to give shape to what made me uneasy - what child doesn't? - but lost myself in the tales I told. As with the monsters whose symphony played outside my bedroom window, my unlikely explanations conjure far worse outcomes than anything that could happen.

Now, when I get a bout of anxiety, I remind myself that my demons are mostly garden pests, who want nothing to do with me and are no threats. This does not tend to help because the initial jolt releases a charge of chemicals that needs to dissipate before I can be balanced again. Every shadow is a threat until it does.

At my job, we are taught to ask the function of the residents' behavior. The understanding is that no one wants to be bad, but acts out of an unmet need. Even the most annoying or destructive action is communicating something that can be addressed separately from the punitive. (One of our de-escalation techniques is planned ignoring, which entails not immediately calling the student out on the thrown garbage can but instead questioning if he wants to talk about what is upsetting him.) Because I am so, so dense when it comes to applying lessons to myself, I have only recently begun asking myself the function of some of my more curious behaviors and actions. Why am I anxious? Threaten my money, threaten my relationship, threaten my deeply held choices and panic begins if I am mentally immunocompromised. Why these insecurities, these weaknesses? The world is a vast and scary place, but tainting my relationship with Amber terrifies me in a way that nuclear obliteration cannot touch. I know intellectually that Amber leaving me, while the worst thing that could happened, would not be the end of the world. Hurting her, losing her love and respect, wasting her life feels so much more terrible.

Part of my mental illnesses, such as they are, is that I fixate on thoughts and emotions, meaning I keep thinking and feeling them long after the original stimuli has cease. I have fixated for months or years on emotions that had nothing to do with me until I appropriated them. I try to mind-read based on other's emotions and actions, even though I wildly misapply my assumptions, as though everything they are going through relates to what I think is bothering them (e.g., me).

I am never fully certain if what I think and feel is reflected in my outer world. My mother's cherished Amazon parrot Amelia died suddenly and I had to check with Amber if my reactions were reasonable, if I were mourning a bird I liked and being empathetic to my mother's extreme grief or if a depressive episode was hijacking the trauma. In my teens and early twenties, I thought a panic attack or depression meant someone I loved was in danger and rarely ceased to be surprised that I still wasn't efficiently psychic. It felt so massive that it couldn't have just been something misfiring in my head. This bordered on if not defines a delusion. (My actual therapist disagrees on my use of the term "delusion." I am not seeing or hearing things that are not there, merely thinking them. Instead, she says I have "distorted thinking," which must as least be a blood relation of a delusion.)

Amber is usually good about letting me know when I am unreasonable, though I resist telling her any distorted thought that involves her. I don't wish my mental illnesses to be any more burdensome than they have to be. At the same time, I feel especially guilty when I am slow to notice something I have said or done has wounded her, because I am not a mind reader and she is not yet assertive enough to alert me before a joke goes too far or she has misinterpreted something to the point of tears. (These are rare occurrences or I might be desensitized to the sting.)

I know now that my anxiety is something that is happening to me, but it is not who I am or what I do. When I am anxious, the external world usually has no idea. I don't see a reason to act anxious if I don't have to. I tell Amber when I suspect evil in the abyss and she provides a light to find my way out again, but I do not let the anxiety dictate my behavior because that grants it a legitimacy it is not owed.

I worry my depression and anxiety make me less trustworthy, as I think metaphorical bugs are cloaked monster and I need to conquer them before they swallow me. Amber would argue against this. Since starting therapy, I am better able to articulate that what I am feeling doesn't correlate to the external world. Instead of being temperamental and blaming my surrounding as I once had, I tell Amber I am in a mood and lay in bed awhile to be less stimulated. She knows that I do not blame her, that she has done nothing wrong to make me this way. Chemicals and bad code have afflicted me and will pass. In this lens, I was less trustworthy before because I did not know that my experience was decoupled from the world in which other people lived.

Now, at least, I can better see the frogs and crickets for what they are.

Soon in Xenology: Gods. Untrustworthy adults. Detribalizing. Writers. Apocalypse.

last watched: The Tick
reading: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
listening: Regina Spektor

My First Victim: the Little Girl with Black Eyes | 2017 | Fantastic Beasts and How to Lose Them

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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