“The Innards of Anxiety” – Non-Fiction by Rebecca Havens

Anxiety - Edvard Munch, 1894
Anxiety – Edvard Munch, 1894

Rebecca Havens shares the idiosyncrasies of her disquietude in “The Innards Of Anxiety,” her flash non-fiction from our Spring 2015 issue.

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WHEN THE PHONE RINGS, I AM PRIMED FOR DEATH. The short hairs on the back of my neck peel away from my skin until they’re perpendicular, my guts twist into an impossible mess, everyone knows they’re an impossible mess, I will never be rid of the mess.

As we sit to eat, I tell myself that everything has an exact place and time, which should not only be respected but worshipped at a perfectly prepared altar. “That’s devil-worship you heathen!” it says in the middle of the Pad Prig Khing.

I don’t even excuse myself, I let the sobs do it for me.

My breathing doesn’t just speed up when I find, the next day, that the penne has been placed after the tortellini: It reverses until all the air on the planet is in my lungs. I’m choking on the air that belongs to all humanity. “Greedy,” it hisses.

You, my lovely, once asked me, “Why does the Penne have to come before the Tortellini?”  I could hear in your voice that you were capitalizing the improper nouns, and it stressed me out. “I alphabetize the pasta,” I said. “The pasta prefers it.”

I unwind by letting two seconds tick by instead of one. By forcefully hugging my brother when I wish to hug him even though the anxiety yells “NO!” in my busted eardrum; by eating the last bite on my large plate when it says “Last bites are dangerous and small plates are safe;” by saying “Yes” in the middle of the night when you asked me to marry you and I wasn’t even sure marriage was something I wanted, but then somehow with you I knew it was. Oh, the lashes I got for that one.

It is by choosing to breathe.

My muscles don’t know how to be languid, my voice doesn’t know how to be smooth. These are someday-faraway goals I write in secrecy when the anxiety leaves me for one moment or two moments.

Tonight I actually notice the burden, which is getting rarer. The panic appears, and in order to hide, I slowly slink within myself.




No one will notice when I’m                                                                                                                  gone.

The anxiety, the stuff I told you about, the kind that’s bad tonight (it appreciates when I’m precise), has me gnawing, tooth on skin until it’s tooth on bone, on my Andy-side thumb. It tells me I will one day cause a multi-car pile-up on the busiest section of I-25 because I can’t decipher the words “left” and “right,” and know them only through landmarks like “Andy-side” and “Becky-side,” and after nearly 15 months together, I’d rather just let him drive.

Other nights– but let me be specific not tonight because I’m hiding— it steals my breath, not giving it back, like that person in the office who never did learn to share the conversation. And how will I ever breathe again when all the air belongs to it, and I can’t possibly compete? It tells me, whispers so softly, sweetly, like the most loving partner, that I am a weak mass of unmuscled, scraggly, what’s-left-of skin and bone and hair, and it is the stuff of Myth. I am mere madness, it is Power and Claws and all Venom.

It will sting while it bites while it claws while it chokes.

When I am strong enough to dream, I dream of wishing.

I dream I was strong enough to wish I could loathe it, and when I am strong enough to dream, I see how it eats my will to do anything of use.

The phone rings, and I am primed never to exit this state, for the anxiety must surely have killed all I’ve ever lived for.

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newskiREBECCA HAVENS is a happy person. She currently works for a nonprofit, and graduated in 2014 from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in Writing. She mostly writes fiction and poetry, but adores everything.

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