The Art of the Anxious

Image of auditorium with young students facing a stage.

by Alvi Chowdhury

[Declamations: a public speaking tradition at The Brooklyn Latin School rooted in the belief that strong oratory skills are essential for leadership, where students recite a memorized passage of literature.]

The students transformed the room in preparation for declamations. The familiar tables, which were originally set up for work in groups, were now clustered together like an unwilling herd. The chairs, set up in straight rows like an auditorium with the attention to the front of the room. A palpable sense of tension filled the air.

 Our names, etched in order on the blackboard as we take our seats in the front row.  I waited for my turn, as other students performed their pieces with gusto and impeccable delivery, while others stuttered and faltered through it. 

My hands were becoming sweaty as my heart was racing. I tapped my foot in an attempt to calm the nerves. I couldn’t evade it though. The roller coaster’s ascension, that moment when gravity yanks at your insides, threatening to drop you into the abyss.

And then it happened. My name echoed across the room, a summons to the edge. I rose, legs unsteady, and faced my audience. An uncertain smile and a nod to recognize their existence. The first lines came out, like the lyrics of a song stuck in my head. But then—a brick wall. A stumble, a falter. Panic grabbed at my throat.

Time stretched, elastic and cruel. For a suspended breath, my thoughts cleared—a stillness before the fall. Nothing would ever feel as raw as this. Blank glances pierced into me, staring at my vulnerability. What were they thinking? Did they perceive the trembling in my voice, the shaking in my hands?

I tried again, the words slipping like sand through the palms of my hands. But my mind succumbed to its fate, like a defeated soldier. The squeeze of fingernails on my palm. The swaying back and forth of my body, seeking refuge in the motion. I glanced at my teacher with eyes imploring for mercy. Could she halt this public execution? But, she rejected my unspoken desire. Thirty more seconds of this soul-crushing exposure. “Thank you,” I muttered, slipping back into my seat.

The urge to cry stung my eyes, a desire to display the suffering and gather some pity. But men don’t cry. Instead, I wore the weight of shame, a symbol of my survival.  

And so, I sat there, the abyss behind me, the echoes of my stumbling still reverberating. The room recovered its original configuration, But I retained that moment, the summit, the plummet, the fragile smile etched into my brain like a scar. 

Alvi Chowdhury is an English Creative Writing major at LaGuardia Community College. He takes passion from engaging in creative writing, cultural analysis, and delving into the realms of history, ethnic studies, leftism, and pedagogy.

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