Eddy Got Your Back

Back when I was living in New York City and studying for my MFA, I nearly lost my grip on reality. It was nuts; I was basically insane with anxiety. I was living on the verge of a panic attack and suffering from what they call agoraphobia–a fear of leaving my apartment. I know it sounds crazy, but I had this irrational dread of just “upping and dying”–of a brain aneurysm or heart attack–while out in public. Sure I was afraid of the actual dying process and all, but what really bugged me was the thought of croaking in front of a bunch of gawkers and causing a big, embarrassing scene.

One evening, early in my glorious, two-year stint in the Apple, I got a preview of this humiliation after fainting in public from a panic attack. It was a perfect finale to a terrible day. It happened right in front of my apartment building while I was out smoking my nightly cig with my boy Ed the doorman. Ed was a good conversationalist–kind of opinionated, but not too bad. He really did want to be your friend. He was honest and well read and not the least bit afraid to throw out the deep shit. Ed was straight off the boat from Russia and lived like 2 hours away in rural New York state where he fished every day. He had a brother who was a great photographer but also a wicked heroin addict. Which was painful for him to talk about.

Anyway, Ed and I were just ripping a few butts, kind of shooting the breeze, as usual. Ed was doing pretty much all the talking as I really wasn’t feeling well. He had gotten on the topic of Eastern European women, and was explaining why they are the sexiest women in the world. It was too bad that I was in such a shamble, because I probably would’ve had some fun with Eddy on this subject–playing devil’s advocate and such. Anyway, I’m sure he was making a compelling argument as usual, but I was pretty preoccupied. Earlier that day I’d given a forceful presentation on Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That which had consisted of two words–“I’m blanking”–before briefly apologizing and sitting right back down. And I couldn’t stop reliving the scene–the embarrassment my peers felt for me, and my professor’s response: “How about a little more intellectual rigor next time?” (“Gee, thanks professor. I appreciate you pointing that out, because I totally thought I just hit a homerun. How about you chug my cock and like it next time? Go write another dry, boring-ass piece for the New Yorker, you absent-minded fuck.”)

Anyway, that whole incident was fueling the toxic thoughts that seemed to suffocate my mind all the time in those days. Like how I would never amount to anything as a writer because writing was too hard for me. Like how I was destined for failure. Like there was no guarantee that I would end up successful or even just all right. That there was no God or force out there to keep me company, let alone safe. And that, despite what the doctors were telling me (that I was okay), I was sick and dying. How could I not be? I couldn’t stop shaking and twitching, and all that weird cramping and the fatigue–it couldn’t possibly be purely mental… It was all too perfect: Andrew White–a golden boy athlete from a respectable family–struck down by Parkinson’s or ALS or some other horrifying malady in his prime. Once his health left him, his looks went, and before long he became an obscure, wheelchair-bound object of pity. His life really ended when he split with Annie.

I fully expected that by the time Annie returned to the Northeast from her yearlong, service commitment abroad, I would have received whatever terrible diagnosis I had coming. I could picture her eyes welling up with tears as I told her the news (terminal cancer, maybe, or at least MS). She wouldn’t cry too badly at first, but as soon as she was alone, away from me, the floodgates would open and she would become hysterical. And because, for my sake, she wouldn’t want me to see her that way, I wouldn’t be there to hold her. I would try my best to break up with her right then and there, to free her from this sinking ship. I would tell her to go on without me, to have children. And I would never see her again, though I would never stop dreaming about her, either.

Anyway. As my brain marinated in this all-too familiar cloud of uplifting thoughts, I began to feel sick to my stomach. Ed’s voice began to irritate me. Why was he talking so loudly? Ed, I don’t give a shit that the Eastern European woman’s foot tends to run a full size below the average American’s. Boom–my nausea escalated from 7 to 60 in about 2.2 milliseconds. I seriously chucked my cigarette and started to book it toward the street so as to not puke right in front of Ed and my apartment building where it would make a nasty scene. My last thought was, “I’m not going to make it.”

Seconds later, I woke up, feeling incredibly rested, as if I’d been out a full night’s sleep. As I came to, though, I heard Ed wiggin’ out: “Andrew, Andrew, are you okay? Are you epileptic?” My head began to throb, and my eye socket hurt like a bitch. Blood was really pouring out pretty good from a gash above my eye. Holy shit, I just fainted! About a dozen other tenants were now huddled around me, too. Squawking like chickens, half of them. One of them said she was calling 911. But I really didn’t want that, and I begged her not to call an ambulance. I was mortified enough and couldn’t deal with being the center of any more spectacle–even if it meant dying.

Ed understood what I was thinking, I think. He had my back. The cool bastard that he was, he listened to me. I’m pretty sure of it, anyway. And I’ll never forget it. Had I died or something that night, he probably could’ve been sued or at least fired. But he listened to me and told the other folks that I was going to be fine and to put their cell phones away. Then he basically carried me to the elevator and helped me to my apartment.

I’d write more about that night–like what happened next and everything. But to be honest, it really didn’t end up being all that interesting from that point on. Basically I just rested a bit, drank some water, then took a cab to the hospital and got an IV.

“Dehydration,” they said.

Shit-On-Your-Friends Therapy

In my opinion, seeking happiness is the whole point of existence and is achieved through being compassionate and kind. When living this mantra, I’m usually a happier person. And the opposite holds true as well: when I am mean and hurt or offend someone—anyone, even the biggest D-bag you can imagine—I feel like complete dog shit.

