No one likes fragility in their life; the idea we are not in control of our own destiny is mind-numbingly frightening. Example: though flying is inherently the safest form of travel, people on the whole feel more comfortable driving their own car. Sitting on a plane leaves you powerless, at the mercy of a pilot you don’t know and inside a piece of technology you probably don’t understand entirely. When you’re behind the wheel, you believe you have a say in what happens in an accident, this regardless of the fact the word “accident” automatically implies otherwise.
Keeping this in mind, that on the whole people like a sense of control in their own life circumstances, I have unfortunately discovered that these feelings now apply to significant others. I’m not happy with the new, ugly thoughts that randomly enter my head, but I believe they are a byproduct of love and marriage.
I was having lunch with a friend recently. We are of the same age, and have a somewhat similar dating background, meaning “many failed relationships.” Humorous side note: a few years back, when he believed he had found the ever elusive “one,” he up and readied to follow her to a new city, where they would live together. They put their ducks in a row, counted all assets, looked over the bank accounts, and in a mix of nerves and excitement, said: “Here we go.”
They hopped into a car, drove to their local U-Haul dealer, and parked. She was going to get out and sign all the forms, but instead of exiting the vehicle, sat quietly a moment, then stated, “I can’t do this.”
My friend, happily oblivious to what was about to happen, said, “That’s OK, I can go sign out the truck.”
She made herself a little more clear the second time around; “No, I can’t do… this.”
Her meaning was: any of it. The move, remain with him, or love him.
My friend was devastated, but manages to laugh at it today as he really has found the one. Now he talks of marriage, and the odd but unique and subtle difference between knowing, and knowing. You can believe you’ve met your soul mate many times, until, that is, you actually meet them. Given my tumultuous romantic past, which he is well aware of, combined with the fact we have both settled down happily, we had a decent base to a conversation involving life, where we’d been, and where we planned on going.
It was with this foundation I brought up something I rarely discuss publicly.
“Sometimes I have horrible thoughts,” I admitted. “Like, ‘What if something happens to Lydia?’ When I’m away from her, they pop up and I can’t control it.”
I explained that, rarely, thankfully rarely, the idea she has been in a horrific accident hits me like a ton of bricks. Or my phone will ring and I will have a momentary flash, “What if it’s a hospital?”
“Oh,” my friend laughed, “my imagination is worse than that. I worry that I won’t be home, and someone, some man, will break into the apartment…”
He trailed off, but didn’t need to finish the thought. He didn’t need to; I have had the same gut-wrenching reflection myself. There is nothing so hopeless in life as feeling helpless.
We then spoke of our placing of weapons in the house—mini-baseball bat, taser—and the fact we have both occasionally considered buying guns and attend shooting classes with our significant others. (Neither one of us is so arrogant to simply think “I’ll buy me a gun!” without training in the use of it)
Somewhere along the conversational way, I wondered if having these thoughts was normal, as until Lydia, they had been foreign to me. My friend shrugged, and I laughed. My laughter was mostly genuine, but was tinged with a little extra oomph; cover used to blanket a seriousness I was too uncomfortable to admit to.
When I brought the conversation up to Lydia, she discussed having occasionally evil thoughts quite openly. She admitted her imagination was as similarly unhelpful to her well being as mine is to me, and spoke of negative impulses that wake her up in a cold sweat when I am travelling. She has pictured me smashed through my windshield in the middle of nowhere, broken and bloodied, with no one around to help, stuck in a snowdrift freezing to death at 3 a.m., and run off the road by one of the ever-arrogant and inattentive eighteen-wheel rig drivers. Even worse than those scenarios, her mind runs an unhealthy riot when I’m lucky enough to perform overseas for the military in combat zones, as so much worse than a simple car accident can happen in war torn areas.
As much as I hate to admit it, and though I don’t want to point fingers or lay blame, the media does not help things. It is common knowledge “If it bleeds, it leads” is how stories are broadcast. The news is a product to be sold and the industry knows the most frightening tale is also the most captivating; if you play to someone’s base fears, you’re going to pull them in and hold their attention: “THIS BLACK MAN IS GOING TO ROB YOU. THIS WHITE MAN LOOKED NORMAL BUT WAS A SERIAL KILLER BURYING WOMEN IN HIS BACK YARD. EVERYONE IS GETTNG LAID OFF AND GOING BROKE AND LOSING THEIR HOMES. CAN INNOCENT CHEMICALS IN YOUR OWN HOME KILL YOU? (Find out at eleven)”
So if I’m off in Iraq performing, and the reports say several car bombs went off in one day and reminds us yet again how much the insane insurgents hate us, it’s hard not to have a negative thought cross your mind. Because whether it is healthy or not, and whether we like it or not, the ego holds great sway over our thoughts and emotions.
The flip side to all this negativity, is that once you learn to love someone, you let loose a little of your natural-born self-centeredness. When I was single, or even in previous relationships, I would board a plane and casually wonder, “Huh, wonder if this thing is going down today?” It would be a passing thought, definitely not an obsession or cause to worry. Now my mind strays to the Mrs.: “If we crash, how hard will it be on Lydia?”
Loving another also expands your capacity to empathize with strangers; watching tragedy occur on the news often makes me feel for the loved ones of those involved, at the same time saying a silent prayer to a God I don’t believe in for the safety of everyone close to my heart.
All of this, in its own way, leads me to the idea of parenthood. In the movie Ransom, Mel Gibson plays a millionaire whose son is kidnapped. In a unique twist on a standard theme, Mel offers his fortune not to pay off the kidnappers, but to offer a huge bounty on the criminals.
I, for the record, hated the movie. Though an original concept, it was poorly executed and boring and filled with clichés. Yet a friend of mine, one who was already a father when it came out, was white-knuckled the whole film. Not because it was a gripping, well-made movie, but because he said he felt like throwing up the entire time the celluloid was running. He imagined his own son being kidnapped, and how he would react, and how the ordeal would make him feel. The thoughts were so overpowering, it kept him from noticing how awful the film was.
Is that what’s in store for me next? More worry, anxiety and invented bullshit that will haunt me when I least expect it? Lydia is a grown adult, and I fear for her safety. What happens when I have a child that cannot survive or function without constant observation and care?
And gah, what happens if I end up with a daughter?
It’s an old but true saying: when you have a boy, you only have to worry about one penis. When you have a girl, you have to worry about every penis.
I make fun of helicopter parents, and cringe whenever I see one protecting their child to the point of pathetic obsession, but somewhere inside me, though I have no offspring of my own, I understand it.
Someone put a sterility curse on my balls, stat.