I had been putting off filling up my car with gas for a couple of weeks. It was just one of those things that the pandemic let slide since I’m not commuting to my job anymore (or have that job anymore for that matter), and I would have thought that maybe, if anything, I’d be excited at the chance to do a mundane activity outside of the house I’ve been quarantined in since March. But with the Bobcat Fire aggressively approaching my California childhood home and the threat of evacuation orders being issued at any minute, filling up the car with gas became a necessity I could no longer ignore.
I got in the passenger’s side of my girlfriend’s car as we scoped out different gas stations around the area that weren’t too crowded. As soon as the car started in motion though, I felt my gag reflex start to creep up and my cheeks flush with unease.
For years, I’ve dealt with anxiety, both severe and mild. Yes, I am generally a person that worries but I also do yoga to find my zen and pride myself on connecting with my emotions and intuitions. I’m what some might call a flower child. But when my severe anxiety comes out, it literally comes out.
That horrible burning, tingling feeling that rises from my stomach to my chest to my throat is all too familiar and something I’m afraid I’ve become too accustomed to. Since throwing up on a plane at the end of the flight as a seventeen-year-old, I’ve since devised multiple strategies to determine where and how to get sick in whatever public arena I find myself in that is the most sanitary and least embarrassing. Most often, there’s always a plastic bag or container around that can be the victim of my nerves. And there have been many victims. (I’m sorry, coffee-cup-that-stayed-in-the-car-for-way-too-long-but-finally-came-in-handy).
Either way, I thought this car ride was going to be no exception. Driving around and seeing the storefronts and restaurants I grew up around being either a) devastatingly vacant, b) devastatingly populated, or c) displaying aggressive signs reading, “We have MASKS and HAND SANITIZER” made me mourn for my community in a way that, just six months ago, I never could have imagined.
While running through my internal dialogue of “Please don’t get sick - why does this always happen - do other people get sick like this - am I going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life” I tried to focus on my breathing to slow down my heart rate and subsequently my puke. Before I knew it, I found myself back in the driveway with my girlfriend having successfully filled up the tank of gas while I sat there like a useless fool. I welcomed the sight of home and wiped the sweat off of my face. I made it through another panic attack.
While certainly not a proper diagnosis, my therapist has termed my experiences like this one as “situational agoraphobia.” Given the circumstances of an ongoing pandemic and a fire in close proximity to me, my body and my brain have decided that staying in the house at all costs is the safest place for me to be. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about anxiety. She’s not rational, folks. But she’s definitely persuasive.
With these anxiety attacks becoming a part of a monthly, if not every biweekly, routine, I’ve been trying to find some activity to engage in that can completely eliminate any stress I might be experiencing. This is a tall order. But believe it or not, I think I found my anxiety’s kryptonite.
Yes, by Stephanie Meyer. Yes, the global franchise that knocked teen girls out of their innocence and awakened their lust for vampires. Did I fall victim to this franchise as a young tween? For sure. Did I feel utter shame and embarrassment for it? Absolutely. But now, reading the books again for the first time in over ten years, I’m truly not ashamed to admit that I am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I was about two thirds into the first book when I realized that the action of the story hadn’t even started. I looked back through the pages I had read and assessed that I had just been engulfed in pure foreplay. It was gross and embarrassing and I loved it. While there are certainly some sentences that are not grammatically correct and other moments that seem a little too cringey to repeat out loud, Meyer definitely figured out how to tap into this fantasy that young girls are taught to believe in as the end-all-be-all romance story.
At this point, I feel like it’s important for me to reiterate to whoever might be reading this that I am, in fact, gay and non-binary. When I mentioned my girlfriend previously, I didn’t mean a friend who was a girl, I meant a girl who I am in love with and currently live with. And by non-binary, well, for me, that means I went to an all girl’s school for nine years, was taught how to put a condom on a banana, realized that I was gay and didn’t like having my genitals be the sole proprietor of how society perceives me. That being said, as a chubby, closeted, wide-eyed pubescent twelve-year-old, Edward Cullen really hit the mark somehow and transcended my otherwise aversion to men and/or blood-sucking demons.
He’s an impossibly perfect character and yet filled with so many flaws. But the books don’t even have the time to consider that something might be off. Those first two-thirds of foreplay in Twilight are golden because they’re caught up in the ecstasy of first love. It’s clumsy and endearing and really doesn’t have the wherewithal or even care to consider how it comes across. It just exists and persuades the reader to go along with it. And during this time of a global pandemic, raging wildfires, civil unrest, and an impending election, Twilight has given me a sliver of normalcy or at least an escape into someone else’s harrowing life that isn’t my own; but at this point, having a blood-sucking boyfriend and vampires coming out to get me doesn’t seem too far off from the track record 2020 has shown us.
Escapism has always existed in art but I never really saw the value in it. I saw it as pure entertainment that, if anything, was too often used to skew the public’s vision away from issues that truly needed their attention. This perspective was probably in response to my wide-eyed innocence that made me the victim of never being taken seriously. I’ve always either been too young, too inexperienced, or too little of whatever was expected by those who yielded power. But at this point, I’m exhausted from having to withstand certain standards that have either been placed upon me, or that I’ve placed upon myself. So can I finally read Twilight and not feel ashamed about it?
Yes. I have to. It’s a permission I have to grant myself and it’s a necessity for my well being. So it’s decided.
I don’t have the energy to feel ashamed of finding enjoyment in whatever way I can.
Art has saved our sanity, or what little we have left of it, throughout time but perhaps in no greater an era than now. And I’m talking about all kinds of art. Reading, writing, painting, drawing, baking, watching, binging, eating, drinking, cooking, dancing, running, breathing, being. In the words of the great sage and Hollywood-wacko Shia LaBeouf, “Anything that moves you is art.” It is the broadest interpretation I’ve ever heard and yet the most wise I’ve ever come across. And I do believe he said this in response to whether memes are considered art on an episode of The Hot Ones so…
Twilight moves me. It moves me to engage in a storyline and life that isn’t mine and thankfully never will be. It moves me to embrace my deepest fantasies that are so embarrassingly passionate and so unbearably awkward. And it moves me to be kinder to myself and to that chubby, twelve-year-old queerdo that discovered she enjoyed reading for the first time. If I am my life’s story, there are so many avenues I have yet to discover. And I’ll be damned if I can’t continue to grow and flourish during the most insane period of time within our world’s history.
Stephanie Meyer, I’m sorry for ever doubting you. I choose to surrender now. In the words of your ever-inspiring character of Bella Swan, “It’s an off day when I don’t get somebody telling me how edible I smell.”