I haven’t always been able to articulate this—why I’m not a fighter—but I’ve never been a fighter. Just don’t have the stomach for it, I guess. Because I’m so freaking sensitive, thoughts, feelings, and experiences—especially unpleasant ones, unfortunately—leave deep impressions on my mind. And so I remember a ton of crap from my childhood (shit that everyone goes through, but most people forget), including, of course, my first fight.

I was 3, in daycare. And there was this wicked cool, communal toy chainsaw that all the kids in the “class” always wanted to play with. When you pulled its rip cord, it shook and made an engine sound. Ms. Wheelock had us take turns to ensure we all got a try. During my turn with the chainsaw, Ms. Wheelock was apparently preoccupied. Because the bully of the bunch—this dude named Patrick with dark hair and a bowl cut—marched right over to me and ripped the chainsaw out of my hands.

Honestly, I am a freak. I practically remember shit from the womb. And I remember, like it was yesterday, thinking: “Hmmm, well, I guess Patrick just took that from me. I guess I could just let him take it, like I always do, or, hmmm… What would it be like if I didn’t let him take it this time—if I grabbed it back from him? What the hay, let’s give it a whirl.”

So I grabbed the chainsaw, and Patrick and I had ourselves a little tug of war. It wasn’t at all fun or interesting, but it wasn’t terrible either. And then he hit me. An open-fisted haymaker to the temple. Physically, the blow didn’t hurt one iota, but on the inside I melted like a soft-serve on a steamy, summer day. I could’ve kicked his ass, I’m not kidding. I really was stronger. But I stopped fighting because it just felt so… weird. I let go of the chainsaw, assumed the fetal position, and bawled my eyes out like a whiny, little bitch.

Since that fight with Patrick, I haven’t been in any physical altercations. But I’ve been in plenty of verbal and mental brawls. Probably fewer than most, but more than enough for me. Unlike that early tiff with Patrick, which was inspired by curiosity, my arguments since then have been fueled by those short-lived emotional reflexes—typically anger or annoyance—that flood the mind after being challenged or crossed.

When I get in real fights these days, I still get this “is-this-really-happening” feeling that I had in my fight with Patrick from 30 years ago, but worse than that, my increased self-awareness leads to this out-of-body experience that provides a front-row seat to my own ugliness in the heat of battle. I look like Jaba the Hut. It’s awful—it’s the polar opposite of who I want to be. Afterwards, I feel all anxious and lonely and depressed.

So, what do I try to do instead of fight? I take a deep breath, recite a few “oms,” and swallow the insults back down my esophagus before they get to my lips—no matter how money they may be or how big of an A-hole it is that I happen to be dealing with. This is not easy and can be painful, like swallowing fire. But, seriously, if I had a nickel for all the debilitating “zingers” my mind has cooked up in the heat of passion that I’ve opted not to say, I’d be a way less douchey version of Donald Trump.

As I hope you know, it can be agonizing, at least in the moment, to turn the other cheek when you’re really fucking pissed. Grrr… It’s like being a punching bag sometimes, and it really irks me when someone punches me knowing I won’t give it back. When I feel this particular frustration I remind myself that (in the long run at least) I’ll be a better and happier person for it. Scotch also helps me release some of this steam. As does my wife. As does Zoloft. As do my friends.

Friends, you see, don’t just support me, but they provide a fabulous channel for letting out some of the pent up aggravation that builds within me as a pacifist. When it comes to me and my true friends, typical etiquette does not apply. We don’t have to censor ourselves for fear of insulting one another. In fact, we insult each other all the time, because, strange as it may sound, our steady exchange of abuse is yet another bridge for our mutual love and respect.

The other day, for example, when my dear friend Trevor decided to take a hot, steaming beet* deuce on my face by talking all sorts of crazy junk about my hypochondria and Jeff’s dependence on Xanax—from his high horse—taking plenty of liberties, I might add, in his “holier than thou” sermon—I took a deep breath, banged out a few “oms,” and before too long had a good laugh. Then I shot him an email congratulating him on well-written rip job of me and added that he should go fuck himself. I continued to insult him throughout the evening. And even though he orders shots of vagisil when at the bar, I knew he could take it because he is fine, and because he, myself, and Camaro (don’t want to leave you out of this strokefest, Jeffy) are true friends.

If I really did offend you with any of these words, Trevor, than I retract it all—just like you retracted calling me a sensitive pussy the other day… But I know I didn’t offend you, T, because you are the founding father of Shit-On-Your-Friends Therapy; and so I don’t feel the least bit bad.

I feel amazingly GGW—“transcendental”—to tell you the truth.

*(If you have or will read the piece Trevor wrote on beet shits in Pencils in my Eyes—how they’re “transcendental” and all that, just keep in mind that it was very early on in his blogging career and he was still testing out stupid subject matter and even more in love with the sound of his literary voice than he is today. If you don’t have a dictionary handy, or if you don’t like reading about the nasty—actual—shit that results from eating beets, I’ll quickly recap the piece for you here: “Blah, blah, blah, blibbety** blah. Blibbety, blibbety, blibbety, blah. Blibbety, blibbety, blibbety. Beet shits are transcendental. Epilogue: Stay posted. I went to the farmers market and purchased “Heirloom Golden Beets.” I am hoping to shit gold bullion.***)

**(Note: “blibbety” is a stand in for any of a variety of very impressive words that neither you or I know the meaning of but that wonderfully display Trevor’s brilliance and enable him to flex his literary muscles in front of a mirror and his Winnie the Pooh doll while wearing his favorite banana hammock.)

***(Are you kidding me with that Epilogue? Really had me on the edge of my seat with that one.)