Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. — Carl Jung
A ladybug ambled across my absentee ballot and paused, seemingly undecided between YES and NO on one of the Indian gaming propositions. As the tiny red-and-black arthropod drew closer to making its decision, the sound of two wine glasses clinking drew my attention to the opposite side of my desk, where my iPhone was resting on a pile of books. A text message had come in: “Checked with Emma and we’re all set for the 26th. Thanks, Gary John.” That’s funny, I thought. Didn’t know I had Gary’s number programmed into the phone. Wait a minute. What’s happening on the 26th?! My head hurt as I struggled to remember. I knew I’d seen my friend the night before, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not recall having made any plans with him. I tapped the calendar icon and then touched the “26” square. There it was in black-and-white pixels — “Gary John over.”
“I’m so delighted you made plans with Gary,” I said to David, who had curiously followed the sound of the chime into my office.
“What are you talking about?” David asked. “You made those plans. I was standing right next to you.”
“Do you seriously not remember that?”
“Oh, my God,” I said, as it sunk in that making plans with Gary was not the only part of the prior evening that was lost to me. I scrolled through my calendar looking for more foreign notations, hoping I’d had the wherewithal to document any other significant appointments I might have made. I found one on the 17th. I knew I had plans to go with some friends to the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla to watch the screening of the documentary film Fat Man Walking. That date had been set weeks ago. But above the 7 p.m. slot that read “MOCA with Ollie and Jen,” there was a strange new entry: “5:30 p.m. — George’s.” I held it up for David to see. “Were you watching when I made this one?” He shook his head. I sighed and said, “Well, shit.”
It was the pill that did it. Shortly before we left for the party on that forgotten night, it had suddenly occurred to me that it might be a great idea to pop an Ativan — little, yellow, antianxiety. It’s not that I was feeling anxious, per se, but there it was, nestled among my tried-and-true Pamprin, and I thought, Why not? Maybe I won’t be such a spastic nutcase if I get a little chemical help to take it down a notch. I thought it might help make me more normal — as anyone close to me knows, I’m strung tighter than a violin at Carnegie Hall. What I hadn’t realized — having never taken one before — was the antianxiety drug doubles as an amnesiac when mixed with wine.
As the 17th approached, bits and pieces of that forgotten evening came back to me. I remembered arriving at the private, tango-themed dinner party. In the classic, underground spirit of tango, the host threw the shindig in an anonymous warehouse. I remembered nibbling on Argentine cuisine to the music of Tango No. 9, a quartet from San Francisco comprised of violin, trombone, piano, and accordion, performing live on a corner stage. Professional dancers in Spanish-inspired evening attire took to the crimson-lit cement floor and fulfilled the demand of the music. When I wasn’t lost in the ardent rhythms and languishing melodies, between marveling at the passion of the dancers and savoring new flavors, I apparently participated in conversations with other guests, not one of which I could recall.
All week I waited for someone to contact me regarding that “George’s” entry on my calendar. Despite the masculine name, I had a strong feeling I’d made those plans with a woman. On Wednesday the 16th, my friend Kate left a message to let me know she wouldn’t be able to make it to the show on Thursday night. Ah! That must be who it was, I thought, relieved to have the mystery solved.
At 6 p.m. on Thursday, I was enjoying creative happy hour drinks in a booth at Roppongi with David, Ollie, and Jen. When the topic of conversation drifted to something beyond my realm of interest, I discreetly checked my email because I was waiting to receive a list of the topics I’d be discussing on the radio with talk-show host Chip Franklin the following morning. Chip’s message had arrived, but before my finger touched the screen, I noticed another new email just below his. The instant I glimpsed her name, the memory came flooding back: at the tango party, I’d made plans to meet Ame at George’s at the Cove for a drink at 5:30. I’d been looking for an opportunity to hang out with the talented artist I’d met through a mutual friend, and now here I was, half an hour after our appointed time, sipping a cocktail somewhere else.
If there is one thing I am more neurotic and obsessive about than anything else, it is time. Whether I have an appointment to get my teeth cleaned or reservations for dinner, the mere idea of being a moment late, let alone inadvertently skipping plans altogether, is enough to send me into a state of panic (hence the reason I had that antianxiety pill in the first place). In the grand scheme of things, missing an appointment to have a drink is not a crisis, but I reacted as though I’d slept through the alarm and missed the last space flight off the planet on the day it was scheduled to implode.
My anguished moan garnered curious glances from my tablemates, which prompted me to burst out an explanation as fragmented as shrapnel. My friends listened, their faces masked with pity. I typed off a quick email to Ame, something about not having her phone number. Then it occurred to me that I must have obtained it while making plans, so I checked my contacts list, and there it was. I hit the number and pushed David out of the booth so I could get up. The phone rang as I made my way outside, and by the time I was standing on the sidewalk, I was leaving a voicemail. I blabbered into the dead air as though airing my last words, and I left nothing unmentioned — the pill, the forgetfulness, my usual attention to calendar details, and God only knows what else. As if that wasn’t enough to scare the woman away forever, as soon as I ended the call I shot out a text message, letting her know I’d left a voicemail and sent an email — worried, in my neurotic, hyper-controlling state, that she might be unable to figure that out on her own.
The rest of my drink was flavorless. No matter how many times my posse repeated their sound advice to “get over it,” my brain would not cooperate. In my head, I chided myself for responding fast and furiously, rather than taking a moment to collect myself and leaving a phone message. Perhaps a less-crazed phone message. I ran into Ame and her husband, Lloyd, in the theater. After greeting them, I was horrified to hear myself blather the same confession in person with which I had, minutes earlier, attacked her phone. After I’d given Ame and Lloyd a bigger glimpse of my insanity than they needed to see, I returned to my seat, defeated, wishing I had taken one of those little yellow pills.