When we used to tease my 4-year old sister she would always calmly but firmly remind us that she was adopted from an alligator family and that if we continued to antagonize her she would call them to come eat us all. Jessica was a power-player from day one. She never made good on her threats which is great because I never really watched Animal Planet so I wouldn’t know how to deal with that at all. Are alligators like sharks where you punch them in the nose and then they go away, or are they more like bears where you punch them in the nose and then they eat your fist and claw your eyes out? Either way I don’t know how to throw a punch because I never really paid attention during our high school self defense classes because I was pretty sure that by now I’d have discovered some kind of X-Man superpower within myself and wouldn’t have to worry about it. (Still have my fingers crossed that it’s telekinesis so I can stop having to get up when I’m thirsty.)
By the time I was in high school I was spared from most of the teasing people normally go through. Not necessarily because I was cool but more so because I stopped showing up unless I was surrounded by friends. (Power in numbers. I did learn that in self defense.) Gulsah was in the same academically sinking boat as me, which was comforting because it’s like how on the Titanic everyone was mostly okay with sinking because they were with their good friend who totally agreed that Florence Welch was secretly a forest elf that accidentally side-stepped into our dimension and now has to pose as a human woman even though we all know something’s just a little too magical about her. Wait, you don’t remember that scene in the movie? Huh.
The only people that really made fun of us happened to be this group of boys that were friends with all of our theatre friends and thus were always around, which was super convenient for when you wanted your low self-esteem express delivered. We never fully understood why they hated us either. Sure we were anti-social, too anxious to speak to anyone we didn’t know on a middle-name basis, believed we were more creative than anyone we’d ever met, and rarely joined in on group conversations. But we were lovable all the same. From afar, at least, because Gulsah hated to be touched and I’m one of those people where if you move too fast I flinch and end up knocking something over. Or knocking myself over. One of the two. (...okay, usually both.)
One night the boys surprised us and, probably themselves too, when they invited Gulsah and I specifically out to play a fun game called Alligator, which is essentially playground parkour while someone tries to catch you with their eyes closed. It’s a game that’s great for when you haven’t discovered drinking or the full cost of medical bills yet.
Now I know what you’re thinking and no, this wasn’t a Carrie situation. Except at this point I was still hoping that telekinesis thing would pan out, but that’s unrelated. This wasn’t some trick to get one over on us, it was a genuine olive branch. Not a very sturdy one, granted, because they ended up using a thinly veiled excuse to ditch us and go to a different playground about an hour in, but an olive branch all the same.
Gulsah and I handled being ditched very maturely, and we only floored it out of the parking lot before them screaming obscenities a little bit. After all, they had the numbers on their side so we didn’t really want to engage in any actual confrontation. Thank you, self-defense class. But she and I learned a valuable lesson that day. Which was that not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay, because at the end of the night the person you’re speeding down the highway with that genuinely wants to be around you is the only one that really matters.
Bear with this writing prompt-ass first sentence, but when I think of holidays the first thing that comes to mind is, “Was that that Green Day song that I hated that everyone else loved?” And the answer is no, that’s Basket Case (I googled it.) The second thing that comes to mind is the fact that I’ve never really had a favorite holiday growing up, because they all equally sucked. And then the third thing that comes to mind is that “holidays” kind of sounds like “hollandaise” and then I start thinking about that episode of FRIENDS where Monica takes a beginner cooking class to feel better about herself, and she ends up impressing the teacher because she knows what a hollandaise sauce is. Which I relate to heavily, except that I can barely cook an egg, have never had more than 3 friends at once, and definitely wouldn’t be able to tolerate that much time spent with David Schwimmer without turning into a full serial killer whose MO is paleontologists.
There was always a suspicious amount of hiding involved during my family’s holidays. On Easter our family would hide baskets of candy, on Passover our grandparents would hide matzo, and during my teenage birthdays my parents would hide all love and attention from me. Each of my siblings and I also took turns hiding in the closet every year, but that’s technically our parents fault for having such mega-strong gay genes. Listen, three gay children don’t just happen by accident. The world is lucky that we’re all too unorganized to come together as a family to create a Mr. Robot style gay agenda pushing organization. Like fsociety but instead of the f standing for “fuck” it stands for “FROOT deserved more critical and commercial success.”
