Last Wednesday, I was minding my own business when I felt a sore throat come on. This was odd because I usually wake up with it. But I actually felt it happen in real time. I wasn’t too concerned because I’ve had minor throat irritation before but it usually went away by the next day. But this one didn’t. The next two days passed by and I took some over the counter medication to try to nip it in the bud before it became too bad.
It didn’t get any better. My throat became so sore it was hard to swallow or even move my head around. I also lost my voice.
I reported to work like normal since I didn’t have many paid vacation/sick days left and I certainly didn’t want to waste them unless it was absolutely necessary. I only had a few days of work and then three days off, so I thought I’d be able to make it through and then take my days off to recover.
I made it through but things continued to get worse. I developed a nasty cough and a runny nose. I felt dizzy. I made an appointment to see a doctor. But that meant I actually had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go out in public. That thought usually pains me even when I’m not feeling like crap so it was exceptionally difficult that day.
Not only did I feel (and look) terrible but I saw a lot of old acquaintances while out. The nurse at the counter of the doctor’s office is the mother of my high school classmate.
While I was in the waiting room, one of my high school teacher’s walked in. My former teachers usually don’t recognize me so I kept my head down and she never seemed to notice. Even when the nurse called my name to be seen, my teacher didn’t turn her head in recognition.
And when the doctor came in to see me, he commented that he hadn’t seen me in about 5 years.
“I see on my notes here the last time you came to see me that you were studying animation,” he said. “Whatever happened to that?”
The dreaded question.
I had to explain that nothing ever happened to that, that I no longer felt passionate about animation, and that I had “retired” from drawing.
“What are you doing now?” he asked.
“Working retail,” I said. My already small voice had faded even more.
It’s always embarrassing to have to explain how my big dreams of being an animator fell through. And I always worry if people think I’m padding the truth, like I actually failed or dropped out. No, I graduated. I was just too much of a coward to do anything with my degree.
And when I went to get my prescription filled at the drugstore, I saw my former co-worker there. Hadn’t seen him in ten years. He asked what I was up to and I explained, in the same sad, small voice, that I was working in retail.
It doesn’t help that I’m also fat now. These people who haven’t seen me in such a long time now see me as overweight, balding, and working a crummy job folding shirts for pennies. The years haven’t been good to Bran. More like, Bran hasn’t been good to Bran.
I graduated from college about five years ago and that’s an ample amount of time to run into a lot of old friends and past acquaintances, to explain to each and every one of them of my shortcomings and failures. And it has sucked each time. And each time I have to explain that I’m basically doing nothing with my life, I feel that fire of shame in my chest. But over the years, the pool of former friends has dried up and I’ve had to explain myself less and less. But even after all these years, there are a few stragglers that still show up in my life and I have to bust out the explanations one more time and feel the fire again. I hate it and it’s just another reminder of my pointless existence. As if I needed a reminder.
It’s all perception. I know I’m harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m sure the doctor and the co-worker probably didn’t think twice about my life update. Sure, I’ve gained some weight since they saw me last. Sure, I’m not in the best occupation right now. But does that make me beneath them? Of course not. And did they think that? I’m sure they didn’t. But the paranoid part of my brain felt like they did look down on me. I always have this suspicion that everyone thinks I’m trash and I hate having to confirm it every time I see them.
One of the annoying things about living in a small town is it feels like I’m always on top of everyone else. Or, more specifically, it feels like everyone else is always on top of me. It’s suffocating. There’s no privacy or anonymity. Everyone knows me and my business. I just wish I could have sneaked in and out of the doctor’s office and slipped in and out of the drugstore, ninja-style, and then nose-dived into the safety of my bed, and cuddled up to the comfort of my penicillin and pillows.
I wanted to get out of the house to do some quality writing. Sometimes, there’s too many distractions at home. It’s too easy to space out and go two hours deep into Buzzfeed or Cracked. And it’s just so comfortable at home. It’s easy to be lazy when my bed is unmade and my cat is lying there, purring. It feels like the most right thing to do just to slip in the sheets and take a lengthy nap.
I felt the call of a coffee shop. I know it’s kind of douchey to go to a coffee shop and write but I can’t help it. They give good vibes. The atmosphere is chill and the music is mellow and it’s not as rowdy as a regular restaurant.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any available places to write in my town. There are no coffee shops or even sit-down restaurants. I have to travel at least 45 minutes away to find a place to go. I don’t like using that much gas if not necessary and plus it takes a lot of effort to go far away. To justify the lengthy ride, I usually try to stay gone all day and being gone for long periods of time tires me. But with recently decreased gas prices and an inflated level of pain pulsing through my head, it felt worth it to make that trek.
I drove to a cafe-bakery but waited until lunch time in hopes it wouldn’t be busy inside. As much as I like to get out of the house sometimes, my anxiety makes it difficult for me to be in public.
So, I stepped inside and it wasn’t too crowded. I picked up some soup and after I found a seemingly secluded place to sit, I set up my iPad for writing. Not five minutes later, a college-age girl clad in a thick hoodie and sweat pants plunked down at the table across from me.
The anxiety spiked a bit but it wasn’t too bad. “I can handle this,” I told myself. I focused on my soup and tried to relax. A few minutes later, another girl sat with the sweatpants girl. Anxiety spiked again. I turned back to my soup and tried to forget about the thoughts that sprouted from my brain.
“They are going to judge me. They are going to make fun of me. What if they Snapchat a picture of me and include some snarky comment like, ‘Look at this fat loser sitting by himself slurping soup. Lame! LULZ.'”