There is a circle on the calendar. It has the flare of carelessness, heavy in red ink and light in any implications of afterthought. The date, December 8, follows on the heels of another that lives in infamy. It must have its own stories to tell and cards to receive, but it is not circled for anyone but me. After all, it is a calendar, not a dance card, and there is nothing careless about it.
It is a date of pending change, from pants to a robe always loose in the back. I will hug my wife and children and tell them not to worry. The procedure is safe, and it is needed. In fact, I may wither away without it, losing my stomach to time and tightness. The surgery is saving me with cuts to heal, and it will take me apart to make me whole again.
The fact is, I am terrified. Of course, I want to be well again, or what passes for it. I already crave the fix that the operation will give me. But it is a slice through the underbelly of all that I am, and there is much anxiety there.
Thom Hofman turns a phrase like most of us turn a key, the pins fall into line within the tumblers we are shaking, they scatter upon the edge of the cylinder, and the lock pops open as the conversation revolves. And then he is in, waxing on matters of anxiety and its dance with the gut while we are turning on the lights and taking off our coats.
His blog is Daddy, medium-well, and the post “Anxiety” filled me when no food could:
“ . . . there’s a strange out-of-bodiness to acute anxiety and the pineal gland is the pinecone shaped conning tower when navigating outside yourself. Dreams, near-death experiences, those minutes when either you shake God’s hand or you recess six inches back behind your eyeballs: they belong to this gland which rests amid grey matter but isn’t actually an organ of the brain. It’s the only unpaired structure within the skull, birthed from the fetal mouth, and a later emigrant to the mid-cerebrum. That it forms in the mouth is of no surprise to me, for it’s a short ride from mouth to stomach and it’s the stomach—nervous or anxious or irritable—that lends us gut feelings, feelings that are both in and outside of ourselves. Then there’s the Vagus nerve running brain to gut and back and this biofeedback loop, and sometimes I just can’t tell what pilots anxiety, whether the gut is informing the mind or vice-versa. How is it I’m so goddamn hot all the time? Why am I shaking?”
And I am shaking still.
I have battled anxiety for far too long. For years I couldn’t drive any road that I did not know. I was piled under pressures both implied and perceived. I suffered attacks that left me jobless, gasping for air, and unconscious on the floor before the spinning feet of my frightened children. Time has been kind in that regard. What once were demons have now been reduced to the occasional annoyance, and where once I knew I could not, I have tried again and again to prove that I can.
Yet, poor health begets poor health, and I do not think of blanket-wrapped Christmas trees when I spy December on my calendar. Rather, I feel the ghosts of battles won and all that we have lost; the specters of a sweat-covered brow wiped by sleeves and cold, clenched fists. I dream of dates that live in infamy, and I hope never to see another.
I think of Hofman standing in his kitchen with anxiety melting all around, carried away on a hint of jasmine, and left unlocked with a simple phrase to breathe into the ether: “I’ll be fine.”
I know my boys will be all the happier the moment that they see me. Theirs will be tried of concern and the fears that I have beaten. Mine will hunger with inspiration and the tastes that I have missed.
I expect all our feet to be light and spinning, and on the cusp of dancing.
Whit Honea lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their two sons. He is the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book, co-founder of Dads 4 Change, and pens his personal narrative for the world to read on the Honea Express.