At the intersection, study the situation carefully: does it seem like a person can just park, without getting gas, and go into the store? Maybe the store is only for people getting — but no, come on, I know better. I’ve stopped at plenty of these stores. But where ARE you … oh, okay, there are parking spaces along the side. But there’s some sort of utility vehicle right there, like they’re working on something at the back of the store, and that means I’ll have to walk by the workers. Shit. Okay, that’s fine. It’s not like … shit.

Okay, I’m parked. Not too close to that truck. They seem busy, anyway. But what if you’re not supposed to park here because they need this space for — nah, there would be a sign or something. Right? Although maybe it’s just obvious: like, here’s a cherry picker truck thingie, doing stuff, this is a work area. Oh fuck it. I’m getting out.

No one’s looking at me. Okay, I guess this is fine. This is a public space, it’s okay for me to be here. There’s the entrance — oh god, there’s someone heading in at the same time. We’re going to end up at the door at the same time. Walk slower. Walk slower. Stop and dig through your purse like you’re looking for something. Make a little distracted frown: where is that wallet? Okay, she’s in. Go go go go, before someone else walks up.

Quick visual sweep: two clerks behind the counter (ugh: two), one woman at the coffee station. Head for the wall of beverages, whoops, this one’s all beer, what if someone glances over at this exact moment and it looks like I’m staring at beer, shit. Milk, soda, okay, here’s the garish energy drink section. God, am I really buying a Red Bull, and it’s not even noon? Maybe I should buy something else, something a bit more wholesome, so I don’t look so trashy. A banana? Here’s a little basket with bananas in it. Yes, I’d like to be the sort of person who goes into a convenience store and buys a single piece of fruit. Just natural, whole foods for me, thanks! Honestly though I’m not going to eat that banana. It’s super green, for one thing. All I wanted was this drink, why am I circling a banana display like a zoo animal? Just PAY. Just GO.

Well, but there’s that woman from the coffee area, and now she’s in this same aisle. Too awkward to walk right by her. I’ll just walk over to the dairy … take a calm, assessing look … then go up the next aisle. Casual. Breezy. I’m just a regular person in a store, doing regular things. Normal. Certainly not hugely, painfully, freakishly aware of myself.

Okay, time to pay. Worst part. WORST. It sucks so much that it’s two young dudes, whose conversation I have to interrupt. The one who takes my money doesn’t even make eye contact, which is both a relief and an irritant. Am I even here? How can I not be here when I feel so uncomfortably present? And now I’m overcompensating: “Thanks! Have a good one!”

Have a good one. What even the hell. Retreat to the car — sweet, sweet relief — and just sit at the wheel for a while, evaluating and criticizing my actions, before sighing out a great gust of who cares, nobody cares, why do you care and driving away.

It’s so easy to joke about being this way. I mean, it’s ridiculous! It’s comical! It’s also suffocating and relentless and keeps me isolated and I hate this part of myself, which is so prevalent it’s like hating all of myself.

I have read books, done exercises, paid for hours upon hours of therapy. I have sat with the sponsor who talked earnestly about this specific character defect and how I might rid myself of it with the help of a higher power. I have considered, carefully, the fridge-magnet wisdom that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I have, of course, spent years self-medicating all of my fucks straight out the window.

In the end, I’m tired of fighting against it. All the pep talks, the scrabbling for perspective, the effort to apply reason against the unreasonable — it’s too discouraging, trying to battle against the way my mind works. The results are always that I feel even worse about myself. It seems better to laugh when I can, breathe when I can’t, forgive myself for that which I cannot help.

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A couple weeks ago Dylan was lying around the house, dramatically bored, and announced that he couldn’t wait for school to start. “There’s nothing to do in the summer,” he sighed.

I often have to remind myself that kids have an infinite gas tank when it comes to being entertained and I realize I probably shouldn’t take it personally when a 9-year-old voices the emotion he’s experiencing at that exact moment in time instead of placing an hour of downtime into the context of a summer filled with swimming, river rafting, horse riding, camping, trailer outings, cabin visits, family get-togethers, road trips, a houseboat stay, water parks, bike rides, ATV adventures, and so on, but I can’t lie, it was a struggle to come up with a gentle suggestion to read a book or play in the backyard rather than a brisk Batman backhand followed by a five-hour PowerPoint lecture about Places Where Children Don’t Even Have Clean Water For Christ’s Sake.

Now that school is actually underway, of course, Dylan would greatly prefer to be home. He didn’t get the teacher he was hoping for, the mysterious and unfeeling process of sorting students placed all of his friends in one class and he in another, and the first day of riding the noisy, jostling bus left him with a migraine. “I wish summer would never have to be over,” he said sadly, and this time I pulled him close because who am I kidding, acting like I know how to have the right sort of perspective, when I too am forever caught between wishing the present away and fiercely trying to reel it back.

Meanwhile, Riley has started middle school and it is strange to imagine him navigating all these new things: locker combinations, class bells that send him from one room to another, those looming eighth graders who have the beginnings of mustaches. He is, so far, pretty excited, and pleased, I think, to feel like he’s leveled up into an exotic locale exclusive to big kids. “Dude, when you’re in sixth grade,” I heard him telling Dylan, “You can get tater tots and pizza, on the same day.”

Riley rode his bike to school today for the first time. We took several practice trips this summer, figuring out the safest way through the busiest intersection, and when it came time for him to leave I reminded him to be careful and watch for cars and that I loved him and then I had to say goodbye, let him go. And he left, and I remembered all those days of waiting at the bus stop with him, and how much that just legitimately sucked, and I thought but at least I knew he wasn’t getting run over, and that’s how it is. You hum and twirl your fingers in the carpet and wish things would change, and then they do, and you’re like, but wait—!

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