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Irrational, Inescapable Fears

Anxiety is a siren. She beckons, her voice sliding in to wind around my mind. I don’t want to hear it; I don’t want my thoughts to follow her sly whispers, but they are drawn along against my will. She does not sing of that which I most desire, but rather, she has charmed my fear into giving her my secrets. She sings of the death of my loves while I stand helpless, of my own violent end as if I am already half-ghost. 

It was stormy last night; no lashing rain or blanketing snow, but fierce winds that whipped through tight screens and rattled loose shutters, and the temperature plummeted to -10 Fahrenheit. The hundred-year old house groaned and snapped, the heat clattering in pipes that sound off in the walls. The poor dog, anxious during any storm, was practically climbing the walls. She’s mostly deaf at this point, so whatever sense she has of storms must also be confusing when she can’t hear what we can. Still, she seems more comfortable outside than she does in during a storm. She stands facing the wind, her scraggly hair blown back as if she stands on the prow of a ship. She looks fierce in her Thundershirt and her long eyebrows swept back, and has to sniff every individual leaf that has entered the yard since the last time she was out. Then she comes in, shivering, looking pitiful, and only wants to be wrapped up in blankets.

The lights flickered as I made dinner, and I swore I could hear Hawthorne’s urgent voice. “Get the candles in one place. Fill the tub so we can flush the toilet, only pee in the downstairs one! Where are the beans? WHERE ARE THE BEANS? Oh, okay. What pot can we use on the stove? I’m going to make cowboy coffee! Maybe. Where’s the Mokapot? Better grind some coffee while we still have power, I’ll get the hammer to smash more just in case.” I think they were just waiting for their once-in-a-lifetime storm, the kind they heard about from their dad, who snowshoed to his parents’ home in the blizzard of ’77. They had already been through Buffalo’s October storm of 2006, but they wanted their legacy blizzard in Vermont.

It was comforting to think of them as I ran through my mental checklist. I knew where the candles and lighters were; the external battery for the phone was charged. We had plenty of pantry items, and we were not in a situation where we would be stuck without power or heat and with no way out. The extent of my storm prep was to text my cousins and ensure they knew that they were the backup plan if we lost power. It was too cold to mess around with that, and without another heat source.

We kept power; it didn’t even flicker hard enough to disrupt the evening run of PJ Masks. It was Friday night, so the TV stayed on a little later than usual, and we read a couple of extra books. By 8:45, I was ready for Lucy to go to bed, although she wasn’t quite convinced. As she climbed in, however, the siren’s song slipped past my defenses.

I was afraid that she would freeze to death in the night, and I wouldn’t be able to save her.

I stood, watching as she bounced around her toddler bed, avoiding laying down, and I tried to tell myself that was a silly thing to worry about. Her room was warm, the heat was on; I’d wake if the power went out and various things beeped a last complaint, and I would be awake at least twice during the night to let the old lady dog out. She was in no danger.

Do you want to take that risk? Are you willing to gamble on losing again?

I gave in.

It wasn’t hard to convince her to come to my bed. By 9PM, I had the fleece blanket I’d made Hawthorne on the bed, so Ella would have a soft, warm place for her belly, and Lucy tucked up on the inside of my bed, already hogging my pillow. I brushed my teeth and laid down, mentally checking off where my sweatpants and socks were, my robe and extra blanket for letting Ella out. It took Lucy a long time to settle down – relatively, I mean, for a three year old. Within fifteen minutes, my hand was rising and falling with her steady breathing as it lay on her chest. 

At this point, I truly do not know if I could survive losing her. And so the siren sang me to sleep.

I’ve had all the standard advice about anxiety, from deep breathing exercises to medication to “just don’t think about it.” Those things can usually keep the irresistible song to a dull roar, and I can function. 

Last night was just one of those times where it reached out and wrapped around my mind, pulling me against my own volition. I didn’t even try to fight it, not more than the most cursory effort, anyway. It had been a long and difficult week for my anxiety, and I simply did not have the effort, or the fucks, to give. Twenty-four hours later, I have no judgment and no regret. It was a simple fix; she climbs into my bed most nights anyway, jolting me awake in between puppy bathroom breaks. We all slept well and warm in the refuge of my bed.

One day, giving in to the siren may be my downfall, though it’s hard to think of how. Maybe it’ll keep me from taking a trip; maybe it will tell me to not allow Lucy to go off to college alone. I’m not really worried about that.

What I am worried about is that one day, the siren will speak truth, and I won’t hear it until it’s too late. Until I am too late.

So I listen; and some nights, when the wind whips and the temperatures dive deep, I follow her song and aim willingly for the rocks, and I take no chances.

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