Behind the Scenes
Voices In My Head t-shirt design snagged from here.
The voice in my head won’t shut up.
I’m not descending into madness; at least, I don’t think I am. There aren’t multiple voices or personalities vying for control, just a singular voice that’s prattling and goading and nagging constantly.
“Quiet,” I tell it. And there’s silence. I can tell there’s silence. I’m listening to the silence.
As soon as I stop listening, the voice is back. It is my voice. It’s at first relieved that there was silence; that it had gone away. Then, as I realize the voice has returned, it’s annoyed that it’s back. Soon, it’s babbling once more, as if nothing had changed.
I’m putting myself under a microscope, reexamining every flaw. Flaws that are invisible to others–that hide in the woodwork of my psyche–are ever-present and always worming toward the surface.
My voice rehearses. It creates scripts and conversations that never happened and will likely never happen still. They’re supposed to protect me, providing verbal cues that supersede those insidious flaws. They sit, waiting, in a cabinet in the corner, filed for later use.
“What if I say the wrong thing?” the voice in my head asks.
“Don’t worry. You’re always preparing. You always have a plan.”
“But… what if?”
My body ties itself in knots, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering at the thought.
“There’s a strategy to everything,” I tell the voice. “You know there is. We’ve studied them. We’ve played games preparing and we’ve got our scripts. We can follow the scripts.”
“Yeah,” the voice responds sarcastically, “cause that worked so well last time, Mr. Boy Scout, Mr. Always Prepared.”
I’m angry at the voice. I’m angry at myself.
Plans are hard. They never go right.
“Murphy’s Law, right?” the voice needles.
“I’ve grown,” I reply. “I’m older, wiser, more worldly. You know I don’t stick my foot in my mouth as much as I used to. You know I can hide my anxiety behind a wall of calm.”
“You still feel like that kindergartener with a crush on the inside.”
The voice only draws more attention to the swirling tumult of emotion that’s clogging my gut. It’s right, though. I may have grown, but it’s all the same. The only difference is that I now have the wherewithal to recognize it and attempt to adjust.
They say that scent has the closest ties to memory. Of the senses, that may be true, but emotions cause moments to come flooding back, fresh in my mind.
I remember that kindergarten crush Sarah. I remember her blonde hair and the way the kids laughed when I brought her flowers. I remember my elation at being invited to her birthday party with a kiss on the cheek.
I remember Robin and her long beautiful braid at summer camp. I remember chasing down my friend, dodging trees always a step behind, as he publicized my emotions I had just confided to him. I remember the time-out I was given after beating him up, my fury unchecked by my prepubescent psyche. Most of all, I remember Robin’s visit, sneaking by the counselors while I was away from the group, the kiss she planted on my cheek, leaving me smiling and happy where once I was seething with anger.
I remember Allison and her smile in third grade. I remember rerouting myself to school an extra block just so might walk past her house and perhaps, if I were lucky, walk with her. I remember agonizing over signing the card with the ring–the one I had made with a cheap bauble from the fun fair and a crystal growing kit–and eventually leaving it marked “from a secret admirer” and stashing it on her doorstep on Valentine’s Day.
I remember Kate and her braces in fifth grade; the way they shone when she smiled made me want braces just to have something, regardless of how lame, in common with her. I remember the afternoon on which I found out that two of my good friends shared my attraction. I remember bitterly deciding to be the bigger man and remain detached, though my friends never knew and I hated myself for it.
Every one of them, and all the girls from middle school and high school, is mixed into those swirling emotions, spinning in my gut. Worst of all, the voice knows it.
“And how many of them went right? How many times did playing it cool work out? How many times did you find yourself happy? Two? Three?”
“Shut up,” I say, gritting my teeth. I glance around me to see if anyone noticed, but it was only a whisper undetected.
“Things will go wrong. They always do. You can’t plan and I can’t help you.”
“I know.” The voice knows too. It knows everything.
“Let’s play a game,” the voice says.
I’m smiling–no, grinning. Viciously. I know the game already. It doesn’t have a name and I don’t want to play.
The rules are simple: embrace the awkward; run with it. Stick my foot in my mouth. Say the wrong thing and play it up. Pee Wee Herman says, “I meant to do that,” and then straightens his suit. So should I.
“I’m not playing,” I tell the voice. “I’m just going to relax and be myself and let things go where they go.”
“Of course you are,” the voice nods. “But we both know where things are going.”
The voice is full of certainty. There’s an irony there, the way it instills doubt with certainty and no amount of logic can reverse it.
I, on the other hand, am the opposite of certain.
“How many times have I known something before, only to find out I’m wrong?” I ask the voice.
“A lot,” it says, confused at my rebuttal.
“It’s all mutable and constantly changing. Tonight might be different,” I declare, the affirmation not quite Stuart Smalley-esque.
“It could be,” the voice says with an uncertain dejection.
“We’ll just have to find out, won’t we?” I state.
The voice, for once, is silent. It knows I’m right. I know I’m right.
The butterflies are still there. The doubt, the memories, the questions, the what-ifs, they’re all still there.
But so am I.
No matter what the voice says, no matter how much doubt I may have, I’m still going to try.
It’s what I do.