I am eleven and for the life of me I can’t sit still.
I’m being sent to a therapist because I pull out my eyelashes when I’m anxious, which everyone from the school nurse to the lady who watches me after school says is always. My therapist’s office is located in a brick office complex next to a cemetery that smells like curry but is located above a taco shop. Next to the taco shop is a music store and I suggest to my mom that maybe I should learn flute instead of therapy but she just laughs and whisks me upstairs anyway. Mr. Lawler is someone I imagine my mother picked out at random from the back of a telephone book under “child therapists.” When I meet him instead of shaking my hand he gives me a fist bump and I rush to my pocket journal to note that he smells like peppermint and community college. I’m skeptical of his ability to help me from the beginning mostly because he looks like Joey Fatone sans the highlights and all he wants to do with me is play Connect Four and take me out for tacos while we talk about my feelings on feelings. I once note he smells like aqua-velva. Another day he asks me why I keep pulling at the hair on my legs as I pace his office. I tell him I just like how it feels and it ‘slows me down.’ He asks me if I want to learn how to draw a five point star without drawing any lines in the middle of it. “Idiot,” I think to myself, pushing myself to the floor and snatching the purple colored pencil out of his hand so I can stop listening to his voice.
The first time my parent’s noticed my inability to stay rooted in one place varies, depending on which one of them tells the story. My mother will swear that it was the time she cried in the pews of St. Columba church because I wouldn’t sit still during a sermon when I was three years old. She bounced me from knee, to floor, to knee, to my father’s knee to keep me from crawling under people’s feet and pulling their socks. “There is something wrong with him, I swear” she sobbed into a pile of McDonald’s napkins as my dad drove home. My parents had planned on having more children after me, but legend has it that I didn’t sleep through the night until I was eight years old. By that time my mom had already stormed into her doctor’s office insisting her tubes be tied.
If my dad tells the story, it’s the time we took a road trip to visit my Grandpa in North Carolina after he started falling down sporadically. I spent the trip pushing leaves around the front yard while my 78 year-old grandpa yelled from the porch that I was raking the lawn wrong. My father decided we had overstayed our welcome when my grandpa made me climb on the roof to put a grate over his chimney. “It’s so little critters don’t crawl into my house at night and scare me,” he told me when my eyes narrowed. I refused to sleep the night before our departure because I was convinced a rogue racoon had a bounty on my grandpa’s head and would gladly consider me collateral damage if it wandered into the wrong room. On the trip home I didn’t stop asking to use the bathroom, I just clawed at the window like a feral cat every time we passed a rest stop until my father conceited and pulled off. I jumped out of the car and ran ahead of him and when I came back he leaned against the car picking his nails, “you realize the creeps that hang out in rest stop bathrooms?” he said in a leveled voice, “for all I know you could’ve had your throat slit by some thug and by the time I found you, you would’ve bled out.’ I know exactly what he means when he says ‘bled out’ and i’m not sure how, all I know is that I would have rather exploded than wait a second more to pee, and that I’ve never been able to wait for anyone.
I stop seeing Mr. Lawler after I convinced him it would be beneficial to my progress if I brought my rabbit Ms. Storm to one of our sessions and she shit on his couch, like a million little confetti rabbit shits. I pace outside his door as he tells my mother he thinks my progress was “adequate” and that with more socialization with my peers I will improve over time. I tell my mother all the reasons why Mr. Lawler could never help me including the time that I asked him point blank to tell me how many minutes the brain could go before it died of oxygen deprivation. He told me he didn’t know, I told him the answer was four minutes. I didn’t really miss him after our last session.
On Mr. Lawler’s orders my parents march me into the guidance counselors office and demand a colorful array of club pamphlets. We pour over the pages over cartons of mu shu pork at dinner. They want me to feel focused and my father tells my mother that a focused mind is a mind that is too tired to wander. I try out art club, but spanish club has donuts after school, and art club doesn’t. Spanish club doesn’t work out because I can’t speak spanish but drama club has lots of costumes and I would be allowed to run around building sets all afternoon. I opt for chorus because I figure out I can’t build things like sets without potentially breaking my own fingers with a hammer. Chorus is trying because I have to sit still to learn songs and I refuse to do show choir because it seemed like a level of gay not even I would stoop to. Cross country, I deem, was for race horses and not boys; one of the only activities I found that could tire me out to the point of being comatose. As I age I realize that it’s not my body that won’t tire, it’s my mind.
