I told myself I couldn’t freak out until 10 pm. I had been worried for the past hour, but I tried to rationalize it. Everything was fine. It wasn’t really that late.
But then 10 pm arrived, and I let myself get really worried. Where was Chris?
He’d been over at his sister’s house that evening, sitting around the fire and chatting with his brother-in-law, Josh. A few friends and neighbors dropped by to say congratulations on our engagement, and Josh was smoking a pork butt in his new smoker. Chris had let me know that things were behind schedule, as the pork butt was taking much longer to cook than expected.
I didn’t mind. Since we’re all still in lockdown, it’s not like Chris is ever away from me. It was good for him to see people other than me and the kids. “I should be home by 9,” he texted.
When he wasn’t home by 9, I distracted myself. By 9:30, I texted him again, and didn’t hear anything. We were always in touch – always – because our entire relationship had happened under the lockdown, and so we were constantly either with each other or updating each other on what was happening when we were apart. Where was he?
I tried to stay calm, but the questions in my head wouldn’t go away. What if something had happened? What if he’d gotten in a car accident or somehow been hurt otherwise? What if he had decided to walk home and had a medical emergency? What if?
I knew this was all totally illogical. Chris had likely gotten distracted and was just running a bit late. I knew he hadn’t actually died.
And yet, I couldn’t convince myself that things were okay.
It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened. It was a common occurrence for me after Shawn died. One of the kids would be late coming home from a birthday party, and I’d be sure the car had crashed, or my dad wouldn’t answer a text and I was convinced he must have had a heart attack. “This is crazy. Everything will be okay,” I’d say to myself, sometimes out loud. I knew it wasn’t a normal response to the minor discomfort of not knowing where someone I loved was.
My brain, as you can imagine, has a hard time with the not-knowing. Tragedy can happen on beautiful days, too.
“Everything will be okay,” is something I used to say to myself all the time when Shawn was in the hospital. No wonder it’s not such an effective phrase anymore.
There’s not a lot that’s been able to make this kind of anxiety better for me, besides the passing of time. I don’t check on my kids to make sure they’re breathing every night anymore, and I don’t worry about my dad if I don’t talk to him for a day. I forced myself to let the kids have more freedom with each passing year, and now even Tommy goes out to ride his bike around the house. The first time I let Claire do this after Shawn died, I gritted my teeth through the anxiety. It’s easier now.
But it’s not easy. I still worry much more than I did in my old life.
When Chris was still gone after 10 pm that night, I finally decided to text Josh. “He’s here,” Josh replied, “just talking with Becky.” Turns out, after they’d finished the pork butt, Becky came outside to say hello and their other brother had called and the three of them had a little impromptu reunion on the phone. Of course Chris had wanted to say hello to his brother, and of course he’d lost track of time.
He apologized profusely when he got back home. “I should have texted you, at least,” he said.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I shouldn’t have worried. I knew you were okay.”
He looked at me with eyes that said that he didn’t believe me. “Okay,” I said, “I was worried. I knew that the pork butt took a long time to cook, but I didn’t think it would take that long. What if something had happened to you?”
“It’s okay, I’m here,” Chris said as he hugged me. I cried a little bit, which is kind-of embarrassing to admit, but that’s how worked up I’d gotten.
And that is the end of the story. There is no resolution where I figure out how to worry less when I don’t know exactly where Chris or one of the kids is. I’ve gotten better at coping with uncertainty, but the only way that’s happened is through the passage of time. I can talk to myself about what’s rational all day long. I also know that everything will not always be okay.
But tragedy is not around every single corner. Usually, it’s just something like a pork butt that’s taking too long to cook.