The First Anxiety of the Day

By Judah Stiefel

 

The crunch of human mass shifting atop mattress springs reached me from across a familiar distance. I recognized the metallic creaks to be the sound of my roommate, Miles, struggling to hold on to, or else wrestle with, a few more moments of sleep before the stresses of his day took over. I determined to do the same—but found that the colorful juices of my own anxieties had already begun to leak across the surfaces of my brain. Through the motley, one shade of blue seemed to loom particularly prevalent, though in my preconscious mental state, I was unable to place what was causing this particular stress. I had yet to acquire the easel on which to splatter my concrete thoughts. It presented to me in flush only—the first anxiety of the day.


After a vaguely conscious period of thrashing limbs and twisting sheets, I begrudgingly opened my eyes to the violent, mellow sunlight, which leaked through the cracks and crevices of the battered, black venetian blinds that remained shut in protest to the winter. The blinds were an artifact from a previous tenant, along with the living room couch which shed its faux leather terribly, and some flowery wallpaper which we’d planned to remove since moving in. Still, we were college students, it was hard to complain.

 

Without a glance, I groped expectantly towards the nightstand, my fingers recognizing the cool aluminum surface of my iPhone which sat dormant in the corner despite the fact that I could not recall placing it there the night before. None the less, I knew it would be there.
I attributed the gap in my memory to relate symptomatically to my addiction. From the early days of my adolescence, hiding my head under the sheets for fear of parental apprehension, I’d developed the habit of vigorously browsing YouTube—viewing videos from the infinite ether until the weary moment when tranquility seized me and consciousness faded from my skull. From what I could discern, through years of classical conditioning, I’d taught my less than conscious self to punctuate this sleep-deprivation ritual by connecting my phone to its charger and placing it gently on the corner of the nightstand where it would await me the next morning.

 

Tapping the dimly backlit screen to check the time, I inferred that my self-inflicted exhaustion had been overcome by my inherent apprehension, and that the commencement of my day had preceded my alarm by eleven minutes, and further— in the time it took me to deliberate whether to nix the alarm and stumble out of bed… or else to grasp at another few less than promising moments of sleep—nine minutes had miraculously (or perhaps paradoxically) passed, and my decision was made for me. I glanced to my left with the intention of monitoring Miles’s progress, only to find that he had evaporated.

 

With the promise of music as recompense, (and the burden of the days tasks beginning to outweigh the feeling of my body on the mattress) I prompted myself to roll out of bed. As with many elements of my life, I felt that a diegetic flow of audio was effective as a general anesthetic to the tedium which occasionally punctuated my day, these finding me in the form of formalities such as my long walks to classes or banalities such as shaving or brushing my teeth. With a chuckle that only I could hear, I played Sonny and Scher’s “I Got You Babe” on repeat (a song played as a morning alarm on endless repeat in the movie Groundhog Day, prompting Bill Murray to commit multiple failed attempts at suicide). As Sonny Bono sang about his penchant for love over fiscal responsibility, I remembered that the rent was due at the end of the week, and that the woman I’d been infatuated with for nearly a month had just turned me down. Her rejection was hefted at me with such impressively casual indifference that my thoughts of her were bled even further into my brain. I hadn’t been able to get her out of my mind for days.

 

As the second iteration of the song began, I realized I’d been standing motionless beside my bed, daydreaming, and making no progress towards getting out the door. I could no longer afford the luxury of matching my outfit to the morning’s temperament. From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the previous day’s thick chain mail sweater and stiff white jeans which lay steaming in a heap at the foot of my bed. Putting them on, I felt the sweat of the previous day seep back into my skin. Now off to the library to pick up where I’d left off studying the night before. My sleep felt less like a respite and more like a comma (not a coma), punctuating two heavily burdensome independent clauses. The two days seemed to flow together like neighboring oceans, interrupted only by the slight shift of currents.
I dragged myself towards the bathroom, ready to wash the sleep from my face. As I passed through the hallway, I happened upon Miles in the living room, rematerialized, sprawled across the flaking couch, wearing his famous bathrobe, and focused intensely on a brick sized anthology of the Federalist Papers. The sight forced a smile to stretch across my face. He looked up and smiled as well, and we greeted each other with a prompt, hearty nod. We were comrades together— both in our monthly rent payments and in our suffocation beneath oppressive weekly workloads.

 

“Off to the library,” I said cheerily, “Any chance I have time to grab some Dunkin on the way?”

 

“Nope,” smiled Miles with a swoop of his head, “Ya got no time Steve. That’s not your lot in life. Make haste, it’s off to the library with you.”

 

I smirked. “Same time tomorrow then?” I asked, but Miles had already become re-engrossed in his reading.

 

With an unnatural rubber smile now present on my stiff morning face, I rushed, threw my bag over my shoulder, and was out the door before the song finished playing for the third time.

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