As talents go, the ability to imagine the worst probably ranks somewhere above posting a selfie, but decidedly below walking without tripping.
Fine. Sprinkle those grains of salt on top of the following: If BuzzFeed ever publishes a list of the top 17 worry-warts who live in a state that used to be part of Massachusetts, I’d be in legitimate contention.
A gentleman I work with recently claimed he’d have me beat. He was kind of aggressive about it, really. As aggressive as someone who worries about being too aggressive can be.
In advocating for his rightful place on the list, he bragged that he has even coined a term for our common tendency to go from observing a normal – even benign – occurrence and mind-warping ourselves into a conviction that death and/or destruction is on our doorstep.
He calls it “awfulization.”
Please note: He is from New Hampshire. On the surface, he presented as a serious threat to my candidacy.
When he threw down this gauntlet, well, I worried. To wit, I immediately started worrying that this gentleman would keep me off a list that doesn’t exist, to celebrate a talent that no sound human actually considers a talent, in a fashion that is not at all celebratory. I was cold-sweating at the thought I was about to disappoint an entire corner of ancestry.com.
You see, I hail from a distinguished line of worriers. When I was 7, a cold kept me home from school one day. My grandfather was so fretful about the lack of pharmaceutical relief my parents were able to provide, he worried himself into giving me the first gift he could find on his drive home from work: a stereo. We were both very confused by the gesture, but I still hold on to my hope that it afforded him some measure of relief. I don’t recall it doing anything to ease my sniffles.
My sister was not feeling well recently, and she made the mistake of telling my dad. Please note: My dad’s dad is the stereo giver. My sister’s confession about her temporary health vulnerability triggered immediate, blaring alarms inside my dad’s skull.
So dad, still talking to my sister on his cell phone, walked over to his neighbor and had my sister explain her symptoms to him. In fairness to my dad, his neighbor is a doctor. In fairness to my sister, his neighbor is a urologist. When the conversation ended, my dad asked my sister if she felt better. She didn’t, but the important thing is, my dad did.
Everyone in my family arrives at an airport hours before their flight is scheduled for departure. No one in my family believes in the philosophy “let’s just see what happens.” My cousins study the Doppler radar and can deliver real-time weather reports for wherever you find yourself on Earth. None of my cousins are meteorologists.
But now I was being challenged by a guy who has commuted an hour to work for decades. Any good worrier would never build a career on that daily minefield of contingencies. I threw the gauntlet back.
I urged him to give me an example of how he “awfulizes.” He told me about seeing a police car come down his street, prompting him to wonder which one of his sons had been arrested. While I sympathized, I also saw this example for what it was: easily beatable.
I told him how, just a few nights before, I’d gotten Purell hand sanitizer in my eye. I described, in chilling detail, the roiling dance around the bathroom I performed until my husband thundered up the stairs and started splashing water into my eye. I imparted the same fear my son felt as he watched me scream about melting, his mother transforming into a slippers-wearing Wicked Witch of the West.
Then I snatched victory from the jaws of hypothetical defeat. I told him about my near-immediate visualization of myself with an eye patch. About whether I could get a service animal if my children are afraid of dogs. About whether I have the back strength to lug around large-print books.
Look no further, BuzzFeed. I’m right here.