Worry Queen

By Grace Maselli

I was born into worry the way some people are born into money. Vexation meets me in the morning, opening its cloaked arms, drawing me near. I worry about my kids and my husband. I’m filled with concern about the future, the past, pesticides and cortisol flooding. I ruminate over adrenal fatigue, solar flares, global warming and the related failure of the power grid that could turn the borough where I live into a “Lord of the Flies” island because there’s no drinkable water or food left on supermarket shelves.

I sweat the small stuff. I send my 13-year-old son to school with notes like, “This is your Grandma Barbara’s egg salad she made just for you. The crackers go with it. Please eat it. I hope you’re not talking in class. Pay attention in computers, period five, even if you don’t like it. Be respectful. Your mother.” I worry about the emotional destruction after I scream, “Leave me alone!” to my son because the chronic interruptions, menial and ceaseless domestic chores, and pressure from everything there is to do builds like the boiling point of water in a pressurized cooker.

I’m disquieted by my 10-year-old daughter’s unbrushed hair, ear wax, crooked teeth and excessive blinking. It distresses me when she draws a self-portrait of a girl with only one giant eye in the middle of her forehead, even if the one-eyed face is smiling. Because I’m prone to exaggeration I connect the dots from these drawings to her job in a bullet-making factory like her great grandmother. I worry about my daughter’s manic reaction to sugar. It makes me fear the day she said, “Ma, would you like it if a house was made of Jell-O? Then you could bounce off of the walls.” It made me think about an institution.

Death makes me uneasy. “We are all saying good-bye every day,” my friend the Sikh told me not long ago about death, which only made me feel worse. I try to be ready for death like the good Girl Scout I never was as a kid, but each time the thought of death comes near, I turn away as fast as it surfaces, like I would a skinny man at a train station selling heroin. Be Prepared. It’s a Girl Scout motto worth its weight in gold, but instead of rallying me to awareness or readiness for death, the sentiment only weighs on me like a crown of heavy bones.

I worry about money: how much there is. How much there isn’t. How I spend it; how I don’t keep track of it. How I still use a running list of hand-written numbers instead of a spreadsheet. I concern myself with frequent flyer miles, expense reports, reimbursements, and getting the best price on car insurance. I revisit the part of my psyche where I’m no longer an adequate wage earner—a viable player in the economic landscape of my family’s life. Where instead I’m Lucy Ricardo to my husband’s Ricky, moneymaker, the man in control of the Copacabana. I want to make sure there’s enough money for college, hot Saki, dragon rolls, toiletries for victims of hurricanes, the Keuka Lake house, cars and old age. I worry that someday I could become one of those skinny ladies at train stations, rifling through garbage cans. Or Piggy in “Lord of the Flies.”

I was mildly dumbstruck when my husband sent an email to our family saying we need to invest now in land in Central Pennsylvania, away from the city, away from the panicked masses trapped by the twisting magnetic fields that can blow out the power grid for decades. One of my husband’s sisters, an attorney with a degree from Georgetown Law, sent a link to land for sale in rural Pennsylvania, nine acres for just under $80,000. Year one, we build a well for water; year two, a trailer; year three, a foundation for the house, my husband explained. I worry that his escape into conspiracy theory and government corruption that abets carbon-driven catastrophes has rewired his thinking. I know I’m not adequately prepared for an apocalypse born out of twisting magnetic fields. I don’t believe cans of beans and Band-Aids in a new-age bomb shelter will do the trick, so thoughts of catastrophe for the most part just leave me turning off more lights and wringing my hands.

Just when I’m more worried than ever that my husband’s run off the rails, a new headline hits: “Australia on Fire: Record-Shattering Heat, Wildfires Engulf World’s Largest Exporter of Coal.” And this just a few months after Hurricane Sandy, after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Mississippi River Delta, an oil gusher so big it was easily seen from NASA satellites. A gusher so large it flowed for three months and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf. Eleven men dead; estuaries, wetlands and miles of beach contaminated. Sea life wiped out. Armageddon of the ocean. I could go on.

Five years ago my husband talked about storing water in the basement and building a getaway vehicle, like the hand-cranked railroad car a silhouetted man drives into a coal mine, circa 1916. With our few belongings and hand-cranked cart we’d drive ourselves out of the panicked city in the face of peak oil, no gas for heat, cars or 18-wheelers that move almonds, peppers, honey and other foods from coast to coast.

I can imagine myself worrying out loud some day in a socially inappropriate place, like a homeless person with a mental illness shouting obscenities in a crowded public park. There I am, at intermission during an elementary school winter concert, near the snack table covered with fifty-cent brownies, Rice Krispy treats and cupcakes dotted with gummy worms. There I am, talking to anyone who will listen about the evanescence and fragility that defines everything, about the motility of worry and its chronic comings and goings, its unrelenting grip. By the side of the snack table I will natter to a stranger as she stirs cream into her Styrofoam coffee cup, worrying all the while about the cup’s manufacturing process that pumped dangerous chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere, and anxious about the suburban escapees on a homemade, hand-cranked cart, heading toward nothing familiar.

Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing