I have no off switch for worry. If there’s any way to chill and let things flow, I can’t find it.
Then there’s Paul, my vanilla-flavored glacier. He can’t envision a reason to push events forward at top speed or sweat about anything.
I don’t get it. Why doesn’t he recognize the value in unnecessary stress? It could be that he sees when I freak out, I’m no less uptight, but it’s more likely that there’s something wrong with him.
Like when I recently submitted a project description to apply for a ten-month memoir-writing class.
I said, “Oh, my God. I’ve waited a year to register for this. I thought I could just sign up. I have to wait for approval. The instructor’s going to scratch her head and wonder how such a moron could belong in her class.”
Paul’s response was as disturbingly calm and predictable as always: “Don’t worry, Sweetie. You’ll get in.”
So I spent sixteen years between August 8 and August 14 waiting to see if I would be accepted. I hit the refresh button on the submissions website seventy times an hour, and it stubbornly said, “Submitted” every time. No “Accepted,” or more sensibly, “Rejected.”
Then came August 14, and the site conceded that indeed I was “Accepted.” This bewildered me, but I was happy. For five minutes.
Then I realized there were probably 40,000 people applying for fifteen seats in the class, and they would all get into the class ten seconds after registration opened the next day.
Starting at 7:00 in the morning on August 15, I began checking the institution’s site, only to find that the “Register” button was available for every class but the one I wanted.
Trying to get any work done while hitting the refresh button every five minutes isn’t easy. Plus after three hours, I imagined that the class’s fifteen seats were full, with a wait list of 39,985 people ahead of me.
So I emailed the school, and they said, “Well, for this class, you have to register by phone. We sent you an email about it.” There was no email in my inbox.
Now my mind was whispering, “This is a special, secret society, and you don’t belong.” Made sense to me.
When I called and told the nice lady that I didn’t receive an email, she said, “The message is in the submissions site, which is a separate program from regular email.”
Of course the site has a separate email system. It’s a secret society. Why hadn’t I thought of that? But maybe I could still get in. I took a deep breath and asked if I could register, and she said, “Sure.” That was easy. Too easy.
Now I’m in the class, but part of me expects to be the accidentally registered sixteenth person, and I’ll be turned away on the first day. Still, that insane part of my mind hopes to be surprised in a pleasant way.
But I think my paranoia may not be a disorder after all. If I hadn’t fretted and sprained my finger hitting the refresh button and then finally asked, “What’s up?” I wouldn’t be in the class. So everything’s fine now.
But what if it’s not? What if my printed confirmation is the product of a random punking scheme? Thank goodness I have thirty-four days to worry about this. Otherwise I’d just have to invent another obsession.
For years, I’ve assumed I’m smarter than Paul. There’s no proof. It’s just nice to believe that. In fact, he has a master’s degree, and I have two associate degrees (which adds up to a bachelor’s degree, right?). So he’s a bit farther along in education.
At the very least, though, I’ve assumed I’m cleverer than he is, but I’m beginning to wonder.
Trying to get my handyman to do something (that doesn’t involve food) can be difficult. For twenty-two years, I’ve tried asking, sweet-talking, nagging, begging, and bribing, but if he’s not interested, the project will remain a theory. Possibly forever.
So recently when I decided to order parts, with permanent adhesive, to take care of something, I told him, “I got this stuff, and I’ll go ahead and take care of it.”
After two decades of watching me park the car at an angle between straight lines and put clothes on inside-out, Paul seemed a little worried, but I could see his look of amusement, and I could read his mind:
“She’ll never do it. She’s too scared she’ll get it wrong. And she will. She’s going to bug me to do it, but I’ll get around to it sometime. Maybe.” I paraphrase.
So he didn’t seem too worried as he said, “Great!”
Every couple of weeks, I announced, “I’m gonna take care of that today.”
Paul smiled, all patient and wise, and said—with a homicide-inspiring amount of patronizing in his tone—“Okay. Sounds good.”
The other night I’d had it with both of us. I grabbed the stuff I needed—including the permanent adhesive—and I asked, “Do you have something called ‘mineral spirits,’ Sweetie?” (Mineral spirits, it seems, are something that help clean up what those in the construction trade call “boo-boos.”)
I said this as I clipped the tip of the adhesive tube and grabbed the item to be glued—to the wall and the bathtub simultaneously.
I noticed an entire lack of smirk on his face. He said, “Sure. Let me get it for you” as he trotted to a closet while frequently looking over his shoulder to see how the glue application was going.
He set the mineral spirits on the counter and stood frozen, watching me actually do this thing.
Suddenly it dawned on him all the times I’d said during the last few months, “I’m so nervous to do this. You know I’m not handy. I’m so afraid I’m going to mess it up.”
Then the would-be hero of the story asked—with lots of helpfulness in his tone—“Would you like me to do that?”
