At 5, which is the first age where I can remember the feeling, I worried that I would never see my favorite red-and-white cardboard bricks again, since my parents had “loaned” them to my cousins as we were leaving for a four-year Army tour in Germany.
At 10, in addition to worrying that our house might burn down, I lost sleep thinking that if Santa Claus wasn’t real, then what other lies might my parents have told me? And, since Tony Ludholz had stuck a ring with a blue stone in my hand and said “now we’re engaged,” did that mean I really had to marry him?
At 15, I spent a lot of time worrying about that horrible guy who killed the nurses or those two men who killed the family in Kansas ‘in cold blood’. I worried that the first men on the moon might not make it back home safely–and that every single person who had a chance of saving the world would get assassinated. I also worried a lot about nuclear bombs, when I wasn’t worrying that Michael Krick would not ask me to dance at the end-of-the-year dance.
- Oh No!
At 20, I worried that I would never, ever finish all the work I had to get through to graduate from college, that we would never get out of VietNam, that even if I graduated, I would never get a job because all I knew how to do was go to school and pass my classes, and that I would never, ever fall in love because men were all sexist pigs–and that I would never be able to tolerate my father ever again because he sat and read the paper while my mother fixed dinner–and because he thought “Ms” was an unnecessary addition to the English language!
At 30, I worried that my new marriage would end in disaster, that childbirth would hurt worse than anyone had said it would–and I would die in the process–and that nuclear war would happen right at the point where I had discovered I could love someone.
At 35, I worried our baby girl would grow up in a world full of pollution, nuclear bombs and global warming–and would blame us. I also worried that she would die of SIDS, be kidnapped, get injured, have a life-threatening illness, or choke on bacon.
- Worry Dolls
At 40, I worried we would never get out of Iraq, that my son would end up being drafted, that my children and my parents would die at any minute, that nuclear war would destroy us all, that Bush would always be president.
At 45, I worried that I had not read to my youngest child enough (or ever taught her to floss), that my parents would die, that I would die of heart failure caused by obesity, that my son would end up a crack addict, in jail, or a paraplegic from a skateboarding accident, that, despite all the changes of the ’70’s, my daughters would live in a world of sexist pigs and their souls would be trampled.
At 50, I started worrying about growing old before I could ever finish a single good poem, that our troops would never get out of anywhere, that my parents would die before my kids were old enough to remember them, that September 11th was just the beginning of a horrible end to whatever was left of the American dream, that there might not be a God, and that my children might hate me forever, since I was making daily mistakes with their teenage psyches.
At 55, I worried that my children were growing so fast that I couldn’t even take a breath before they’d be grown. I worried that my brain would stop working before I could finish anything, that my daughter/son/daughter would hate college, be unhappy away from home, get hurt without me there to fight off boogeymen, not want to come home because they took a Sociology class that made them realize all of their parents’ inadequacies. That I might be turning into my mother!
- The Ice Caps are Melting!
Looking back over this list, I realize that 1) some of these things came true, and, although they were bad, they were not as bad as I had feared–some of them were worse 2) there was nothing I could do about it, no matter what.
I wish I could say that now, at 58, I’ve stopped worrying. But I can’t. I think I might be addicted to worry because of the elusive sense of control it gives me. If I can make sure I worry about something, maybe I can stave that thing off for a few more seconds, keep that wolf away from the door. After all, bad things always happen when you least expect them.
I do know one thing: after all these years, I have at least learned to take some of my worries with a grain of salt–like , for instance, the one about the ice caps melting and carrying away our house. I have a few years before that could happen, right?