I'm Scared To Death Of Randomly Dying And This Embarrasses The Fuck Out Of Me

Damon Young
Damon Young

This time last year, with weight that I'm perfectly fine with calling "pregnancy weight" despite the fact that the gain began before my wife became pregnant still attached to my thighs, my face, and my gut, I weighted approximately 225 pounds. I was 199 when stepping on the scale this morning.


I do not feel particularly different. I haven't had a conspicuous gain in energy during the day or a burst in leaping ability when I play basketball. (Sadly, I've dunked for the last time.) But I do apparently look different. People who haven't seen me in months ask if I've lost weight. When running into each other at a Twitter happy hour in D.C. a couple months ago, Jamilah (jokingly) asked if I've gone vegan or something. I usually respond by saying that I'm just buying and wearing smaller clothes; a self-depreciating deflection intended to change the subject because I don't enjoy thinking or talking about the reason why I decided to slim down.

How it happened is easier. I stopped drinking juice. I used to go through a gallon or four of orange juice and Simply Lemonade® with Raspberry a week and I've (mostly) replaced it with water. I'm at the gym three to five times a week, either hooping or lifting — an act made easier by the fact that I live 100 yards away from a YMCA and have a high school aged brother-in-law and nephew who both hoop and are eager and willing workout partners. (And, well, I'm a man. Which tends to help with the whole weight losing thing.)


Why it happened, though, is a bit more complex. And by "a bit more complex" I mean "so embarrassing that, when asked, I lie and say that it's due to the vanity of wanting to fit into all of my clothes." (Which really is a terrible lie. Lies are supposed to be flattering; to make you look better, not the world's most insufferable motherfucker. I need to do better at lying. Maybe I'll make it a resolution.)

I lie because the truth is embarrassing. I just don't want people to know that I live in mortal fear of dying, randomly; that the thought of succumbing to cancer or brain aneurysm or plane crash or choking on a bite-sized Snicker while home alone or getting trampled in a fucking squirrel stampede possesses far too much space in my mind than I care to admit. That despite however much I write about things like police brutality and White supremacy, neither those very deadly and very real concepts come anywhere close to disturbing and/or scaring me as much as getting on Facebook and learning that some 39-year-old friend of a friend died in his sleep the night before. That when hearing about Rashaan Salaam's death last week, as sad as I was that he died of suicide, I was relieved, comforted even, that it was suicide and not a heart attack or something. That dying in a random way takes up such a disproportionate amount of my psychic space that I didn't want to write this and I'm still tempted right now to delete everything I've written because I don't want to chance "putting it in the air."

And the weight loss is less about me getting healthier and more about me communicating a message to the universe: "Hey! I'm making an effort over here! Yeah, I still drink milkshakes and eat bacon and maybe masturbate too much. But I'm trying! Don't take me yet!"

To be fair, this fear isn't completely impractical. I will be 38 years old in two weeks. As I grow older, it will become progressively less uncommon to hear of people around my age dying of random aliments and illnesses and accidents. Often these things happen to people who seem to be very healthy. But also — and this is a quite a bit less practical — I carry a fear that the universe will find a way to balance my scale. This last year has been very good to me professionally. Things I've been working towards for a decade are coming into fruition. And 2017 seems poised to be even greater. But while I believe myself to be deserving of whichever goals I've met and surpassed, I can't shake the fear of it all crashing down. Of the other shoe dropping. Not because I'm an impostor, but just because.


I wonder how much of this is due to a race-based latent skepticism about the world. Perhaps I'd still feel the same way if I happened to be White, but I can't deny that sometimes I feel like whichever gains I've made are somehow going to be swept from underneath me; a cruel and contrived form of universe-correcting comeuppance.

"Oh, Damon got a book deal? Ok, let's give him brain gout. That'll show that nigga."


I guess this is where I'm supposed to acknowledge that I recognize the futility of worrying about things largely out of my control. But, I don't know man. Irrational and absurd worry helped me lose 25 pounds in 10 months, and helped me conjure some sort of frantic prolificness that allowed me to write four pieces for VSB, a piece for GQ, a-yet-to-be-published piece for the New York Times, and roughly 5000 words in my book this week. Sure, it can be embarrassing, and yes it keeps me up at night; anxious, disquieted, distracted, and possessed. But it seems to have helped to keep me unkilled for the last 37 and eleven twelfths years too. So I'll stay embarrassed. And, for now (hopefully), alive.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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December 18 was my born day and I didn't die. So happy day for me!