I handed over the items so quickly I think I knocked the wind out of him.
My only question is: Why did it take so many years for me to figure this out?
Paul’s had it sorted for years: “If I prove that I can’t do something the way she wants me to, I don’t ever have to do it.”
Paul thinks we need to consult a personal stylist. To his credit, he was wise enough to say, “I need to,” but I believe the inclusion of me is clear.
Maybe this revelation has to do with the old sweatpants I was wearing the other evening that have a large vertical rip down the center of the buttular area.
Maybe it’s because everything we wear looks like we went out of our way to find something frumpy and ill-fitting.
I’m amazed by people who look well put together, and I’ve always assumed they were born knowing how to dress. But then I recently watched a documentary about Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and it seems her father demonstrated how to dress well. So she learned about this even though a large part of her DNA was stamped with “Oleg Cassini” and “Chanel.”
Perhaps Paul’s right. I’ve been less than pleased with my reflection in the mirror for years, and it’s not just about being overweight. I look like someone who’s been dressed by a person with a vendetta against me.
Maybe if I had nicer clothes, I’d take better care of them too. The other day I noticed that I’d popped a button on the waist of my favorite summer pants, which loosened the flap above the zipper. The result was the semblance of a bellybutton that was trying to escape through my blouse, Alien style.
I will eventually replace the button, but meanwhile, I just tuck the waistband flap into the top of my underwear, and my belly fat keeps it cinched down.
If we do get a personal stylist, they’d better have an emergency hotline number.
I miss the days when someone could dive-bomb a military base without getting shot out of the sky.
Many years before 9/11, but a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother decided to get her private pilot’s license. I mention the third item here because I believe in grouping disasters.
So one day in the ‘60s, my parents are flying a Cessna in circles over the desert, either lost or pretending to be a fuel-powered vulture. Suddenly Mom spots a landing strip, yanks the yoke, and takes the plane into a sharp bank towards the ground.
Dad is concerned because he’s always worried about having married a lunatic, but now he’s got more reason to worry because everything he sees—hangars, aircraft, ground vehicles—is decorated in camouflage.
In as casual a manner as possible, he says, “Please don’t land here.”
Mom lovingly asks, “Why the hell not? We need directions.”
“I wasn’t looking forward to being shot today.”
Mom mutters something about “being a wimp,” and she dives for the landing strip.
Dad doesn’t need to worry, though. They receive a festive greeting just like when tourists land in Hawaii, only with way more machine guns pointed at them.
I inherited my mother’s excellent navigation and listening skills, although I don’t have a pilot’s license, probably for the same reason that Paul doesn’t want me to get a gun permit.
I’ve always felt directionals—such as east and west, for example—are arbitrary suggestions, like stopping at red lights or not flossing in restaurants.
This belief has led to many exciting adventures, especially when we lived in Upstate New York, a land riddled with mysterious natural phenomena known as “toll roads,” thirty-mile-long stretches of wasteland where drivers can be trapped for days, not being allowed to stop anywhere except at Antarctic-sized service plazas populated by angry motorists, vending machine snacks, and restrooms that are always “Closed for Cleaning. Thank you for your patience!”
My favorite is Pembroke Plaza. It must be because I accidentally drove there four times in two months.
The second, third, and fourth times I headed home, Paul said, “Remember, even though you want to head west coming home, you have to take the 33 East to do that.”
I replied in a patient tone, “You don’t need to tell me that. I know where the hell I’m going.”
Every time I reached the 33 West exit, which I unfortunately had to encounter before I got to the 33 East exit, an invisible force took control of the steering wheel, jerking the car onto 33 West.
I was quick to realize my mistake, usually within the first mile. Then the locals were treated to a lilting twenty-nine-mile soliloquy of swear words until I reached, once again, Pembroke Travel Plaza. So it was a great time for everyone, really.
I always had to buy a phone card to call Paul and tell him I would be home a little late because I didn’t have the sense to buy a cell phone. And I also enjoyed it every time he asked, “You did it again?”
I’m looking forward to the day when science can find the part of a person’s DNA strand that says, “Can’t navigate for shit” and replace it with “Great singer.” I know Paul wishes for this too, especially when I sing in the car.
Every time I believe I know what I’m doing with finances, it freaks me out.
That’s usually when I find out I’ve forgotten to pay the electric bill or haven’t checked our bank account in two weeks and now we’re overdrawn by several hundred dollars or, as just happened, miscalculated our IRS tax payments, which caused our anticipated refund to drop by eight hundred dollars.
Even when I get things right, I experience heavy sweating, just waiting for the next fun monetary surprise. I’d like to feel good about the little things I do well, but that feels like total hypocrisy.
What’s it like to experience a sense of confidence that doesn’t lead to a panic attack?
"I've always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position." – Susan Lowenstein, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy