Ish: A Tale of Neurosis
By Ashley, age 24, Massachusetts
Sweet Designs Staff Intern
Backing out of the driveway always made Mrs. Andrews tense. It took her until her first child was born to master the technique, to finally realize that she had to pretend that the rear window was the front in order to maintain total control over her vehicle. However, every time she did it, and it was an everyday occurrence, she felt a wave of anxiety wash over her fleetingly, so much that when she had pivoted fully, she asked whomever was fortunate enough to be her passenger if they were all right. Most of the time it was her only daughter, Alicia, who was invariably on the receiving end of such anxiety.
In her earlier childhood, Alicia felt protected by this neuroticism manifested by her mother, but as all children realize, as Mrs. Andrews herself realized eons ago, her parents' true identities would surface and reveal themselves like the ebb of the tide on a beach. Every flaw and transgression would be uncovered, each wrinkle on their visage representing a moment in time. The lives they once led, the goals they once aspired to, and the ideals they once intended to carry with them through their journey would grow wayward, eventually settling into a groove, like a faded memory in a mostly blank journal that would be skimmed in sadness and guilt by future generations of children who only sustain a lingering but vague hope that they will not have to surrender their personal desires for the sake of their offspring as part of the self-perpetuating cycle of the nuclear family model.
No, Mrs. Andrews was content with her life and how it turned out. The result was not to her chagrin, but unexpected nevertheless. The first thirty years of her life were spent devoted to self-fulfillment, those "castles in the sky" she had read about in her school days, and dreaming of that one person with whom she could share her home, someone who understood her and wasn't just nodding along, someone who was engrossed and enchanted with her as though she were a novel he just could not leave on an armchair and walk away from. She managed to find that person in Mitchell. The trouble was that he also found that person in her.
Mitchell was essentially the man she had always dreamed of, who fit immaculately into the mold of her almost inordinately high expectations. Diminutive at five-foot-four, his black hair was slicked so smoothly with hair gel that one did not even need to notice his stark white collar. Six years ago at a black tie fundraiser for some disease, Mrs. Andrews, or Annie, as she was known then by adults, worked essentially as a servant for a politician, and was always pleasantly surprised when she found herself in attendance at one of these elegant functions because so rarely did the Congressman attend them, and even more rarely did she. Mitchell, on the other hand, was just there, a few years her junior and an undergraduate accounting student and campaign intern.
He stood alone in the lavish banquet hall, slowly sipping a whiskey drink that disgusted him and wondering just what he was doing there. Enthralled by the media frenzy surrounding the previous Presidential election, he excitedly grasped the first opportunity to enter the political scene, and found it to be not much more than troubling citizens at their homes and then annoying them to their nearest polling station by lecturing them with condescending rhetoric. However disenchanted as he was, he remained true to his initial commitment of volunteerism, and was therefore thrust by the crowd of fancy donors (not the same voters he bothered in their homes, of course) to wander nervously by the same few square inches of wall for half of an hour.
Thinking that he should never have bothered with his attendance, Mitchell broke away from the cacophony and slid into the bathroom. He stared into the mirror awhile, almost admirably, but then conceded to his reflection that it was time to exit. He walked into the grand ballroom as though it were a mausoleum. Walking briskly towards the revolving doors across the room, he was stopped abruptly by a former dorm mate who had graduated last year.
"Hey, man! How are you?"
Mitchell armed himself with triteness. "Not bad," he replied, "and you?"
"Good, good! Working for a state rep's campaign now. Advance stuff."
"Right! Hopefully you're not still holding signs."
Mitchell cringed when at what he heard himself say, because it was rather likely that his friend still was holding signs.
"Ha, right! I'm actually a field organizer."
"Oh, that's great," Mitchell said disinterestedly, but was quite glad that his classmate had apparently found a stable career as a shepherd.
Mitchell barely heard his friend speak, for his gaze was focused on the small crowd that he emerged from. A petite raven-haired girl with a fair, almost translucent complexion and bright red lips to match her dress was talking in an exaggerated, high-pitched manner to a man in his mid-fifties. Every now and then she would sip from her empty Martini glass as if forgetting that she drank its contents already.
Mitchell was jolted back to the present. "So, what have you been up to, man?"
"Just doing some volunteering on the campaign," Mitchell said with a pause, and then quickly added, "But I'm really busy with school."
"That's great," said Joe, and then with a shift in attention span, he stepped back and gestured, "Hey, do you know Annie?"
The small debutante glanced upward. The fifty-year-old she was conversing with had disappeared from sight.
Annie brushed a piece of her dark hair away from her mouth. She greeted Mitchell loudly, almost too loudly.
"Hi! Nice to meet you!"
They did the tired exchange of names and occupations and alma maters. An aspect of Annie made Mitchell slightly apprehensive, this being the manner in which she spoke, as though she were acting in a play, a musical. She rambled as she spoke, talked in circles, as if she was not quite conscious of the words that were flowing from her mouth and merely aware of the presentation of her banter, such as the way she ensured that she always punctuated her sentences with a quirk, a wag of the finger, a giggle, or a raise of the eyebrow. Usually this type of person caused Mitchell to think quickly of an excuse to leave, but an unexpected feeling overcame his being. After staring into her eyes with a nervous smile, his lips turned down and his expression turned serious.
He said, "Would you like something else to drink?"
There seemed to be an instinctive treaty between the two victims of this networking arrangement that feigning extroversion was a legitimate course of action; coercion was necessary to keep one from social exclusion. Suddenly, as the appearance of rain dripped like wax on the windows, Mitchell had an epiphany that here was someone who understood his plight. He felt a twinge in his heart as he watched Annie from the bar as the twin vodka tonics were being poured. There she was, sitting at a table alone, but nevertheless prepared, in case anyone dared to approach and ask for the time, a tissue, or her curriculum vitae. As with himself, Mitchell knew that Annie's pretense would clear away with those she allowed herself to trust. As he held the vodka tonics with both hands, one gushed over the top of the glass and onto the carpet. His hand was wet and cold, but inside he began to grow warm. He placed the full glass in front of her.
"I think it finally stopped raining," she said.
Annie's mind drifts back to consciousness, her hands firmly planted on the wheel of her minivan. She is parked at the neighborhood grocery store chain, as she needs to pick up a few items for Sunday dinner. She feels her front tires crush into the muddy snow bank in the front of her parking space as she stops the car and feels the freeze of the early December air. She accidentally bumps into a stranger on her way inside.
"Whoops, surrey ..." she says, her voice trailing off. It was a phrase she uttered all too often: "surrey." It was the price she paid for walking consistently with her head down, as she could not possibly be bothered to interact with others whilst distracted with a thought. Why she pronounced it in such an affected manner was explainable. She wasn't pretentious. It was an outlet for creative expression, as most of her quirks were. There was a restlessness inside of her stirring constantly, waiting to be disposed of. Because it never surfaced in an artistic outlet, it manifested in little eccentricities from biting her nails to affectations in her daily speech. She had invented her own patois as a means of assuaging her boredom with the routine of society life.
Years ago, she had dreamed of writing. Writing what, she did not know. She just assumed she would fill in that blank space with a noun eventually. Immediately in college she stumbled on a fascination with politics, which in a few years turned to absolute disgust, as most of her obsessions did.
Unable to see herself writing political speeches or even press releases, she settled eagerly into domestic life, thinking that the arrangement she and Mitchell shared would not lead into a traditional domestic entanglement, and that she would not fall victim to the routine of a housewife like so much of her ancestry.
She fills her grocery cart with a variety of accouterments until she has everything she needed. She rushes through the checkout line as she remembers that her daughter is waiting for her at the train station.