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Thanks for the Memories | 2017 | Hypothetical Life of the Anxious


We're each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?  

-Ursula K. Le Guin

A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness

Mushroom and skull
Okay, but not in a dark way.

I am not, despite perception, dark. As I have ages into a more pacific time in my life, less ruled by adolescent dramas and hormones, I have fewer sweeping tragedies on which to report as though anyone might care. The story instead is figuring out how my head works and what to do about it. In short, I went from Man against Society to Man against Himself, which reduces the cast list.

But I am not dark. If you met me, you would think I was downright cheerful. As Daniel once put it, and as I embraced fully, I am a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. Sure, I visualize driving off bridges on particularly bad days, but who doesn't like a splash of coffee with their sugary cream?

I don't know if this darkness was within me in my youth, if I mistook it for personality, if I was too busy with the spectacle of my multiple close friends to take much time to notice it. Sitting alone in a studio apartment I could ill-afford when I was severely under-employed as a passionate relationship soured, the darkness's whisper turned to a murmur, than dictation. I am far from those conditions now, anxiety digs furrows in one's mind, filled again only through the gradual accumulation of dust from having been left alone.

The darkness is the exception. The darkness is not who I am, it is something within me I dissect until I can find a fuller immunity to its effects. I am not defined by it.

I discount most of the pop psychology that would ascribe blame. I like my parents, even if we do not see eye-to-eye politically and socially. They never deprived me of food, affection, or attention. They left me alone to figure out my childhood world, the infinite summer days spent on my bike exploring my neighborhood. They never hit me. I recall their punishments both infrequent and just. They nurtured my reading and writing, let me try a variety of hobbies and styles, and did not shame me for my dislike of team sports. (It helps, no doubt, that I was far less of a handful than my older brother.)

My darkness is genetic, inherited from my paternal line, a psychological diabetes requiring pokes and blood draws as needed to keep me even. It can be exacerbated by stimuli, but it was not contracted.

Since treating the darkness, I have had bad days. I notice them in a way I would not have before because I assumed they were just truth, that I was only having days and not symptoms. And I've had far more good days, better than most I've had because I am aware enough to be present for them.

But the darkness pools, waiting for a crack to appear so it may flood.

Amber makes an offhanded joke. Most other times, I would have laughed it off, but it clangs in my head, ricocheting until I am so empty, the darkness pours in. I don't retreat to my bed, though the night is getting late and it is nearly time for sleep. I go through my few chores, making my lunch for the following day's work. As I cut roast pork into bite-sized chunks, I fight myself for control of the knife. I've never cut myself and I won't start tonight, but there is an urge, magnetic and awful.

One of our pet mice is injured or sick, thin and hobbling. Amber thinks the too-fat ones have been bullying this one. I watch it in its segregated cage. It won't eat or drink, just half-hop between different corners, sniffing at the paper on the floor of the cage. I can't stop looking at it, but I don't see it.

In bed, I shudder as my brain considers lethal means. I hate guns. I wouldn't cut myself. Poison sounds appalling. I discount them all because I rightly fear death and would not care to bring it closer. The darkness doesn't get to win.

I cannot focus on the book I am reading, instead rereading the same paragraph.

I don't want to shiver beside Amber because she worries about me and, now, I think she is right to.

I welcome sleep. When I wake up in the dark to pee, I get to the door before I feel the lurch in my stomach that reminds me of the preceding depression. In the morning, I feel sick - physically ill, groggy and nauseated - and this is nearly a relief. Colds pass quickly, even with symptoms so close to self-destruction.

I forget the darkness into my first class of the day. I am exuberant, talking up Romeo & Juliet to ninth graders with third grade reading level and essays like haikus.

Recently, I have felt an almost uncomfortable energy. I checked the symptoms of mania - I'm depressive, so why shouldn't I be manic-depressive? - but they don't match. I am not impulsive or distracted. There is simply something in me I need to direct. I clean, I sew, I alphabetize books at my job to my supervisor's shock. I am not promiscuous with sex or money. Yes, I dance while making dinner and rinsing dishes, but that's sensible.

It was one glitch, not the destiny of the next four months. I have been doing so well, so why shouldn't I be able to continue?

Obviously, I am not always light. Once when Daniel was coming over for our standing Thursday podcasting date, I had been having a depressive fit in bed. It was a struggle to get my clothes on again, near torture to make my way up the stairs. All of my energy was gone and I was miserable. But, more than that, I was embarrassed that he should see me so weak, so far from who I usually am or want to be. He didn't make any mention of my red-rimmed eyes, nor Amber's weak excuses for me that I wasn't feeling well. He knew, but either didn't feel it was his place to comment or merely thought better of it. In his company, over some food, I felt well enough that we had a spirited conversation. Whatever listeners we might have had were none the wiser.

Some might think I am dark because they see what I write, this catharsis. When I finish editing something torturous and I upload it to be one of a thousand fellow entries, it is out of me. That doesn't mean that it or something very like it won't necessitate another entry, but it is a relief for the time being. I am released.

Though this may seem a show of my darkness -- indeed, that is what it has turned into while I hammer out my issues, their causes, and possibly remedies -- I have no need to be this way in public. That would only make me feel worse. Company is often an anodyne to any darkness. So long as I have someone nearby for whom to burn hot, the darkness is kept at bay. I feel less lost in the universe, which is why I am so intent to form my archipelagos of social islands.

I used to think I was an introvert. I like people who are independent, who like having me around but do not require my constant entertainment. I am not an extrovert, since I want the companionship of my quiet, thoughtful types as they discuss books over tea. Parties interest me only so long as I can segregate myself with a few people and raid snacks. I don't want to be the center of attention. When I am, such as at convention panels, I retreat afterward to a corner so that I can recharge, which might come off as rudeness. I am known enough that people quote me on their Instagrams, but I could never handle being mobbed for autographs. (It is the purview of authors that we are rarely mobbed by strangers. There is the saying "you have a face for radio." Many authors have faces and bodies most suited to dark solitude, far from the eyes of the rest of humanity.)

I regret that Amber is so a part of me that her company doesn't trick my brain into abating the symptoms. This openness is reserved only for her, one with which I am sure she wishes were less generous. I do not want to overburden her with the emotional labor of pulling me back from the abyss. Indeed, I think the point of all this is to figure out how I can pull myself back so I don't have to worry I am going to drag a loved one in with me.

I am bright because I want this to be what people see of me, because I think it is more honest to who I am than something chemicals tell me.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning.

last watched: Big Mouth
reading: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
listening: They Might be Giants

Thanks for the Memories | 2017 | Hypothetical Life of the Anxious

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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