By Ryan Syrek
When my mom would drive me to middle school, I used to list the names and jersey numbers of Chicago Bears players on the way, so I wouldn’t literally shit my pants due to anxiety about bullies and homework.
When I turned 15 and learned to drive, I was terrified of getting lost. I mapped everything from the movie theater; it was my North Star. I still call the roads around it my “safe streets.”
When my dad had heart failure five years ago and was on a ventilator for a week, the only brief time anything felt close to normal was when I watched a Chicago Cubs game with my cousin.
When my life began to fall apart a while back, I watched Mad Max: Fury Road something like 10 times in the theater. For me, it felt like going to church does for some people.
Sports and going to the movies have been my safety nets for as long as I can remember. They don’t stop my anxiety, but they do soften it. They put boxing gloves on the punches. Immersing myself in the passionate but largely irrelevant uncertainty of a sporting event is a safe way to release emotions that I can actually understand. Unlike watching at home, seeing a movie with others in a theater feels like briefly touching another reality, populated with strangers. These aren’t my “distractions.” These things have always healed and protected me.
And now they’re gone, for who knows how long, and I don’t really know what to do.
It shouldn’t go without saying, so let me say it: These concerns are silly compared to those of people who are fighting for their lives, losing their jobs, or dealing with systemic inequality that makes every tragedy hit infinitely harder. I’m not elevating missing sports and sitting in a theater with any of that, I promise. I’ve just counted on my personal safety nets for so long, moving through life without them feels dangerous. That’s not the right word, but it’s not the wrong one either.
The best movie I saw last year, Aniara, was about the titular spaceship being forced off course. Passengers are initially hopeful that things can be fixed, but it soon becomes clear that this will be the entirety of their life. The film is a contemplation about what is really needed to be happy or feel “alive.”
Welcome aboard the Aniara.
Plotting a course back to “home,” back to “normal,” may well be impossible, and we certainly won’t arrive there soon. I can’t wait for that. My anxiety won’t let me. Aboard this tiny tin can apartment in the outer space of uncertainty and disease, I have begun to weave new safety nets.
I have weaved them out of board games and Netflix parties with friends. I have weaved them out of comic books and video games. I don’t trust them to catch me yet. They don’t feel safe.
I am terrified at the thought that I have watched the last Chicago Bears game I’ll ever watch with my whole family. Will dad still be here when they finally play again?
I can’t think about which theaters in town won’t reopen. Will it be the one where I fell in love?
This all sounds so very dramatic, I’m sorry. I almost always prefer to write with humor. I’ll be funny again soon, I promise. But when we ask each other how we’re doing, how we’re surviving this truly insane time, I figure the least we owe each other now is the truth.
So the truth is that I’m more anxious even more often (somehow). I really miss sports and going to movies. Not for stupid reasons (at least they don’t feel stupid). I feel adrift and sad (but I’m trying to fight it).
How are you?