An Anxious Mind

anxietyAlmost as soon as we round the corner, a giant of a man appears in front of us on the otherwise deserted street.  He wears a sheet-sized, bright orange Sponge Bob t-shirt with matching orange sunglasses and walks with slow shuffling steps.  His feet lack the confidence of his bold outfit, he is like a massive, newly feathered baby bird learning to fly.

In spite of his slow shuffling steps, my anxious mind screams that he is stalking us, albeit in a very conspicuous way.  Obviously, he has been waiting for us to appear, I think with my anxious mind.  My heart starts to pound as my anxious mind races with possibilities while the man continues to approach, one shuffling step at a time.  We can’t turn around without making it obvious that he scares us.  Plus, we don’t want to lead him back to the house.  To be clear, I am the only one who is scared; the little boy is quite content cruising with his feet up on the cup holders, playing with Sophie, the giraffe, and singing a tuneless song.

Meanwhile, I wonder how many days Big Orange has watched us stroll past his window before he decided to come out of the darkness that I imagine to be his living room.  We travel the same streets almost every day at close to the same time, as true creatures of habit, making it all too easy for Big Orange to time his outing.  We will not run or show fear, we will stand our ground, I reason with my anxious mind.

“Good morning,” I say in a gruff voice that my anxious mind believes will make us more intimidating.

 Big Orange stops in his tracks, surprised by either the greeting or the strange tone of voice, “What?”

“Ahem,” I clear my throat, “I said, good morning.  It’s what people say in the morning.”

“Ok,” he replies.  “Bye-bye now,” he peeks into the stroller, waves with his fingertips to the baby and shuffles on past us.

I have a terrible moment of clarity when I consider the shuffle, the delayed comprehension and the Sponge Bob shirt; Big Orange has a disability and I am definitely a jerk for assuming that he was instead a calculated stalker.  Anxiety quickly melts into guilt, my default emotion.  However, then I notice the baby is whimpering in his seat with his arms and legs pulled in like a distressed turtle and Sophie is completely missing, tucked someplace safe.

“What’s wrong, baby?  It’s ok, mama is here,” I murmur to pair of wide eyes that stare up at me from the stroller.  

Does he sense my anxiety or is there something else about Big Orange that I am missing?  In either case, its hot out and we need to head home, so we continue our walk with a little more pep in our step.  Sophie reappears from whichever roll she was hiding under and the baby is happily babbling again. Order is seemingly restored, but a nagging feeling makes me look over my shoulder.  Big Orange has doubled back and is walking towards us with quick, determined steps, completely shuffle-free.   

“Time to roll, little man.”

Jinxed

One week ago, we walked along a nature trail, happily taking in the fresh air and newly naked trees.  Fallen leaves lined the path; birds flitted back and forth in front of us in flashes of red and brown.  It was a perfect afternoon.

“Can you believe we haven’t been sick, yet?” my husband asked, swinging his arms alongside his body in a casual Sasquatch style.

Suddenly, the sky clouded over and the birds disappeared.  An eerie silence fell on us as my mouth dropped open in disbelief.  I looked around to see if anyone heard what he had just asked.

Unbelievable! What was he thinking?

The look on my face must have led him to believe I didn’t understand the question.

“Can you believe..” he tried to continue and repeat himself.

“Stop!” I yelled.  “For the love of all things holy, don’t say it again.”

“What?” he asked in earnest.  He really didn’t know what was happening.

What have you done?  I wondered silently and shook my head at our bad luck, like a black cat had just crossed our path as we walked under a ladder; I knew what our future held.  I knew it with absolute certainty and it wasn’t good.

“You jinxed us! That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to talk about it anymore and make things worse.”

He laughed and shook his head, a complete non-believer.

He stopped laughing a week later when he got sick with a fever, chills, runny nose and the works. Yet, somehow he remains a disbeliever and chalks his illness up to the flu season and the high prevalence of unwashed hands in the work place and gym.

Now, it’s my turn to laugh.  A big hearty and healthy laugh.  It wasn’t germs that got him sick, it was talking about it and jinxing himself.  Its superstitious and maybe even a little ridiculous, but there’s something to it.

A little something called denial, and that’s more powerful than any old regular pathogen trying to sneak past my immune system.

Free Time

fly

Ida struggled with most everything. Her kids were wild-bad, her paycheck was too small, and now her health was in a downward spiral. She tried not to think about any of it too often. Like her ma, and her ma’s ma before her, she trudged forward in life until the day that she felt would come sooner than later.

Today, she quite literally trudged through the snow and ice up five blocks to her home from the bus stop. Her entire body ached. She cleaned all day, mopping and sweeping, scrubbing and dusting. Day after day, the routine was the same. It was easy. There was no thinking involved, she could check out and go through the motions. It was the physical effort that was slowly draining her of life.

All she could think now was how to put one cold foot in front of the other in order to reach her front door. Dull pain came from her frozen toes in the end of her cheap shoes. Snow had melted through the canvas and soaked into her thin socks. Ida tried to make herself remember to wear an extra pair of socks for the walk home tomorrow.

What does it matter? she argued with herself. You’ll be home soon enough, just like every other day. She chastised herself, Stop complaining. Think about those Johnsons, they have it worse than you on any day of the week. What you need to do is drop off a plate of food for them next time you get a chance.

Ida felt good about this plan. The Johnsons were her neighbors with too many kids and never enough to eat. They weren’t too proud to beg or above filching anything that wasn’t tied down for resale elsewhere. Somehow they managed seven people in a two bedroom apartment. It was more chaotic than cozy.

“Oh, Praise the Lord,” Ida shouted as she stepped onto the broken and cracked front steps of her apartment building. Almost there, she told herself and willed herself inside and up two more flights of stairs, one step at a time. Finally, she made it through the door and collapsed onto a ratty red couch. It was covered with a number of pillows in various sizes and colors, equally as ratty as the couch.

Silence greeted her. The wild-bad kids were out running the streets again. At least they turned off the tv before they left, she thought. She used to try and fool herself when she left them for work by saying, “At least they have that nice group of friends.” Now she knew they were in a gang, not that she liked it. There was little that upset or shocked her these days. What could she do?

A fly buzzed past her from the window and landed on the wall. It watched her with as much curiosity as a fly in a section-8 apartment could muster while navigating around drafts and strips of fly paper. Ida shook out a handful of pills from a bottle in her purse. The fly crept closer to see better, hopeful of something to eat. It flew to her shoulder in joyful anticipation.

“Shoo fly,” Ida said. “I’m tired and hurting. I need to rest.”

Disappointed, the fly buzzed by her face and off to investigate the kitchen again for real food.

Ida grabbed a crocheted blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it over her aching body as she gulped down the handful of pills and prepared to sink into the dark oblivion of sleep that would leave her rested just enough to get up and do it again tomorrow.

No more, no less.