Fear. I begin to hyperventilate riding the tube. Humans were not meant to tunnel under the ground at VIOLENT, IMPROBABLE speeds. If we were, God would have made us gophers — or like those guys in that Beckett play. Happy Days, I think. But the reason I hyperventilate is not in anticipation of the ground caving in on me, as it very well could, but at what the Evening Standard headline proudly advertises just outside the entrance to Bond Street Station. “TUBE GAS ATTACK FOILED!” the black marker screams. I attempt not to scream back. As I make my way down into the abyss, I’m thinking about how when you’re gassed, you feel like you’re drowning. That is how you die. But I had to go meet my grandparents, and time constraints prevented alternative forms of transportation. The abyss it is.
So I’m hyperventilating. I’ve sucked in my eyeballs, and I’m about to fall over. I haven’t finished my Naipaul. I haven’t written anything of value for anyone to praise posthumously. I’m going to die, and I’m resigned to it. I’ve lived a good life. I’ve eaten good naan. A young man reaches into his bag and my lungs seize up. And then I’m at Knightsbridge, and I’ve survived. The bag held a croissant. The ex-terrorist has flakes of pastry on his upper lip. I begin to breathe normally.
The world is mad and getting madder by the hour. Are there chemicals in the water? Did the world suddenly burp a great mass of mercury into all our streams and rivers and lakes? Things fall apart, and all I can do is sniff the ground, quaking with questions and fear.
But what’s the good in that kind of fear? I worry constantly about what we’re doing to the world, raping it to feed and clothe and entertain our burgeoning population — but really, if I take into account how stupid and sick the human race is, I think it will all work out for the planet in the end. I mean, we’re killing each other. And we enjoy doing it. We beat all of Mother Nature into submission, but we can’t beat ourselves, except for the times that we do, in the other sense of the word.
Don’t believe me? Think it’s just the third world civilizations that hold bloodthirsty cretins? Well, take a moment and think about someone you really don’t like. You know, the asshole that saunters into your French class ten minutes late with his mocha latte and bagel, which he eats with his mouth open, spraying crumbs all over his desk. He doesn’t clean the desk. Instead, he doodles on it, and after class, he asks you if the teacher assigned homework. Now imagine the bastard getting elbowed in the face. Brings a smile to your face, doesn’t it?
It’s no wonder I have the fear. The universe is expanding, getting thinner and thinner like that guy in the Stephen King book. If God’s out there, he’s comatose at best; at worst, he just doesn’t care. And if God’s not out there — then we’re all alone in the darkness. The entire life cycle is hell-bent on self-destruction, courtesy of you and me, buster. The stratosphere’s got a hole in it, I can’t win at solitaire, and I’m going to die, poor and hungry on the streets, because I can’t do anything and no one likes me. And, most important, Friends has nearly come to an end. But I suppose it doesn’t matter because we’re all going to die at some point anyhow.
Of course, it’s normal to worry. It’s normal to be freaked out that, at a minimum, a quarter of our lives are essentially over and we’ve accomplished little to nothing. I think you’re actually supposed to have an existential crisis in your twenties, at which point you either commit suicide or make a deliberate effort to numb yourself to all thoughts that don’t involve work, family, and work. Maybe some of you are activists — then you probably know what I’m talking about. You work for a cause all your life, and maybe you prolong a few more agony-ridden lives, good for you, and maybe you save some trees from being cut down for a few extra years, or maybe you reduce the amount of trash that’s polluting the potable water that’s going to disappear before long anyhow. It’s all a waste. This is depressing. This is the downward spiral. This is the fear. Hey, here’s the meaning of life.
It’s the waiting room before you die, so why not trash the motherfucker if the magazines are a decade old and the other guy’s nodding off on your shoulder? Why not just do what gives you a moment of pleasure? Isn’t this the ultimate philosophical debate? Do you do what’s good for others, or what’s good for you? Isn’t what’s good for you good for others? What does good even mean? Philosophy is a waste of time. It’s just foreplay without the end-play. You might as well just go and do what you’re going to do and stop wasting precious moments on thinking and questioning.
When I look in the mirror and put my hands to my face, I feel the skull beneath and freak out. This flesh bag, slowly deteriorating, is all that’s separating me from the skeletons that chill out on the third floor of the medical school. Go to the third floor of the medical school sometime. You can smell the chloroform from the stairs.
I don’t know what we’re doing at Yale. I loathe the feeling of inertia. Is it a college thing or will it last until this sheath of skin has flaked away into the mud and grime. Be honest. What’s it all for? You don’t know either. We can’t stop bumping around, blind, stupid, bloody bats that we are, hoping for a fragment of sound that explains where we are and what we’re doing here. It’s a cruel joke. And I can’t help but be afraid.
(Here ends the most depressing rant I could come up with. If you think your family doesn’t care enough about you, and you really want to give your parents reason to be concerned for your mental well-being, just put this up in your room with the words “THIS WOMAN SEES INSIDE MY SOUL” all over it, and you’ll be sure to get their attention, as well as a psychologist and/or heaps of chocolate. This is my gift to you. May good karma come back and reward me.)
Katherine Stevens fears fear itself.