We’re eating sushi at some nondescript place in the Village, laughing and flirting between mouthfuls of salmon rolls. It’s date number two, and it’s going as well as a sushi date at 3 PM can be expected to go. He’s handsome, athletic, likes his mother, and held the door for me twice. I’ve done worse. We’re asking each other those questions that you have to ask to be polite. I’ve learned about his favorite song, his siblings, and his high-school band. I’m ready to go home.
“Favorite movie?” I ask, bracing myself for an answer I’ll overanalyze later.
“American Psycho or Pulp Fiction.” He answers without missing a beat. Yikes.
“Notting Hill.” He nods, pretending to be familiar with Richard Curtis.
“Favorite animal?” He asks, changing the subject.
“Lion,” I answer while fiddling with my chopsticks. “Favorite book?” I ask, now slightly more interested. Turns out he doesn’t read too much. Okay. I go back to my plate.
“Biggest fear?” He asks while shoveling a dynamite roll down his throat. He isn’t quite focusing on me, and he asks as if he knows exactly what I’ll say.
I’ve always been a big believer in the power of the truth, no matter how awkward or painful. It separates the brave, the strong, the confident from the crowd. It also saves time that I’d rather not waste on idiot men. But I’m not quite sure how to express the very thoughts that have kept me up on countless nights, tossing and turning like a ship at the sea’s mercy.
How do I tell him that my biggest fear is being commonplace? That I’ll live and die as part of the societal machine, checking boxes as I go? Graduate? Check. A job that requires a blazer and loss of humanity? Check. Bills? Check. Engagement, marriage, children, and so on until the checklist is full of pen and my life has run out and all I’ve really done is a whole lot of nothing. Marriage isn’t an accomplishment, no matter how hard suburban wives will try to convince you otherwise on their Facebook posts. Neither is procreating. Snails and chinchillas and bats do it. It’s really not that special. Neither is simply existing. How am I meant to live life if simple survival is what keeps me going? If it’s an endless cycle of basic necessities and self-praise for the mundane?
I fear inadequacy. I fear that all men will ever value me for is my appearance or for what’s between my legs. That my potential is as a mother, a wife, a one-night stand. That my personality, my brain, is something to humor, to overcome, to ignore. I fear the power of love and lust in making you lose yourself. In making you mold and bend yourself to your partner’s will until you no longer resemble yourself at all.
I fear showing someone my soul just to have them decide that it isn’t for them, that the timing isn’t right, or that it’s not me, it’s them.
I fear stagnancy. I fear change.
Most of all, I fear censorship. I fear being told that what I have to say isn’t important or special or worthwhile. I fear forging on in silence, battling to keep all this within. On the outside, I am a brook like the one across from my childhood home, with pleasant trickles over rocks, shining in the sun. Soft, inviting, warm. On the inside, I am a raging sea. Dark. Twisted. Ready to rip the sails off and engulf those who dare to come near.
I feel like I’m drowning most days. I have too much to say, to experience, to learn. I can’t properly express what I want, and the tides within me begin to swell as the skies turn black and the water beats down on the rocky coastline of my soul. Mercilessly, the winds howl as roots are ripped from the ground and rocks fall from cliffs, forever changing the landscape. My lungs lose air as the wind and water whip my face and I try to learn how to write. How to write well. How to tell my story. Where to start. Will anyone listen? Will they care? Why bother?
Just as I feel that I’m being dragged under, forever trapped by the endless possibilities and questions and self-doubt and fear, the wind—as it always does—begins to slow. The sea retreats, the swells cease. The skies return to a soft blue. The coastline is only slightly eroded, the beaches only slightly destroyed. It’s natural, they say.
And here I am, back at that table.
I smile that flirty smile, pick up another roll, and pretend to consider my options as I playfully bite my lip. Color comes to his cheeks. Just slightly, but I catch it. Just before I pop the roll into my mouth, I fake a shudder.
He smiles. All is right in his world. The date, the day, the world goes on. The sea within me starts to slow.
Annie Walton Doyle