I am nineteen and at some random college radio station party with my first boyfriend. The beer here is foamy and the band that is playing are all wearing barn yard animal masks and i’m trying to metaphorically figure out what that means since they’re all trust-fund babies. I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that i’m being scrutinized by the people around me, although I know rationally they’re all too drunk to even really take stock that i’m alive. My friend Sam comes and finds Kevin and me and pulls us towards the bon fire. I think about what would happen if someone got too drunk and fell over the stick six inches behind me and pushes me into the fire. To quell my fear, I step to the left. I think about the possibility that an even bigger stick could now be positioned behind where I stand, so I go back to the keg and fill up my beer again. A boy who DJs during the night shift comes over to me and asks me my opinion on Purity Ring (the band) then segues into a joke about if i’ve lost my purity yet. My boyfriend is occupied with holding someone up for a keg stand, but I feel uncomfortable around this DJ boy. I know I do things just because I want to see if the outcome I worry about will come true. Later, I beg my boyfriend to spend the night with me so I don’t have to sleep alone with my thoughts. He tells me he’s in grad school and ‘just can’t do it,’ whatever the fuck that means.
I get my first internship writing in Chicago and break up with him over dollar pizza in the Costco food court. I mean, I don’t break up with him right then and there, but I rush out of the building when he asks me what Chicago will mean for us. At a red light I tell him I don’t love him anymore. Fifteen minutes go by with him crying on my bed before I ask him to leave, ‘I have to run’ I tell him. Instead of doing anything to distract myself from my two year relationship ending I sit on the couch and stare at photos of us. I think about how the next chapter of my romantic endeavors will be greater than my last. He surprises me with a visit while I’m living in Chicago and asks to take me back. I tell him no and sleep next to him that same night in the large bed of my sublet. The next morning when he tries to take my hand I tell him, ‘we just are in different places right now,’ whatever the fuck that means.
I move to Chicago and feel miserable that i’m not making enough money there and i’m not “writing my truth.” Calling my parents every day while I walk the three red line stops back to my apartment to barter with them to put more money into my account so I can walk three more red line stops to pick up my favorite type of cheeseburger from this vegan restaurant I read was on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives once. I sign a book deal, then I sign another and I feel nothing besides the burning question of, ‘so what is next?’ There is a new patch of hair missing from my leg but I don’t worry so much about that now because since Mr. Lawler i’ve seen four more therapists who tell me I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and my mind just won’t stop. Before I moved to Chicago, one therapist warned me that I could be triggered by all the sudden change to convince myself I don’t like my surroundings. I tell her point blank I thought she was an idiot, that I was an artist and needed new surroundings to flourish. Eventually I call my parents and tell them I need to come home early, that I ‘just can’t hack the city life.’ I tell all my friends i’ve made the choice to leave because I ran out of money, that 'I just couldn’t stop buying hamburgers!’ Eventually I do the exact same thing when I move to New York City a year later. Jumping on a plane quickly because being flighty feels better than feeling defeated.
I am now twenty two and I’m forced to sit still. When I left New York I had just enough money in the bank to last me until I found steady work back in Florida. Now, I send out fifteen job applications a day and write letters to a boy I care about but lives across the country. Most of the time I hear nothing back from the companies I implore for a full-time position. I work two jobs that both have nothing to do with writing and everything to do with the way I look. My surroundings rarely change these days and I am slowly finding the monotony comforting. I am starting to collectively hear everything I’ve been told since I was a child: sit still, be patient, wait. I am reminded of the blame I was so quick to pass along to others in my life. In the scenarios my OCD planted in my head, I was always the anti-hero. A handsome misanthrope the world just couldn’t keep up with. Someone to be admired from afar but never completely understood. I stay awake at night wondering where to run next, where my next adventure will take me. I consider graduate school, I research how much twink-fetish sites pay boys per scene. I wonder what the pay is like to teach English as a second language, of all the pot I would be able to legally smoke in Berlin. Then, I stop and imagine sandpaper socks on my feet holding me still just long enough to see where I end up if for once I just stay still.
Shawn Binder is an essayist for Bustle and VICE News. He is currently working on his second book, I Can Self Destruct, when he isn't eating hummus or watching videos of otters.