(from At Home With the Pumpkin King)
Do you know? This thing. Waiting sometimes on the stairs, curled up in the mailbox, or in the eyes of strangers walking toward me. Mostly it’s inside which is, I suppose, why it’s so difficult. A constriction in the throat, an ache in the gut. The usual words: feeling, mood are hopelessly insufficient, even misleading. You might as well call the Emperor mister. Yes, and uranium’s that spunky stuff. This edgy anxiety underlying everything, yes, this anxious ineffable tortoise. For me, that tortoise is a dull gray cloud. At its very worst I can almost see it: it has rusty spots the color of dried blood and coils around my head like barbed wire.
The anxious ineffable tortoise, which is also an evil blood-stained cloud, has two voices. Both speak at once. An urgent whisper: something must be done, time’s running out, something must be done at once. The other voice pleads But what? But what? And never pauses for an answer to the question. Both voice hammer down at once, the panic and the confusion together. (The playing of two songs at once has been known to reduce me to hysteria.) The voices don’t stop, my gut turns to stone, my voice, if it can be heard at all, sounds like a castrato three hills away.
In the morning sometimes I am left alone, but in the afternoon it is almost always there, that demon tortoise, that cloud of panicked confusion. In the evening, well, there are books. There’s beer.
Do you know what I mean? You do, don’t you? Some people say they know, they had it once at 3am. Some people say, “You can get a prescription for that.” Some people say, “Everybody knows that.” Some people switch to another chair. Some people say they don’t know but from the way they clutch their G&T it’s obvious they do.
All four sons have got it, my brothers and I. Our father says it’s genetic. He says he got it from his mother and passed it down. My mother says “it’s always the obvious that nobody notices” and says we ought to get to know it.
We do not. What we have instead are strategies.