Count Your Blessings

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
“Ohmygosh I haven’t even started that monumental thousand point project due tomorrow.” My friend sighed rubbing his eyes, “how far are you Kenley?”

“Oh, umm...” I hesitate. Sweat trickles down my back, my heart gallops inside its cage, my face is warmer than a car in a June parking lot, my hands are clammy like a defrosted refrigerator. Do I tell him the truth? That I finished the project two weeks ago and have already handed it in? Do I tell him that I started the outline when the assignment was first announced? Do I tell him that he alone will be staying up until the ungodly hours of the night while I sleep unperturbed? “...yeah, I forgot about it too. I guess we’ll both be pulling all-nighters. Ha ha.”

I continue laughing nervously and stare at the floor as if it were the rosetta stone of social engagements. I add what I hope is an exasperated sigh. A sigh someone would give if they knew they were in for a long night. A sigh carefully replicated from the one my friend just gave.

“I guess we’re both suckers,” he says, patting me on the back as he walks into his class.

“Yep” I respond, knowing there's no possible way he heard me. My breathing returns to normal, my car of a face is parked into the shade, my heart is tightly reigned. I feel like a pile of raccoons in a trench coat pretending to be human, and after that conversation I’m glad to have my secret identity intact.

We’ve all got secrets. Powerful secrets. Secrets we’ll take to our grave. Some people steal things from Walmart, others cut a piece out of the middle of a fresh pan of brownies, some throw bodies into a glossy lake under a moonless night, and I, well, I’m not a procrastinator. No, I’ve never stayed up later than 9 to do homework. No, I’ve never skipped one class to do an assignment for the next. No, I’ve never turned in an essay I finished as the teacher was collecting them. I mean it. I truly am a freak of nature.

Please don’t tell anyone.

Every time someone asks me when I started an assignment I’m torn between telling the truth like a good Christian, or keeping social standards like a normal person.

Small talk is hard for me. In fact I’d say small talk is the hardest part of pretending I’m human. Do you know what the safest topic of conversation is? It’s the fact that you haven’t started something that you should've. Begin any exchange with “wow, I have a *insert large number* page paper due in *insert small number* hour(s)!” and boom! You’ve reached a commonality. It’s easy for regular people to continue a conversation based on procrastination because any regular person procrastinates. I don’t have this luxury. I can’t make easy conversation naturally, but I’ve learned that even if I don’t relate to procrastination, I can pretend I do to make social dances a little easier. I lie about my appallingly productive nature for as long as I can, but inevitably someone catches me turning in an assignment 2 days early. And once people know I’m actually raccoons in a trench coat, nothing can stop them from advertising it like a Capital One Venture Card. News leaks in conversations like the following:
Person 1 who thinks I’m a normal student: “My college application is due tonight at 8:00 and I only have one essay written!”
Me trying to fit in with my peers: “Oh, man! I feel that,”
Person 2 who recently uncovered my scandal: “No you don’t. You’ve never procrastinated a day in your life. You probably turned your application in weeks ago.”
*both people stare at me*

This is a 100% genuine thing that’s happened to me by the way.

Now what do I do? Person 2 has just called my bluff and is waiting warily to see how I respond, two steps further from me than social etiquette calls for. As if my disgustingly good habits might infect them. Person 1 has just found out not only am I not a procrastinator, but I’ve been lying about it this whole time. Trust has been broken, friendships are in question, eye contact is averted.

I laugh nervously.

That’s about all I can do. My systems have shut down, silent alarms flash behind my eyes, I pray for the ground to swallow me whole, saving me with a death more dignified than this silence, and landing me in Hell where at least social expectations are more forgiving.

Luckily for me, Person 3 shuffles into the conversation and spares me from responding: “guys. I am so. tired.”

Person 3 has now employed the second safest commonality to talk about: sleep deprivation. It doesn’t matter if you're black, white, bond, free, male, female, or non binary, being constantly tired is universally human. Unluckily for me, I’m a pile of raccoons trying hard to pass as human.

It’s not that I’m never tired. It’s not like I wake up in the mornings and hop out of bed and say “wowee! Am I invigorated for the day!”. Like most people I suspect, I grumble when the insatiable alarm drags me from sleep, mope as I drag my bare feet to the kitchen, and curse the stupid sun for not being up when I am as I eat my soggy Cheerio’s with eyes closed. But that’s it. I get in my car, I go to school, I wake up. I am not lastingly tired because I got enough sleep. Do you know why I got enough sleep? Because I didn’t have to stay up late finishing an assignment.

It’s safe to say that not being a procrastinator has been the single most damaging thing to my social life. Not only do I struggle with prevalent conversation starters, but it prevents me from attending group events. Every so often I’ll be invited to Starbucks where I will join some friends working on a mutual assignment, one I’ve already finished. If I go It’ll be as a tutor, which would be fine if I remembered what the assignment was on, but I don’t because I completed it a week ago and promptly forgot the material. I’d be about as helpful as open toe rain boots. I could work on other homework, but then I’m not a part of the discussion and I might as well be in my house next to my kitchen which doesn’t charge $7 for a drink. I don’t even like coffee. I go anyway of course and sit at the table as rain pours and my feet get soaked because I don’t want to not be there. I have crippling FOMO. I need to be included. In fact, I stress that I’ll be invited somewhere and I won’t be able to go because I’m too busy. Do you know how I manage this particular anxiety? I don’t procrastinate. I do my work before I relax because it might be an estranged relative's birthday and there’s a party to go to. Because my sister might appear and bring her cute children. Because I might be invited to an event that happens once a millennia and it starts in half an hour. I think it’s better to work when I know I’m not doing anything than to waste my time not doing anything and have work to do when something comes up.

Attending college has given me a clean start. A chance to rebutton my trench coat and seal away my true identity. A chance to meet people whose innocuous nature gives them no reason to believe I’m not normal. It’s much less complicated to cover up the fact I’m ahead on my work when the people around me don’t have the same assignments. I can breathe easier here in my dorm. My life has fewer anxieties now, but I envy those with less. Every night I sprawl on my stiff twin mattress and begrudgingly applaud myself for a productive day while my roommate patters away on her computer as quietly as she can. Every night I know she will continue her typing symphony well into the witching hours of the darkness. And every night I pray she knows how good she has it.