Poem of the Week: “Ennxiety”

As an introvert, I have a history of social anxiety. It’s nothing that needs medicating, thankfully–for better or worse, I’ve generally brought it upon myself. It’s hard to tell if I’ve improved over time, though–once people have known you long enough, changing their image of you is difficult without coming off as desperate. I tried to touch on some of that with this poem.

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From 2013, the year of unnecessarily long hair.

Ennxiety

Time travel is possible

on paper. Life, loose-leafed, smooth

to the touch, invites experimentation.

One can skip, flip forth and back,

or savor prose, mull over mysteries.

We, readers, grow

spoiled with fictive freedom.

 

And so society strikes me

as the poorest story: immutable

as ink, yet ever uneditable.

 

School introduces it.

Classrooms packed with cliques to pick

or corners to coopt.

Day one: glances flit ‘cross the room

like silent fastballs. Mental lists assemble:

Diehard. Tryhard. Potential network contact.

And, I’d assume, friends without ends.

So when like an orchestra warmup, eager impatience in E minor,

zippers and binders close—

people peer in pockets and watch the clock—

I have to decide who to talk to.

 

But eye contact’s a contract, and

if I mind the floor or door, I couldn’t be faulted

for breaching it.

Interaction means reaction, and—elephant-esque—

I remember every errant one I gave and got.

Like a tight helmet, the weight of faux pas past strains my brain.

 

Still, I’d type events in my calendar.

Dress well. Arrive on time.

En route, the swell and quell of motivation:

Earbuds pump optimistic late-night tunes

to diffuse the cloud of an absent Plus-One.

Standing on the fringe of a booming party’s blast radius—

dimmed, dumb—I’d clutch a Solo cup until my hamstrings stabbed

and I searched for a chair.

Token goodbyes in tow,

I’d escape to moonlight,

Fists low and heart rate high.

 

Let’s hear it for the spirit

of the staircase:

Charm, like lead vocals,

sounds so much better in your head—

theorizing all the wry things

I could’ve sprung on a glamorous diameter of acquaintances:

Workplace anecdotes. Political predictions. March Madness brackets.

 

And so discontent enters tradition, a given:

different verse, same as the fifth.

Déjà craint.

The predictability of an inability

to chameleonize.

 

I’d say it was a choice, my long-term voice.

An addict’s rationalization.

I can start any time.

Young independence means the side effects of defection

before you’ve pledged allegiance.

Kicking and screaming isn’t always visible,

 

but the dents and derision are.

Without the pop, culture was my cod liver oil,

but after enough awkward gatherings—

a virtual void of group photos,

the lack of a link to amicable hashtags—

I learned to fear the look on people’s faces when they realized I thrived

on something they couldn’t care less about,

rubbernecking at childish delights.

A babe magnet with the same polarity:

Those go-yonder eyes on a girl

when I laugh too hard, speak too high, prefer chiptunes to R&B.

After that, every casual ask is like I accosted them in an alley,

because the past plasters an invisible nametag

that can make random questions

scarier than silence.

 

First impressions are the deepest.

The social concrete dries fast,

and months later, I cemented in:

Interrupting people’s 2048 games and Duke scores for a hello,

then taking seats for a trio: my pizza and phone.

And when I approach to bore through some boredom,

it’s like my invitation to relation is an exhalation

of tobacco, and they kicked the habit.

 

Anxiety is when existence in the plural takes exertion.

It’s feeling a traffic signal redden, like a dry heave,

and taking the crossing a block away instead of being on the driver’s mind

when I enter last-minute.

It’s walking the long way ‘round campus

because repetitive respect feels like weight reps, and I’ve already maxed out

on eyebrow raises and hushed heys for familiar faces.

It’s peering over dancing crowds like a prince

or primatologist, lamenting

how I’d rather hear Van Halen wailin’

than the Bacchanalian beats boxing my eardrums.

And it’s every conversation a tennis rally:

Every yep and sure a nervous volley,

pulse rising with the count;
I got this becomes for how much longer?

Or a lungful of air underwater:

Dark and harsh, pressure mounts—muscles tense—

and it’s only

a matter of time

until

I

gasp and say something stupid.

 

I’ve wondered if there isn’t some part of me

I need to take out,

with a black belt in a back room.

Not self-destructive, but self-constructive.

Because what if we’re just monkeys with a terrible disease?

Afflicted ages ago with an urge to purge

our hurt, flash our worth, put our hopes on hold

with alcohol and skin.

A need for attention while we hide our intentions.

Kicking the can of our own inadequacies

down the road, only

to get stood up on a date with destiny.

 

If so, I guess

education is evolution,

and it’s a futile centrifuge

to try and change how others see you

without checking your own mirror.

If you want to be remembered, chase something

worth showing off, or going home to.

 

The world has no proofreader.

No word cap, no delete key

for slow scenes or broken characters.

But I need to believe there’s another chapter

just pages away.

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