Fear and Trembling

by Shaun Terry

Hugo is shaking. He’s not yet aware of how he’s feeling, but he’ll become more aware and it’ll increase his anxiety and self-consciousness. He’ll question himself, thinking that there’s something wrong with him; he’ll want to know what’s wrong with him, and he’ll realize that he doesn’t have an answer except to think that he seems to exist. Sometimes, Hugo questions even his existence. He’s right to do so, but his reasons are the wrong ones. His questioning of his existence is merely a distortion of the problem, if we assume that there’s legitimately a problem.

Hugo’s paternal grandmother—”Nanny,” he calls her—has always had a tremor. She’s an old, displaced Connecticutian, full of Catholic sanctimony and guilt to go with an air of undeserved superiority over her fellow Southern military townies. So Hugo’s mom always said that he got his anxiety from “the other side’s kin.”

How is this happening? What did I do? Again? It’s not the same. But Hugo’s not exactly right. In fact, each time has been different from the last. Hugo’s not reliving the same nightmare; he’s forming escalated spirals in a chaotic universe, spewing entropic residue over unwarned experiences of relatively innocent witnesses. It’s the unmitigated, perpetually deepening tragedy that’s Hugo’s recent life.

It’s getting worse. There you go, Hugo.

Hugo stands, unpresent, his eyes fixed staring forward, failing to see anything, as his thoughts take over his mind. Metacognition is a hell of a drug, and Hugo’s not exactly going to meetings.

Hugo’s head rotates uniformly toward his right shoulder, his jaw stuck and unhinged. He looks up slightly, quickly snapping his down head into his hands before shrinking into a fetus behind the old, rust-colored couch, his feet bent at a 45-degree angle. It’s like an awkward imitation of a Michael Jackson music video.

Smack! Smack! Smack! Hugo’s arms flail as his legs redden beneath his pants, vaguely forming handprints on his thighs, like Elementary School students’ craft projects meant to look like Thanksgiving turkeys.

Rarely in Hugo’s life has he been physically violent, despite his tendency to be consumed by anxiety and insecurity to a point prohibitive to consideration of others. Rarely, Hugo had engaged in self-harm or bursts of violence thoughtlessly directed at himself. It was reactionary, as though he had been calibrating his external world to coincide with his inner self.

Once, in middle school, Hugo had been sick for a few days when a kid had ridiculed him for the last time. Hugo grabbed the kid by his shirt and ran him down the row of desks, before ending at the wall, saying, “Please stop being such a jerk!” The substitute teacher who was in class that day felt baffled and helpless: What do I do now? But Hugo and the other boy weren’t a problem for the rest of the class period.

Today, Hugo’s propensity for self-harm, like his ever-graduating neurosis and ill mental health, is growing, promising to test the limits of Hugo’s masochism.