The end of senior year of high school is meant to be a fun time for everyone. Despite the warnings of teachers, we all knew that classes didn’t really matter anymore (just don’t fail!). Senior week, prom, graduation! Most of all, though, it marked the end of a whole chapter of our young lives. College and the world beyond was a massive unknown. All that was definite was that things were going to change, and drastically.
After Christmas of my senior year, I remember starting to get a little bit crazy. I was not worried about graduation, or a summer without parents in New Zealand, or college. But I was convinced that my biceps and triceps looked terrible, and that my prom pictures would be nothing but an embarrassing reminder of all my physical flaws AND that everyone would Facebook stalk them and… well, I don’t know what I was worried that they would do. But I was very, very worried.
Honestly. I was obsessed.
This concern should have been easy to brush off, nagging at the worst, but it wasn’t. I was consumed by fear for my arms. Every night I would lift weights to get into shape, and if I didn’t the nervous energy would be almost overwhelming. One night I broke down and asked my mother why I was such a weirdo, because I knew that arm tone truly wasn’t very important. She, being as wise as she is, explained to me that all of my fears and doubts for the future had funneled themselves into this one miniscule aspect of life because it was easier to fixate on one manageable thing than try to address them all.
Something made sense.
In Mrs. Thompson’s, David Foster Wallace experiences the same phenomenon: panicked fixation topped with concern for what others would think. He, as you recall, was not calmly pursuing the streets for a patriotic patch of cloth. No, he was on a panicked and completely illogical quest for an American flag that, ironically, was unlikely to even have been made in America.
His actions made sense in a way. When faced with something as monumental as knowing that everything you know is going to change, panic will naturally ensue. To make it more terrifying, though, neither Mr. Wallace nor I knew just what was in store for us. That fear of the unknown, coupled with the fact that all we knew about the unknown was that it would be monumental, led to uncharacteristic actions. Excessive, energized, uncharacteristic actions.