Anxiety Is A Gremlin Living Inside My Ribcage


She is on her hands and knees, scrubbing the smell of dog piss out of the basement carpet.

A deep rage that is familiar but unwelcome consumes her. It’s not the fact that the dog refuses to urinate outside—he is old as hell, there isn’t much that can be done about that. It’s not even that the smell of said pee has begun to waft up the stairs and anyone who enters the abode gets bitch slapped with a strong ammonia-like aroma as a welcoming offer.

The problem, she realizes while haplessly scrubbing the contents of this basement floor, is that her life is spinning wildly out of control.

She stands in the backyard among piles of soggy dog doo as doggo wanders around aimlessly, undoubtedly searching for his beloved carpet to make his mark. She knows, in her heart, that bringing him outside will not result in anything fruitful. He will pretend to pee, as he always does, proceed to look at her with those large dopey brown eyes, and then upon returning to the warm sanctuary of the house, make his way directly downstairs, lift his back haunch, and let flow. All the while keeping stern eye contact with his mistress at the top of the stairs while she screams ineffectually.

The dog isn’t the problem, though.

Well, he’s sort of the problem. Having a house perfumed in urine is a problem. But, in truth, it is a secondary problem. A thing she focuses on to redirect the actual issues. Doggo, the dog, is a scapegoat.

The real issue here is that there is a small gremlin living inside of her rib cage. The thing took up residence long ago. So long, in fact, that she cannot pinpoint how many years they have existed in each other’s company. The gremlin tickles her from the inside out. Dragging long talon-like claws along the innermost part of her body. This causes the woman much grief and unease. Often, she cannot pinpoint the root of this worry and wonders why she always has the feeling that the world might implode at any second and somehow, it will be all her fault.

The talented gremlin can simultaneously bring to mind all of her worldly worries at once—politics, her vague understanding of said politics, her mothering aptitude, money troubles, her lack of achievement in her chosen career, her addiction to cream puffs—and spin them into a finely articulated web of worries that leaves her immobilized in bed and pining for cream puffs.

The gremlin is proficient at rummaging up old memories in the most inopportune times. While serving a customer at work, she is reminded of that guy who flipped her the finger-guns after their blind date while she, absentmindedly, was going in for a goodnight kiss. As the man leaned back to dodge her smacking craw, he said, “Whoa, I don’t think so. I’ll be seeing ya around, Kid.”

Humiliation rages out of the past like buffalo tumbling over rocky cliffs. Moments later, when she pulls herself from this self-loathing reminiscence, she finds that she has been staring directly at the customer for several seconds but has not registered one single thing that he has ordered. Having to ask him to repeat himself is awkward enough, while the gremlin whispers about how pitiful she is at even the simplest of public service jobs.

Her brain tries to quiet the beast by coming up with funny stories.

Like that one time that drunk guy told her she was fat and not worth the change he had moments before tossed on the ground before her. She laughs because this dude, this red-faced, soggy-eyed goon, had a protruding beer belly that jiggled jollily as he berated her appearance. Comedic irony. Or something close enough.

The gremlin, on the other hand, runs his sloth claws on the innermost lining of her belly and whispers the whimpers of an insecure 14-year-old girl, reminding her of all the embarrassment and danger and foolhardiness that she has given in to with the vain hope that it might grow the confidence she so desperately craves.

Her fingers will try to hush this inside monster by writing poetry or flowery prose that drifts through a keyboard and appears polished upon a once-white word processing screen. Her fingers know what they are doing and thus far have been most effective in telling that piece of shit gremlin where to stick it.

Her heels have traveled over miles of ground, trying to walk off this gremlin’s bad mojo. She will strap on some runners and walk for hours, clearing her mind, pushing the imp down and, with hope, out of her body. The body which, in the worst of times, has been usurped in totality by this creature’s psychological warfare.

And her ears. Her ears will listen to the books she hoards on audiotapes when her eyes are too tearful or unfocused to comply.

Turning the handle to the front door, the dog smell, the scapegoat, accosts her nostrils upon entering. She is not sure if it is real or in her head. The gremlin has no opinion on such matters. He deals more with concerns of the soul.

The gremlin is ruthless in his accusations.

He tells her that optimism is useless and wonders why she pushes so hard against the logical and rational thinking of her peers. Her betters. The predicaments that she is forever finding herself in are all her own doing. And for that, she should forever be seeking redemption. Nose to the grindstone. No rest for the weary. You know, all of the clichés up in here. Blithe moments are for those who can afford them.

A sentence. Written in fast succession.

Scribbled upon lined paper and shoved back into the bare-boned belly of a notebook.

Hidden. Secreted into a sea of blank meaningless lines.

Slapdash literature, never to be seen twice.

If only she could find the proper words to string together, perhaps she might uncover a spell to erase this thing from her life once and for all.

The gremlin’s fingernail scratches the fleshy lining of her esophagus. He is saying hello. And that there will be no more talk about getting rid of him. He is here for the long haul.

She takes off her headphones. Removes her aching fingers from around the pen clutched tightly in her palm. She sits on the floor with a scrub brush in hand and resumes cleaning the dog piss from the carpet.

And ever so calmly, the gremlin begins to sing her a lullaby.