This semester I’m taking a screenwriting class for funzies and to finish my minor in film studies. For our midterm, we had to write a short story about a character and then turn it into a screenplay. After struggling through writer’s block for weeks, the weekend before the short story was due I pumped this out. To my surprise, a lot of my friends and classmates expressed interest when I vaguely told them “yeah, I’m writing a story about an octopus with social anxiety.” So I thought I’d post it here for anyone else who might want to read it. Here’s Dave:
In the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, a couple dozen miles off the sunny coast of Virginia Beach, Dave was going to a party.
Wringing his front two tentacles together nervously, Dave’s stomach churned so forcefully that he wondered if the molluscs he ate for lunch were going to come back up. He clasped Jenny’s birthday present, a small sand dollar, tightly to his side as he scurried along the ocean floor.
There was no real reason for Dave to be so uneasy. As an octopus, he was much bigger than all of the others who would be at Jenny’s birthday party. But being bigger, to Dave, just meant that it was easier to make a mess of things. He was quite the clumsy octopus, always breaking things and tripping over his own arms. He hated social events. He always seemed to ruin them.
It wasn’t long before Dave arrived at the celebration. He was, as usual, perfectly punctual. He could hear Jenny’s cackling dolphin laugh and see her clap her fins together. Only two creatures had arrived before Dave – Carl and Xavier.
Typically, Dave would eat crabs like Carl. But Carl was Dave’s friend, and therefore Dave had promised to not eat Carl or any of his relations. Xavier was an electric eel, and everybody just called him “Slim.”
Dave tentatively approached the group, waved a tentacle in greeting and handed Jenny her present. Jenny thanked Dave and nuzzled him with her nose, making Dave blush and look down at the ocean floor below him. He thought Jenny was the kindest dolphin he had ever met, and he often wondered if she returned his crush.
As guests continued to arrive, Dave retreated to the background. He watched everyone grow more and more excited as they swam in circled around each other. Jenny started doing twists and turns and backflips. Carl clacked his claws together enthusiastically. Slim, a self-proclaimed DJ, spun some sick beats. It was all more than Dave could bear. With a suppressed sob and the squirt of some ink, Dave jetted backwards through the water, away from the party, and hid, camouflaged, among a pile of rocks.
Dave flushed through his camouflage. Hanging his head, he began the slow trudge home. He didn’t always used to be so skittish around other creatures. When he was a hatchling, he loved being in crowds. It was only in recent years that he had begun to grow uneasy and anxious, when he and his family had moved to another part of the ocean.
It began when he started to notice that nobody would really listen to him when he would talk. He would often stop mid-story and nobody would notice. Then he started falling out of the conversations, listening for hours without ever really participating. Now it had progressed to an all-out panic – whenever he got the slightest but uncomfortable or felt out of place, he ran away and camouflaged.
When Dave arrived at his cave home, his parents, Octavia and Oscar, were cleaning old coconut shells. Dave’s father worked building shelters out of discarded coconut shells and large seashells and his mother sold them to sea creatures in need of homes.
“Hi honey,” his mother said. “How did the party go?”
Dave felt tears fill his eyes and he brushed them away with his dorsal arms as he told his parents what had happened yet again.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I just get so nervous around other creatures and feel so worthless,” Dave said. “I’m so embarrassed.”
His parents sighed and patted their son sympathetically on the head.
“Well, son,” his father said. “You just need to learn to have more confidence in yourself.”
“Be brave!” his mother said.
“But how can I be brave?” Dave asked. “I literally don’t have a backbone!”
Dave sighed sullenly and sulked to his corner of the family cave to be alone with his sorrows. His inability to interact like a normal creature always left him feeling a deep sense of shame. He always felt distant from the other creatures he hung out with, and that nobody ever really liked him that much. He was just always kind of…there, in the background of everyone’s life.
Dave acknowledged that he was a rather sensitive mollusc and felt a lot of feelings. But above all, he was tired of feeling this way. He didn’t like being sad and disappointed in himself. He especially didn’t like feeling embarrassed about freaking out, for seemingly no reason, in front of his friends. It had been an ongoing instance for months. He was sure that, by now, his friends expected him to jet out in a panic of ink and camouflage every time they hung out. He felt especially embarrassed when he thought about what Jenny must think of him. He didn’t want her to think he as a joke.
“I can’t keep doing this to me and my friends,” Dave said to himself. “I can change. I can be better. Or, at least, I can try.”
Dave started making a list in his head of things he could do to try to keep his anxiety under control and vowed to better himself, both for himself as well as his friends. Especially Jenny.
Over the next few weeks, Dave was hard at work on his new project. To clear his mind, he started practicing mindfulness, meditation and yoga (which he was quite good at, considering he had no skeleton which allowed him to be very flexible). He took up painting, mostly pictures of objects he found on the ocean floor and a couple creative portraits of Jenny. He helped his parents with their work building shelters. He started volunteering at a shelter for battered sea lions who had narrowly escaped the jaws of Great Whites. He felt within himself an awakening. He took pride in each task of creation. He fell into a daily routine and began feeling more and more confident about himself and his capabilities.
One day, Carl scuttled over to Dave’s family cave.
“Have you heard?” Carl asked. “Slim is throwing a party at the reef.”
Dave hesitated. He didn’t know if he was ready. Sure, he had made progress over the last few weeks with his self-esteem, and meditation had allowed him to start gaining control over his nerves. This was his chance to show his friends, as well as prove to himself, that he was brave and could handle social situations without panicking and running away.
The night of the party arrived. Dave scurried across the ocean floor to the coral reef. He had felt confident about the party until a few hours before it was time to leave. Then he had started to grow uneasy. What if he starts feeling like an outsider again? What if he runs away again? What if people make fun of him?
He heard the party before he saw it. Slim always played loud music at his soirees. Taking a deep breath, Dave entered the party. Carl and Jenny were both already there. Dave swam up to them, where the dolphin and crab attacked Dave with hugs in greeting.
As crowds started flooding in, Dave found that he was not growing uncomfortable like usual. He wiggled and jiggled his arms around to the beat of the music late into the night. Slim even let him request some songs to add to the playlist.
“We’re so glad that you’ve stayed here so long,” Jenny said as she twirled around Dave. “You always seem to disappear so early, we miss you!”
Dave couldn’t believe it. He was missed? After all these times of feeling out of place and unwanted, it warmed his three hearts to hear that Jenny wanted him around. Maybe there was no reason for Dave to be so self-conscious in the first place.
Dave wrapped his tentacles around Jenny in an embrace.
“I’m happy I’ve stayed so long, too,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be disappearing as much anymore.”