My earliest memories of fear in my life were simple separation anxiety. Losing sight of my mother in a store or on a beach where I had wandered a little too far away searching for toys or shells would cause a racing heart, a spike in blood pressure, and, typically, tears. I recall playing on the escalator at Sears in downtown Charlotte and getting lost. At that time Allstate had little kiosks in Sears stores and the Allstate man found me crying by the escalator and took my hand and helped me find my mom. I never played on another escalator.
I remember other early fears …. like the monster in my closet or under my bed that my brother, Curtis, who was almost five years older than me, loved to tell me about …. at bedtime. I can remember being so afraid to put my feet on the floor in the darkness that I would wet the bed rather than get up to go to the bathroom if I woke up needing to pee in the middle of the night. Once I confessed why I was wetting the bed, my mom or dad would make a show of checking under the bed and opening the closet to show me there was nothing there at bedtime. They must’ve made threats to Curtis because he stopped scaring the crap out of me with those stories.
I was always a little shy, a little fearful in a crowd of other kids. If there were adults present, I tended to be near them. While most kids my age immediately joined the fray, I hung back on the fringes, observing, feeling out the situation. I was cautious, always weighing the possible consequences of every action.
One early instance of my reticence is crystal clear in my memory. I was probably about four or five years old. WSOC, one of the local television stations, had a show called Clown Carnival. The main character was Joey the Clown, played by Brooks Lindsay. Part of the format for the show was the celebration of a kid’s birthday. There was just Joey and a group of kids who were invited to participate in the celebration of their friend’s birthday. Joey entertained the kids with his funny tales and antics and the kids played birthday games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey and had cake and balloons and sang Happy Birthday To You. Every kid in Mecklenburg County wanted to be on the show and felt like a star when Joey went around the small grandstand they staged the kids on and had each kid say their name on tv! What could possibly be nocuous in this sugary sweet situation, you ask? Joey, that rascal, wanted us kids to play Musical Chairs. We were instructed to skip around the room, circling an ever-shrinking group of chairs, while circus tunes played in the background. When the music stopped, we were supposed to plop our butts down on a chair. If you didn’t manage to get a chair, you were out of the game. Sounds simple, right? But, wait …. in each chair was a big blown up balloon. The only way to get in one of the limited number of chairs was to pop the balloon … WITH YOUR BUTT! No way, no how was I going to pop a balloon with my butt. Period. Not going to happen, folks. I clearly remember sitting on the small grandstand and watching all of the other kids giggle and run and have a blast. Me, I was just fine, with my intact butt, sitting on the sidelines.
Joey had managed to get me to speak up and mutter my name as he circled the room asking, but he couldn’t have gotten me to participate in that evil game of Musical Chairs with a cattle prod. “Boys and Girls, when you grow up, remember, be nice, because all we have in this ‘ol world is each other,” Joey would say at the end of each show. I, for one, wondered why he didn’t follow his own Golden Rule. There was nothing nice about asking a four year old to pop a balloon with their butt as far as I was concerned. To this day, I have no idea what I feared would happen if I popped a balloon with my butt, but I still have not tempted fate by trying it, either.
My fears grew with me. In grade school, I skipped trips to the coliseum to see roller derby at the Charlotte Coliseum with Susan Wilcox, her mother, and most of my friends. I have no idea what I was afraid of. To my knowledge, the participants only beat up each other. To this day, I hate witnessing any physical violence: from road rage incidents involving other people that have left me too shook up to dial 911, to an inability to understand how anyone watches MMA or boxing on television.
While middle school friends relished the idea of a school dance, the thought filled me with dread. No way was I going to dance in front of other people! Other than my senior prom, I have a spotless danceless record to this day. On prom night, I was home by eleven and glad it was over, frankly.
Parties were another source of anxiety and fear. I can only remember forcing myself to go to a few in high school. At one of those Friday night parties, a friend of my best friend’s brother was so drunk he could barely walk. Being the Florence Nightingale that I can be at times, I decided to take care of him, to walk him around, and keep him from dying of alcohol poisoning, which, of course, I was afraid would happen if I didn’t step in. The following Monday morning I found out that the guy was going around telling people we had had sex at the party. I was appalled and incensed. Nothing could have been further from the truth! He’d spent the night hugging the toilet. I had just kept him from drowning in it. The experience validated my fears. See, I said to myself, nothing good can come of going to parties.
My fears ramped up to epic proportions as soon as I graduated from high school. Literally, the day I got home from senior week at the beach, I began to dread the day, soon, when I would be leaving for college, living away from home for the first time. I lost twenty pounds in a little over a month. I obsessed night and day about my fears.
My monster had a name, finally, and it was What If. What If was in my closet, under my bed, in my car, on the chaise beside me as I lay out by our pool trying to forget him. He followed me everywhere, whispering in my ear: What if you don’t make any friends in the dorm? What if you fail your classes? What if you can’t get out of bed to even go to class? What if you can’t do this?
