Half of my parental unit was a loving worrier – my father.  Perhaps because of his vision difficulties, or perhaps because of the era in which he was raised – and because of some of the challenges of his childhood – he was (it seemed to me) highly overprotective.  At the same time, my parents never imposed a curfew, and we had some basic rules to follow when we were teenagers – call if you’re not going to be home when you say you will be, and if you are in trouble, we will come and get you.  I never had to use the second, but I did use the first.  As far as ‘no curfew’ goes, they raised us to be independent thinkers, have good judgement – and pay the price when our judgement wasn’t so good.  They knew our friends and were always open to what we had to say.  In short, they trusted us – so curfew wasn’t necessary. But I know from my mother that my father never slept a wink until I came through the door, whether it was 10:00 pm or 6:00 am.

I was a ‘Daddy’s Girl’, and while my father’s overprotectiveness grated on my willful, independent and wandering nature like sandpaper on  raw wound, I adopted some of that worrier mentality as a child.  Looking back, it’s kind of funny, but at the time, it was always desperately serious.

One behavior that I have long remembered was brought home to me again by E-Bro at the beach this summer.  When we were travelling somewhere by car, particularly to Buxton at the end of the Outer Banks, it seemed we would always arrive after dark.  In those days (yes, the wheel had been invented), the Outer Banks, and especially that section, and most especially in March when we went down, was only visited by fishermen and local islanders.  The drive down the long, dark stretch of Highway 12 seemed endless.  In my mind, we were driving into the unknown.  So when all the cars we saw were coming from the opposite direction – and ours was the only car going our way – I was absolutely, unequivocably convinced that some disaster had happened at our destination, and everyone was running away from it, but we were driving into it – into certain doom.

One of my nephews exhibited a similar behavior on the family’s trip down to the beach this year.  E-Bro is a good dad and so I know that he did not behave in the fashion that an older brother behaves when a younger sister works herself into near-hysterics over an imagined fate worse than death.  In other words, I’m sure he didn’t go on and on about how a monster had probably risen from the sea, eaten the entire end of the island, and was now just laying in wait, pitch-black, slathering maw open to receive our innocent Valiant.

I was known, at least by my father, for asking what he would call “non-questions.”  When I was in worry-mode, I could come up with some pretty absurd things to be concerned about, and knowing him to be a fellow worrier, I would turn to him for answers.  He was generally quite patient about it, but I could push him to his limit, when he would refuse to answer or discuss my fears because they were so inventive that they became “non-questions”.  We’re talking about things like “If there’s a hurricane, could the ocean come and swallow our house?” (We lived about 350 miles inland.)  Or, when we’d have torrential rains, was there any way that the trickle of a creek that ran through a ditch across the street, behind the houses, at the bottom of the hill, would overflow and flood our house?  Preoccupation with floods, I see – interesting considering my portentous water dreams, but more on that in another entry.  If it was a natural disaster, I worried about it.  If my Mother was late coming home from school after dark, I was sure she’d never come home (I well remember my fearful nighttime vigils at the dining room window on rainy nights.)  When my brother fell down the front steps, I was sure he was going to die.  And when my father would leave the house after losing his rare but terrible temper, I was sure he was gone forever.  As is normal for a child, my biggest concerns were losing my home and my family.  From a psychological perspective, I find this interesting, because there was never any instability in the family, no hint of divorce or moving.  Is worrying genetic or just a part of growing up?  And how does it tie in to my now so-strong sense of not having a home?

I did grow out of it (mostly).  I have done many fearless – dare I say stupid? – things in my life, and when I feel like I’m not being brave enough, I have learned that a shake-up is needed – a confrontation of whatever fears may be lying just below the surface.  But that pattern of being fearful about loss is still there, buried inside me.

In our early years, when Pat wouldn’t call or come home, that old fear behavior – that he was dead, gone forever, had had an accident, was having an affair – came slamming back.  Unfortunately, they were sometimes justified.  Well, not the dead or gone forever ones.  I would cry myself to sleep for an hour, then wake up and cry some more.  When our cat, Mammal, wouldn’t come home when I called her, I would worry myself half to death – Pat and I had some doozys of fights about that.

When loss really hit though, when I lost Daddy, Tug, Mammal, Mother, J.T., the Captain, there was no fear.  Only the usual stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  The anticipation of the loss, while not worse than the loss itself, had a completely different quality.

As I’ve gotten older, I find I worry about almost nothing.  One of the things that being a chronic worrier as a child taught me is that worrying doesn’t do any good at all.  I don’t follow my father’s “one chance in a million” thinking, but I do sometimes channel his “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” mentality.  That one shows a little logic.  It may have done me a disservice, pushed me towards too much of a “throw caution to the winds” way of thinking.  I don’t always lock my windows at night unless reminded. 

I still find that when someone I love most dearly is in a bad physical or mental place, I want to stay right by their side, as if my presence is a strong enough talisman to ward off disaster.  It does seem to help, if Kelsea has a high fever, like she did last spring, or if Kathy is overwhelmed and in tears.  And it’s tough when I can’t be there. When the Captain was dying, I wasn’t there.  When my Mother was dying, I was.  My presence made a difference to my Mother and to me, but that presence, or lack thereof,  made no difference whatsoever in their dying.  They both died.  End of page.

I haven’t heard from Pat since he left, but I’m not worried.  What does that say about me, about our relationship?  Maybe that we haven’t received any of the promised e-mails from him says more about him than my lack of worry says about me.  It does mean that I don’t love him in the cry-myself-to-sleep way I used to.  That’s fitting, since we divorcing. 

Wanting to be there to support someone is not the same thing as worrying about them.  Worry implies that you don’t think they have the strength to manage something themselves.  Worry implies powerlessness on both your parts.  My friends and loved ones are strong people.  When times are tough, I want to bolster them, be there for them as a sounding board, a drinking buddy, a shoulder to cry on, a pillar to rest against.  It’s almost the energetic opposite of worry, as it implies strength and power.  Interesting how worry has transformed itself since my childhood.

I suppose I am transforming myself as well.

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