I have a pet frog. His name is Hesitation.
He lives in my throat, croaking whenever a stranger asks me a question or when an acquaintance greets me in the elevator. He feasts off of the fear and uncertainty that flutter around in my swamp of insecurity, where the waters are as muddied as my flustered thoughts.
I got Hesitation when I was around eight or nine. Before then, my life was free of throat-dwelling amphibians. I would talk a mile a minute, often with no filter, parroting my parents’ political views, dirty jokes I’d overhear at the “adult table,” and all kinds of other thoughts considered strange for a child to utter. Then I moved schools, and Hesitation came along.
He was small at first. Back then, Hesitation didn’t prevent me from raising my hand in class or reciting a joke to a classmate. He would only creep up occasionally to remind me that he had arrived. But as the years went on, he started to grow into a monstrosity, invading my thoughts before they could roll off my tongue. In high school, I developed the bad habits of saying “I don’t know” after every phrase and speaking only where I found encouragement. For me, that encouragement came in theater and Model U.N. Hesitation was no match for a rehearsed script; I knew exactly what I needed to say and precisely how to say it. I definitely experienced nervous trip ups here and there, but, when the time was right, my words flowed like rivers, eloquently bobbing and weaving through reactions and counterattacks. So when Hesitation revisited “normal” life, others who noticed his previous absence would ask me, “What happened to ‘theater/debate/confident’ Sophia?”
“I don’t know,” I’d tell them, naturally.
It wasn’t until senior year that I tried harder to fight Hesitation. My senior year mentality quickly changed from “What will they think of me?” to “Fuck it, I don’t care.” I spoke more frequently and more passionately, trying my best to engage rather than to observe. I made new friends and learned new things this way, which made me resent Hesitation for keeping me for holding me back for so long. He grew smaller and smaller until I barely realized he was there.
But when I graduated, I lost my comfortable structure and was thrust back into a realm of uncertainty. The only difference now was that my fellow high school graduates shared my uncertainty. It was still scary, but at least I wasn’t alone.
Pets aren’t allowed in college, and for good reason. Hesitation doesn’t belong here– and certainly not at Amherst. He gets in the way of learning, making connections, and having new experiences. So I left him in California. Even though hesitation is no longer a part of me, I still hesitate sometimes. Especially now. I hesitate to say “Hi” to dorm mates in Val because I’m nervous they won’t recognize me. I hesitate to contribute to class discussions because I’m worried that my contributions will be taken poorly. Sometimes I hesitate so much that my words never make it out. The difference now is that Hesitation doesn’t keep me from trying, because, if I’ve learned anything at Amherst so far, it’s that the only way to truly fail is to give up. I’m quiet, I’m uncertain, I scare easily, but I’m working on it every day.
Photo courtesy of Brent M.