My Age of Anxiety


Part One: Step on a Crack

(True story. Wish it wasn’t. Then again…)

There were signs early on, but I was too young to know what they meant. When I was in primary school I heard the phrase, “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” I laughed. Then started avoiding cracks. But I didn’t like how obsessive that felt, so I started stepping on cracks to prove that I wasn’t obsessive. Then I felt guilty about breaking my mother’s back, so I returned to avoiding cracks.

Nevertheless, I was a fearless high schooler, running for student body president against our hunky heartthrob football quarterback, starring in school plays, and happily stuffing myself on Purina ego-chow. I told my best friend Marc, “I’ll don’t think I’ll ever be happier than I am now!”

I was right.

My ego took a hit freshman year in college. Jonnie, a bruised reed of a beauty, refused to date me because I was “shallow.” “Oh, you’re fun to hang out with,” she said, “but you’re all jokes and laughs. You need to suffer a little, or you’ll never be deep.”

Jonnie and all of the other non-gay theatre girls were hot for Darren, the department’s broody 19 year old Mr. Darcy. Darren told me at a cast party one night, “I don’t care whether I live or die.” And I thought, Catch 22: being depressed would get  me Jonnie, but then I wouldn’t care.

A year after college, my girlfriend dumped me. Then I lost my job. Then my father died. I started listening to blues music and drinking whiskey while typing angry stream-of-consciousness poetry. And I thought bitterly, Jonnie would go out with me now.

I bounced back. For a while. But the storm that had been brewing ever since I’d avoided that first crack was about to break, and I didn’t see it coming.

After a failed attempt at running a school of the arts, I went back to college. As a theatre major I was expected to perform in plays. One of which was an odd little one-act by some depressed European existentialist. I was obligated, but my heart wasn’t in it.

So I applied this patently stupid solution: I only half-memorized my lines. The result? On opening night, as I plowed into the first of several long abstract monologues, my mind went wiped-hard-drive blank. When my thoughts reemerged from wherever they’d been, I saw an audience of 250 nervously coughing at me.

I couldn’t even remember what the play was. It was the classic actor’s nightmare, only it was actually happening. And then, instead of improvising something, I began to meditate on the absurdity of pretending to be someone I wasn’t for people who’d paid to sit in the dark and watch me do it.

I finally laid hold of a tattered strand of memory, barked out some vague approximation of the monologue, and wandered offstage. In a haze of fear, I made my way through the rest of the show with the words “What do I say next?” running around screaming inside my brain.

I guzzled a gallon of whiskey at the cast party, trying to drown the voice in my head, while distractedly dialoguing with a Jonnie-like beauty named Diane.

cfa901365df3dfc54c59e1d01443950dThen I stumbled home to my cave of an apartment and disappeared down the sleep drain.

But at three o’clock in the morning, I sat up, instantly sober, my mouth full of cotton wool, and whispered, “What if I go insane?”

The storm had broken.

To read Part Two: Into the Darkness, click here.

⇔ ⇔ ⇔

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to My Age of Anxiety

  1. Wow! What a journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bruce says:

    Thank you for sharing this Mitch. I read all four parts. I’m always amazed at the different ways in which God reaches out to all the variations of humanity, how we are all different yet all the same. Grace and blessings my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. says:

    Can’t wait to read more❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s like you stole my life story and threw a little improv in. That whole don’t step on a crack, or step on cracks on purpose and feel guilty thing — I did it exactly the same way. But I wasn’t president of anything in high school, my life was a complete mess during high school. In fact, that’s where my insanity hit.

    I was president of my nursing school class years later, though. And the one time that I acted in a play I had the starring role, I knew all of my lines frontwards and backwards, and I got a standing ovation. My ego needed to have a great big hammer taken to it. As luck would have it, life obliged.

    The depression and the alcoholic drinking almost did me in. Until I came out of my stupid agnostic-atheist phase, that is…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read the whole thing. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve really enjoyed reading your story, Mitch. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have anxiety bad. I hope you can handle it. It is hard for me.


  8. Haha! I used to have that dream all the time! Except it never did really happen on stage.
    … It did, however, sorta happen in front of a classroom a few times during my teaching years.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. cricketmuse says:

    Enough pain in the first part for several Jonnies to satisfy.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You are a book that is open. We read and open the pages that interest us. You are so well grounded. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Ann Coleman says:

    Thanks for your honesty, Mitch! i think it is a gift to all people who have struggled with who and what they are. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of our story, and also appreciate this insight into how you grew into the person you are now.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. mitchteemley says:

    Thanks, dear Ann.

    Liked by 1 person

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