Illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG
Literally anything can give me anxiety, from a car that takes a second too long to turn over, the gym at its busiest hour, a doorbell ringing, the refrigerator light—anything. Today’s source of anxiety is a text message my friend and big brother, Roger, sent last night:
“I need to holler at you. I’ll call you later.”
Two sentences. That’s it. Nothing sinister or telling. No clues. Nothing that would immediately bring to mind bad news. But when has that ever stopped me?
My phone has to stay across the room, upside down and on the anxious person’s favorite feature: “Do Not Disturb.” I get up every once in a while to look at it, but I refuse to take it off DND or keep it near me.
Days like this—when every beep and hum of the telephone sends my heart racing, creating waves and earthquakes under my skin—the DND feature makes the switch from Android to iPhone well worth it.
When I got the message, I tried to shrug it off. I willed myself not to think the worst, but couldn’t push my anxiety away enough to think of a good reason that he might need to speak to me. Putting my phone on Do Not Disturb would be a good idea if I didn’t check it every few minutes. And when I say “few minutes,” I mean about every three minutes.
Has he called? Has anyone else called? Will he call? When is he calling? Should I call? Should I text? Should I call someone else and ask them?
I decided to text and wrote and deleted variations of “Sure! Just let me know … ” or “OK!” I added an emoji and then a GIF and then another emoji and another GIF. Hopefully this signaled to him that I was so very normal and easy and breezy and not at all stressed out by the two sentences he’d tossed so carelessly at me.
Then I started to get pissed. What the fuck? Who tells someone they’re going to call them? Why don’t you just tell a person what you want?
What do you want??
I pulled out my white board, the one used to scribble story ideas and notes, and wrote:
Roger lives in Chicago.
My ex-boyfriend lives in Chicago.
And he’s dead.
Or getting married.
Or having a baby.
Or died while having a baby …
For a split second I considered messaging said ex, but my anxiety and mood swings had already burned that “Let’s be friends” bridge of “Just checking in” last summer. So even if his literal ghosting wasn’t true, the metaphorical ghosting was still in play.
And just like that, anxiety, shame and guilt met in the open field of, “The fuck is wrong with you?” Oh, so many things.
The still-a-bit-rational part of my brain has sneaked in quickly enough to let me know that if it were life and death, there would be a missed call and not a vague, two-sentence message.
We have been friends for almost 20 years and have never had a fight, but maybe last year’s depression spiral left him drained. I am, as showcased, exhausting, so maybe it was more personal.
Years ago, when we both lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., he and a few friends gathered in my living room for one reason or another, and while wandering around the apartment, Roger found my old passport. I was awkward and 11, peering into a camera with large “old-lady glasses” taking up most of my face. He ran into the room, screaming with laughter.
My squad was easy, and we traded love and support with laughter and inappropriate jokes. But it took me back to those insecure and lonely days when I was just trying to fit in while my overzealous facial features were trying to make sense of my face. I remember grabbing my passport and stomping off, locking the door behind me. He apologized through the closed door, but I couldn’t let it go.
This was easily 15 years ago. Maybe the frantic calls to him at two in the morning over the last year triggered that memory for him.
Or maybe he finally needs my help, and like the selfish person I am, I was asleep. My insomnia had failed me, and now I was lost in my own head when it was he who needed me.
I had to do better, be better. I had to call my friend to make sure he was OK.
Every ring on the other end left me more frazzled. He picked up: “Bass!”
So far so good.
Calmly, “I got your message.”
“You still coming in June?”
“No problem. Just wanted to be sure.”
And there you have it. Anxiety.