In high school I learned to properly navigate my parents negligence and stopped showing up to family holidays. Instead I started spending them with my friend Isabel, who was that girl in school that was good at everything but thought she was the absolute worst. She was secretly an actress, secretly a singer, secretly an athlete, and also secretly broke her window trying to kill a fly and then convinced her parents it was my fault. (To be fair, it totally sounds like me. Just ask the three doors I’ve broken.) She and I would link up for Friendsgivings with Yeliz and Gulsah, who would end up becoming two of my best friends and, together, were an inseparable duo. Like Batman and Robin but without all of the gay subtext and with more of an appreciation for high art and blasting Lana Del Rey between serious discussions about who the real villain of season 1 of the Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills was. (It was Kyle, by the way. Camille did nothing wrong.)
Friendsgivings became my favorite tradition that never truly took off, because one of us decided to move to the city without telling anyone (oops). Being surrounded by like-minded creatives that genuinely value your worth, intelligence, and process is total warmth. It’s the wave at the beach that hits smooth and sweet, the steam off of hot chocolate in a cold winter hand. It’s the feeling of pure bliss as you skip past Basket Case on the car ride and everyone collectively screams at you and calls you a killjoy as you cackle and fly off into the night. I highly suggest them to anyone considering giving themselves a break from their family for a year or two or seventeen. And I suggest them for myself as well. So take note, self. Do a Friendsgiving this year.
I’m in a swimsuit and a t-shirt on cold sand, waves forming in front and crashing behind. Then forming behind and crashing in front. I never notice until the foam forms.
I’m on the ledge of a high school field’s steps. The boys are smoking and jumping on top of each other. The girls are drinking and putting each other down. They’re all dating each other in some timeline. I never notice until the tension forms.
I’m in an office where no one knows what they do. Everyone’s wearing a tie that they can’t tie themselves and a face that comes on and off based on who walks in. I’m in my head and a notebook in my bookbag. A notebook that’s been untouched and unloved. And I never notice until the dust forms.
Untouched and unloved.
And I never notice until the dust forms.
The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like the word “obsession” either. Yes, it’s very perfume commercial. OBSESSION. But it just has a weird connotation to it. I think I prefer the phrase “lack of moderation” instead.
Probably my biggest… lack of moderation... was during this 6 month period where I was ordering delivery every single day. Because when I say I was ordering delivery every single day what I really mean is that I was ordering delivery twice every single day. Or three times, if I was feeling responsible and wanted breakfast. (What? It’s important to start the day right.) Around that time I’d also bought this app called Mint which helps you budget your money, which I bought because at the time I was in the process of rearranging my iPhone apps by color and I needed one that was green. And then one day Mint sent me an email like, “Would you like to see where most of your money is being spent?” And that email was sandwiched between 4 emails from delivery.com and 5 from grubhub. I was like, “Thanks, but I think I can Veronica Mars this one on my own.”
Really the only way that I got over my delivery obsess-... lack of moderation, was by moving to a basement apartment with a gate and a broken buzzer. It means the only way that I could possibly know when the delivery guy would get here would be if I installed a periscope in my apartment so I could peer out into the outside world like some kind of really hungry deep sea diver that ordered a really soggy deep dish pizza. But I don’t think I could handle the responsibility of a periscope. I mean, I already have enough trouble just trying to maintain an instagram and a twitter. I can’t add another social media account onto my plate. Plus I already have like 10 blue apps, so it’d mess with the color scheme of my iPhone layout.
I think the moral of this story is that my entire life is just one big lack of moderation. Which, now that I’m saying that word a whole bunch, I’m realizing that that is also a great perfume name. MODERATION. In fact, I think it’s better than my first option because it’s a dual purpose name. It already sounds like you’re in a perfume commercial when you say it, and also I just feel like sometimes when it comes to perfume some people need the reminder.
