I remember a local TV commercial that was, by the standards of the day, pretty high-concept, if low budget. It advertised the services of an area veterinary clinic, and it portrayed two dogs on leashes, Muppet Babies–style (the viewer only ever saw the owners’ legs).
“What’s the matter?” says the friendly Labrador to the tiny white Maltese.
When the Maltese responds, her voice is high with strain, vibrating with nerves. “Ooh! Gotta go to the vet!” she squeaks. “Gotta go to the vet!”
The bigger dog explains that the vet—the one being advertised—is actually quite nice, and that the Maltese has nothing to be scared of. She departs, reassured.
At this point the commercial is as much tall tale as fact. But at some point in the nineties, I swear it, this ad aired on our local station. How many times did my brother and I actually see it? Three? Four? It doesn’t matter. Ever since, in my family, “Gotta go to the vet” has served as shorthand for a certain kind of paralyzing, high-strung, situational neurosis. It means nervy, delicate—think Bette Davis in Now, Voyager while she’s still a hysteric, or Peter Lorre when he’s being pursued in Casablanca, or Kim Richards on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. For example: an impending dentist appointment seems to bring out gotta-go-to-the-vet tendencies in many people.
For me, the feeling arises whenever I have anything to do with contact lenses. I’ve never been able to wear them. Maybe it’s just a mental block, but in any case, it’s resulted in numerous instances of panic at optometrists’ offices, throwing the lenses wildly toward my eyes in the hope that one will magically land in its right place. Usually I end up weeping in an orgy of frustrated self-loathing. The reactions this has inspired from various optical professionals have ranged from sympathy to alarm to disgust.
This morning, I was supposed to “try again” with contacts. Having broken my glasses last week, I’ve been walking around nearly blind, and it seemed silly not to at least attempt something that any child can do. I regarded the appointment—at a local LensCrafters—with escalating dread.
Even though I’d received assurances that it wasn’t a big deal, and had had people repeatedly rub their eyeballs in front of me to “show how easy it is,” I had to “go to the vet” in a major way. My heart was pounding. It wasn’t that I was afraid of failure; I knew failure was inevitable. I just wanted to put it off as long as possible.
In the end, I panicked. I told myself I needed to do more “training exercises”—involving both eyeball touching and, to reduce my anxiety, a program of carefully calibrated mental flooding—and that this would require a week, minimum.
“Maybe I should get myself an anti-anxiety prescription,” I said to my brother on the phone as I walked ruefully down the street. “I really, really have to go to the vet.” I saw a passing woman give me a curious glance.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.