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I am a worrywart. For years, I blamed this trait on my upbringing, but recently, I reread my baby book (an album where parents in the ’60s recorded their kids’ first haircut and first fingernail clippings) and it said, “Debbie is a worried, fretful child.” I was nine months old. Obviously, I had come into this world this way. The doctor must have hit me on the ass, and instead of crying, I began fretting. Oh no. Why are you spanking me? Why don’t you like me? You just met me.
By the age of 10, I had grown a wrinkled chasm in the middle of my forehead. “Perseverating” is what a shrink would later call it. I would chew on a thing for hours, and people would try to comfort me by saying, “You’re so young. What do you have to worry about?” This made me worry even more. If adults are walking around with their heads in the sand, how can they be trusted?
And to be clear, I didn’t just worry about myself. I worried about you, as well. If you showed me the least amount of compassion, I would put your worry in my purse and go through it for you – even if you were passed-out or sleeping with another woman. And no, you don’t have to ask me to do this. It’s in my blood.
I come from a tribe of Worry Warts. Irish Worrywarts. Don’t let that cute little Irish spring accent fool you. The Irish are depressives. My grandparents had a saying: ‘Sing before breakfast, and you’ll be crying before nightfall.’ This sounds a tad negative until you go to some parts of Ireland and realize that singing at any time of the day was tempting fate. My people were from southern Ireland, from the clan of preventative worrying. We worry ahead of time so that when it happens, we are not surprised.
My Dad was Irish as well, but his tribe was from the north. They didn’t believe in worrying. To Dad, there was no point in worrying about something because it might not happen. He was Protestant. Mom was Catholic. She thought the only way he could be so lackadaisical is because she was worrying on his behalf.
A case in point would be the camping trips on Unger Island. It wasn’t an island. It had a causeway so you could drive across it. Though we owned a cottage on the land, we never got to go in it because my Dad was the sole breadwinner, and with six kids to feed, he always needed money, so he rented it out for extra cash. Our cottage was five miles from our house. We would bike up there 5 miles every night in the summer. My parents didn’t always come with us. We swam for hours on our own, because apparently, kids didn’t drown in the ’60s.
So we swam and ate supper, and sometimes we pitched a tent next to the cottage.
Can you imagine what the tenants that rented the cottage thought? We tented next to them in two big tents and an outhouse and all day long you’d hear six kids (or more, because my aunt’s brood of eight came too) swimming and screaming repeatedly. “Mom, watch this. Mom, are you looking? Mom! Mom.”
Sometimes we’d get so tired by nightfall that we couldn’t make it home five miles away. The eight of us, six kids and two parents would pile in a mildew tent with a dog or two and a ubiquitous mosquito buzzing around our heads.
One night a vicious storm came up. A frightening cacophony of thunder shook the tents.
When chain lightning zigzagged around us, we evacuated and climbed into one of my parent’s vehicles. On the left side of the tent was my Dad’s van, with no seats in the back, only saws and wrenches threatening to behead us. On the right side of the property was my mother’s station wagon with lots of seats. So we had two choices where we could take cover. Should we run to the worrier’s vehicle? Or take refuge in the vehicle of the non-worrier?
Four of the kids made it safely to Dad’s van. Despite our best efforts, my brother Kevin and I got stuck getting in my mother’s station wagon. In Dad’s van, they were having a party, laughing, and playing Crazy eights. Every time it rolled with thunder, Dad said, “That’s okay, that is just God moving the piano.” Meanwhile, over in the station wagon, we were doing it up Old Testament style, going around the rosary beads like racecar drivers at Nascar. Every few moments, Mom would cry out, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Then she ratcheted up a notch and began rhyming off a litany of saints, “Saint Theresa and Elizabeth.” These pleas were not reassuring at all. We were sure we were utterly screwed when she got to the Spanish and Romanian saints, “Jochaima Sachamero and Miguel Allende.”
The next morning, the kids emerged from Dad’s van and said, “Wasn’t that fun?”
Kevin and I exited our vehicles like two shell-shocked vets coming back from the Korean War. Yes, God was never far from our lips, but he never offered me a lick of comfort.
From my book in development: Windowshopping For God.
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