If I ever try and convince you that I don’t have an addictive personality I want you to call 911 and tell them I’m in trouble, because that’s my safe word. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been addicted to anything super dramatic. Only things that are incredibly stupid. So much so that I feel weird calling them addictions, so let’s just call them obsessions. Which makes this post feel less serious and also more like a perfume commercial. OBSESSION. But also because I’m about halfway between an average human and that girl on My Strange Addiction that couldn’t stop eating her couch.
It started in elementary school when, for whatever reason, I would get super anxious about other people seeing me laughing when they weren’t laughing, or smiling when they weren’t smiling, or having an existential mental breakdown when they weren’t having an existential mental breakdown. It was like some kind of advanced fear of standing out. They used to play music whenever we would run laps in gym and anytime the Spice Girls would come on I’d start beaming because I was always very gay but then I would get all self-conscious about it because this was like two decades before half my class realized that they were very gay too. And so I’d start biting my cheek to stop myself from smiling like a gay 5-year-old idiot. That made me less concentrated on how embarrassed I was and more concentrated on the SHARP PAIN IN MY MOUTH. So after that point I’d chew on my cheek anytime I felt anxious about school. Which, when I was younger, was anytime that I was in school. Or thought about school. Or was in a time period where school was invented. To be fair, it helped me save a lot of money on gum.
I had an obsession with simulation game mods as well. Which is ridiculously specific, I know. But, listen, everybody has their vices. Some people blackout from drinking, some people blackout from lack of sleep, and some people blackout while downloading 300 Sims 4 mods over the course of 8 hours and then never actually load up the game to play it afterwards. And some people blackout from all three at the same time and that’s me.
And you might say, “Ryan, why not just not download the mods? Seems like an easy fix to your problem.” But sometimes you’re in the middle of buying Sims DLC that lets you do laundry even though you refuse to do it in real life, and then you realize that you need to download the mod that lets you play “Wannabe” on your Sim’s radio while they wait for the dryer to finish. And then your gay 5-year-old Sim gets embarrassed and you need to download the “bite inside of own cheek” mod to get rid of his embarrassed moodlet. Listen, I don’t make the rules for the Sims, I just blackout from downloading too many mods and never play it. Don’t hate the non-player, hate the barely functional money-grabbing game.
Anxiety comes in a lot of different forms. And each one can kiss my ass, by the way, because as a writer it’s very hard to try and come across as relatable while writing about being deathly afraid of talking to the guy at the deli counter. And it’s also not very relatable to then talk about how that same fear then accidentally made you become a vegetarian. It just makes the entire writing process difficult, really.
In my experience, everyone that has anxiety gets it for different reasons. Some people get anxious when interacting with people one-on-one, some people get anxious when in large groups, some people get anxious because they lost their hot best friend’s copy of Golden Sun and so they swapped it out with their own copy of the game and are dreading the day when he realizes that the main party members are all named after Buffy characters, calls you out on it, and then never hangs out with you ever again. And some people get anxious about the future. All equally valid.
My anxiety arch-nemesis happens to take on a unique form: Doors. Each one is like a puzzle that I have to work past before I can knock or turn the handle. Which, I think comes from my belief that I’m not allowed to let my existence be known, as well as the fear that I’m a burden on others. And, I guess, I see the door as the point of no return. Once I open that door, or knock on that door, or interact with that door in any way, I’ve actively chosen to bring that burden onto another person. And so, oftentimes I choose not to.
When I was younger I would stand pressed up carefully against the door of my room, listening, while barely breathing, to the voices on the other side. Were they in the next room? Were they far enough away where I could slip out without them knowing I was there? The answer I gave myself was usually no, even if I heard silence. So I’d stand there, sometimes for hours, with the door growing 20 feet taller every minute and my feet sinking into the quicksand of the carpet. I’d step in place, quietly but deliberately, like a dog waiting to be let out, pacing back and forth waiting for my moment. And that moment rarely ever came. I would go thirsty. I would go hungry. And I would be lonely.
I don’t expect that to make sense to a lot of people, or to be relatable. Because even writing it I’m like, “Wow, Ryan. That sure sounds fuckin’ stupid. Why don’t you just go get a glass of water, you weirdo?” And it is crazy, and I am a weirdo, and I will take that glass of water, thanks (no ice.) But that’s the point (not the ice thing.) It might not be relatable to most people. It might not be relatable to 7 billion people. But one person out there is gonna be like, “I am afraid to open doors too.” And that person? Is probably someone that got scarred watching that scene in Jumanji where the Aunt opens the bedroom door and the lion is in there. God, that movie really did do a number on me, huh?
When I was 5 I was afraid to go into the bathroom if the shower curtain was closed because I was pretty sure that the poisonous plant from Jumanji was in there waiting to kill me. Which just proves that I’m afraid of absolutely everything, because that plant isn’t even in the top 3 scariest fictional plants. (Which, thanks for asking, consists of triffids, Audrey II, and bellsprout. And don’t challenge me on bellsprout being creepy. Tell me that thing doesn’t look like the character from Plants Vs Zombies meets Jeff the Killer.) I also had to check behind my toilet every time I went to the bathroom to make sure that there were no giant Jumanji spiders hiding behind there. Apparently that movie did a number on me. So did the movie Beetlejuice, but not even because of the sandworms, mostly just because of that opening scene when Alec Baldwin picks up the giant spider and releases it into the wild as if it wasn’t plotting his death. That spider was the real villain of the movie and I don’t care what anyone says.
When I was 7 my parents let me and my brother play Resident Evil, which we thought was super cool of them and not at all negligent like everyone since then has implied. It was a great time, right up until that terrifying scene when the zombie turns around and looks right into the camera like Nosferatu if he were on The Office. Though, now that I think about it that look the zombie had was a lot like the look I give people in cars when they honk at me while I’m crossing the street with the right of way. That slow turn and dead look in my eye that says, “Honk at me again and I will stand in front of your car until you’re forced to swerve past me and drive into a Payless. And then I’m gonna tell everyone that I saw you in a Payless. And then I’m gonna tell Payless that you drove into a Payless and they’re gonna make you pay… more.”
When I was 13 I still had not learned my goddamn lesson, apparently, and started watching horror movies religiously. And each and every one of them left me with the same petrified, pee in the pants, jaw hitting the floor reaction. Scream? I was petrified. Hostel? I peed my pants. The Grudge? My jaw hit the-... Never mind, that’s insensitive. I finally broke out of that scaring-myself-with-horror-movies stage of my life when I got older and moved out. Which is ironic, because you’d think living on my own would give me more freedom to needlessly traumatize myself. But when you get older you just have different kinds of fears. Like global warming, and nuclear war, and putting off doing your laundry until the last minute and then not knowing if your clothes are gonna get locked in the laundromat if they end up closing before your cycle is done. You know, genuinely scary stuff.
Also now that I thought about it more, the actual scariest part about Beetlejuice wasn’t even the spider scene, it was that the ghosts couldn’t leave their home. If I did happen to die via bathroom-Jumanji-plant and had to stay in my childhood house for the rest of my afterlife with my mom singing “Lips Of An Angel” in the other room because she thinks nobody can hear her, I might honestly just walk outside and let a giant sandworm eat me.
Before there was color. Before anybody was raspberry, any interaction yellow, and any dream was green. When my life was described in insects and parking spots and I had honey pouring from my mouth like a river.
When the world was the inside of a van and a haunted basement. When I could lean to the window and smell the lilacs when I wanted to feel reborn. When you’d held my hand for a brief, drunken moment before trying to set me up with someone else. Back when my eyes were insects and parking spots. When all waters were honey.
Ryan C. Robert is the writer of multiple comedy blogs, most of which are satirical and self-deprecating. He writes about his life in his personal essay series "Before Color," parodies cooking blogs in "Trish's Dishes" and posts writing prompts every single day.