For me, there has always been an easy answer to that question. What am I afraid of? I am afraid that someone is going to throw up. I am afraid that someone is going to throw up on me. It is pretty easy for me to remember, vividly, who it was from each of my grade school classes that threw up, and under what circumstances. I can, even still, go into unsettling detail about those fateful days. In second grade, I had to go home to change because I had wet my pants when someone threw up.
The last time I threw up, I was fourteen. My revered cousin, Nancy, was visiting from St. Louis, and I was dreaming about a haunted house, late at night. Earlier, I had eaten lasagna for dinner. We went to a carnival, and I rode the monkey cages. Perhaps that combination had something to do with why I threw up. My brother threw up that night, too, but he probably doesn’t remember.
My mom once told me that when I was a little girl, there was a ferris wheel incident where I thought it was raining, but someone was actually throwing up on me. I can trace my anxiety back no further than this.
As a mom to many children, I have learned to face this monster, armed with an ever present, fresh spray bottle of bleach water with the recommended ratio for germ control. In my early years of parenting, every contact was potential for an encounter with a stomach virus. I am not sure that I even identified this as anxiety, but it clearly was. These days, I prefer not to think about possibilities. I have gotten better; I no longer even pay attention to the three-second rule. Just eat it. You’ll be fine. Or so I assure myself.
I am not afraid of cleaning throw-up; I must. I need to be sure that I sanitize; that I drive the badness away. It doesn’t make me feel sick; at least, not if don’t think about it. I guess I have actually become skilled at cleaning throw-up. Not long ago, something occurred to me. Perhaps it is not the actual throw-up that is my issue. When one of my dear ones complains of a stomach ache, hypervigilance overcomes me. Check for the bleach water bottle, get a bucket, and make sure there is a towel to protect the furniture. Then wait. And, quite possibly, wait on edge as this germ weaves its way through the family. A whole week at the mercy of my greatest fear. But I won’t get sick.
Here is what I am afraid of: the unknown. Waiting, listening in the night. If I know it’s coming, I can’t give way to sleep. There I sit in the dark, trying to control what I cannot. I don’t know what’s going to happen. And I cannot rest until I am certain that the beast is gone.
For some, the beast doesn’t go away. Try as my child does, she cannot control the actions of those who have come before. She is, as am I in the throes of the flu, hypervigilant to a degree that keeps her from embracing what is before her. She is afraid of the unknown. And it’s pretty big, indeed.
Our neighbor’s tree fell across our backyard last week. Remarkably, the sand pile had been unoccupied that late morning, and there was minimal damage. We have known for years that the tree would one day fall. Still, we planted and picked raspberries, made stick-and-mud pies, and pulled out weeds. We trusted. And we were okay.
How I wish my girl could know that in the end, it will be okay. Maybe, we all just need someone to tell us not to worry. We get through the sickness. We get to enjoy the freshness of an extra clean bathroom, and we feel liberated that the week is behind us. We have a wonderful ring of tree sections surrounding our sand pile now, making for excellent adventures of a new kind. The debris is gone, and we are now able to pick our raspberries again. And they are quite bountiful during this late July.