One of my Dad’s favourite jokes was about the pessimist and the optimist arguing about whether it could get any worse. The pessimist said “It can’t. It can’t get any worse.” “Oh, it can,” the optimist said. “It could always get worse.”
This joke and a marked tendency for expecting the worse that I would have called fatalism but after a quick Google search realise fatalism is not the right word for it are among my most precious Dad memories. But I’m not writing this to reminisce of a happier time. I’m here to explain exactly how bad it can get. Basically, I’m here to complain.
Those who read the first Profound Look Back at the Week may remember I was forced by circumstances outside my control to make travel plans. This would be my first trip alone since I was a teen. And while two weeks ago the anxiety was vague and mild, now, with two weeks to go it is spiking like Brent crude after yet another Libyan field outage.
Let me just make something clear. I do not have anxiety disorder. I respect the hell out of everyone who is battling mental illness. It is, along with any form of abuse, the thing I would never make fun of although I reserve the right to make fun of those who think they have a mental illness but what they have is a boring life. What I have is a bad case of the worries. It was generously bestowed upon me by heredity and upbringing. Both my parents were worriers in their different ways. I’m actually an improvement on them. Control freakism is the one thing ruining my track record.
I’m one of those horrible people who go through life with the unshakeable belief there is no one better suited to do their job for them. There’s a saying down here about the wolf whose neck is thick (meaning he’s well off) because he does his job himself. That wolf is me and my job is the wellbeing of my family.
I remember an acquaintance once telling me I should get together with some friend of him I’d never met. When I asked why the hell he would suggest something like that (I was not single) he said “The boy could use some discipline.” I have never been offended like this in my whole life. I still haven’t, years later. But, apparently, I look stern and bossy. In a way — okay, in may ways — I am and this is the root of my problem. I take it as my responsibility to make everyone I care about if not happy then at least safe and healthy.
My two loved ones have only been away from me once, when they went to the country while I stayed in the city, to take a break from child-rearing while they painted the hall of our cottage pink. They had a blast. I had a beautifully boring week. All was good but Cat was little then and it was during the summer vacation. Now, I’ll be away on three school days and not just a bus trip away but about four countries away.
Feel free to accuse me of taking too many responsibilities at home the way so many women do in a rotten patriarchal society, etc. but I would disagree. We actually have a pretty neat responsibility sharing system. I’m the early riser by choice, so I take to morning school run. The late riser takes the return run. I cook, he cleans. We both help with homework. The end. But I’m a worrier and life could never be that simple for a worrier because we are blessed with very vivid imaginations.
Now, I’m sure they can both manage getting up on time and going to school on time. I’m sure they will manage the return journey. But, and this is the question that has ruined many an otherwise nice day, What If Something Happens?
“Something” is a placeholder for a wide range of lovely things. Off the top of my head these include Cat falling down the stairs at school and splitting her head open; her father, a healthy individual, getting a heart attack because things like that happen and I’m not one to say “This could never happen to my family”; Cat getting kidnapped by human traffickers (an all-time favourite); Cat and her father having an accident on the way back from school (Sofia is the Miami of Eastern Europe, I’m sure); food poisoning; shouting matches (guess where she gets the short fuse from); tears and despair; Hell.
But that’s just worrying level 10 or thereabouts. Yesterday, I registered for the event I’m going to, which marked the point of no return unless someone that shall remain unnamed does fall down the stairs at school and splits her head by February 2. So yesterday, my worrier imagination got this major boost of inspiration.
What if, I told myself as I watched old seasons of Quite Interesting after work as part of my coping regimen, what if my husband had a heart attack and a stroke, and a burst ulcer, and as he fell down he broke both his legs, and this happened in the afternoon so there was no one to pick Cat up from school?
I don’t have memories of being picked up from school later than anyone else simply because I wasn’t picked up from school. I walked home alone. Kindergarten? It’s possible. I hated kindergarten and if my parents were late even once the memory could have etched itself deep inside my brain to make my life misery decades later. Or I may have watched too many movies with sad, heartbroken children waiting for their self-absorbed parents to pick them up from school. Whatever the case I worry about late pick-ups a lot.
Of course, I know rationally there’s a solution for every problem. I know I could call a friend who works from home and lives near the school to go pick her up and take her in until I find out what happened. And, of course, I know rationally the above scenario is ridiculous. My husband doesn’t have an ulcer. But rationality has got nothing on imagination when the imagination suffers an inflammation.
So I’m coping. I’m trying to find the silver lining as I always try to do in times of stress. Maybe my plane will crash and that will put an end to all my worries, current and future. But this will make Cat and her Dad sad and, let’s be honest, who will take care of them if I’m gone? Besides, I’ve got one manuscript to edit and another one to start querying. Who will do that if I’m gone? No, a plane crash won’t do.
Luckily, there’s a part of me that spends most of her time sitting in a corner and laughing at the others while they worry. And then she clears her throat, pops her head into the light and says, “What if everything goes as planned, what if no plane crashes, you find your way to everywhere you need to go, and the two Cs have a great time without you? Even if they oversleep on Tuesday and Little C is late for school how big a deal could this possibly be? You can chastise them on Wednesday.” I like to listen to that part of me. She knows what she’s talking about.
P.S. Pictured above is Cat, or Little C, at, I think, Charleroy airport in Belgium, wanting to go home already after a trip to Denmark that involved a total of four flights. I don’t understand how a kid of seven could have enough flying. I’m 41 and I could never get enough. Until one crashes, that is. I should schedule those queries.