I managed my fears by forcing myself to plow through the things I could not just avoid. I completed a semester at Appalachian with decent grades, then filled out the paperwork to transfer to UNCC. When I learned I had been admitted, I had about two or three weeks of sheer relief from my fears. I felt the pressure cooker valve stop rocking for the first time in months and I was sooooooooo glad to be headed home.
And then What If showed up. Dammit! I thought I had left him at Appalachian. I was so worried about parking in the remote lots at UNCC, finding my classes, fitting into the English Department, and making friends. A couple of weeks before the Spring semester was going to start, I made my brother, who was already a student at UNCC, go with me to campus and show me where to park and where all of my classes were. I was so nervous on the first day of class that I forgot where the classroom was and came in five minutes late. The professor made some snide comment along the lines of “Glad you could join us” and I wasn’t sure I would ever come back to that class.
I found my groove in the English Department, made a few friends on campus, and married my high school sweetheart before graduating a semester early with a BS in English and a minor in Sociology. While I had dreamed of becoming a lawyer (and an author), I let my fears lead me into an entirely different life.
Immediately following my freshman year of college, I had helped my dad start a small printing business. I had worked there almost every day of my UNCC years. Instead of taking the LSATs, I threw myself into making our family printing business a success. My dad was the type of guy who wanted to do every job for free. This customer was his friend, that customer was a non-profit, the other one, a church. At the rate he was going, he’d be out of business in no time. I took over the quoting and billing, the customer service. I found that I had no problem charging a fair rate for our work, regardless of the customer, and the business flourished. Though it was difficult to see my mother disappointed in the path I had chosen …. she wanted bigger and better things for me …. I was happy.
That wouldn’t last.
Though we started out small, in dad’s backyard, we had grown to the point of needing more space and a more professional presentation for the business to grow. Dad bought an old house in Huntersville and we set about turning it into a retail location for the printshop. By this time, my husband, Darryl was working for CRC Printing Co. as well. All of our eggs were, officially, in one basket.
In the thirty-six years that CRC Printing Co. has existed, What If has haunted my nights with sleeplessness and filled many of my days with anxiety. The buck has always stopped with me. I am the one who paid every bill, who solved every employee issue, who lay awake at night and worried about making deadlines that seemed impossible. I couldn’t have done it without Darryl (and my dad, prior to his retirement in 2001) on the production end, but neither of them was cut out for the business end of things. They could show up, do their jobs, and go home and not think about anything to do with the business until 8:00AM the next day.
I’m pretty sure Darryl has never worried about anything in his life. That’s just his personality. His theme song is Que Sera Sera (though I often tell him it is Every Light In The House Is On). I both envy and resent his peaceful sleep while I lie awake chewing the insides of my cheeks until they bleed. Perhaps it is a good thing we are so different. Lord knows, I could not deal with someone else’s fears on top of my own.
Early on in this pandemic, on Tuesday, March 24th, I got a text from Darryl saying, “Mecklenburg County just issued a stay at home order to start Thursday at 8AM.” I replied, “I’m about to have a full blown panic attack. Please wake me up and tell me this is all just a nightmare.” He replied, “We will get through it. As long as we have each other, we will be okay. We are stronger than this.” I replied “You always thought I was crazy with all of my What Ifs, but here it is. The end of life as we know it.”
All this time I would tell myself I was just being a Henny Penny running around saying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” But the sky has fallen, like I always knew it would. My fears are as present as always and there is no one who can assure me that everything will be okay. Many folks who have never been worriers are becoming them now. Many are seeing the need to duck and cover.
I can’t say why I am the worrier that I am. I can’t remember ever being any other way. My trepidation has kept me out of harm’s way on many occasions. Right now, my fears may be the only thing saving us. While many of our friends have huge debt with four digit house payments, payments due on two new cars, and less or no income coming in, we are living in the modest house I knew we could afford when we bought it twenty-three years ago. We are driving cars that are paid for. We have savings accounts that can supplement our diminished income for awhile. I am grateful at this minute that What If kept me from jumping off the high dive.
What If is on my shoulder, louder than ever right now. Our biggest customer does fundraising for schools and another of our top five provides dentistry for students who qualify for Medicaid. What if school doesn’t start back on time? What if administrators think fundraising will expose more kids to the virus and cancel their programs? What if parents don’t want their kids receiving dental care during the pandemic? My second largest customer provides dry cleaning services for hotels. The Republican National Convention has already been moved out of Charlotte, which he was counting on to be a boon for his business, and no one is traveling to Charlotte right now. What if many hotels go under and the others’ business is never the same? Most of our clients are small businesses. What if many do not survive the pandemic shut downs?
What if our business doesn’t survive the economic effects of the pandemic?
I know, rationally, that worrying never solved anything. I know is is rehearsing the problem without solution to worry. I’ve heard all the maxims and I even believe them, for the most part, but I am powerless to change my very being.
And I still ain’t sitting on no balloon.