I had just come out of perhaps the best rehearsal for a music event I’ve ever had. In preparation for my concert as part of the Three Busketeers this coming Wednesday, I had a chance to spend an evening with my friends Andy and Sam woodsheding some old favorites and learning some original songs as well, and it was a wonderful time.
I had borrowed my parents’ van, and upon inspecting it, I noticed that the passenger-side door handle had been crunched. Still workable, but it looked to me as if I’d been sideswiped.
Immediately the panic started. It rose like thunder out of my adrenal glands and blossomed up like a mushroom cloud into the brain. I am known as a mediocre driver in my family, but I had never been responsible for anything like that. In a flash I was caught in a high-stakes cost-benefit analysis – to tell or not to tell my folks. I felt terrible that I had let such a thing happen on my watch; after all, despite being twenty-five, I still do crave my parents’ acceptance, and the thought of losing it was playing havoc with my emotions. I can still feel the keen, stomach-clenching dread that I felt as I called my dad.
I was shocked how understanding my Dad was. “The car is pretty beat up anyway,” he said, “Just bring it home and we’ll have a look.” Even tone of voice. No sign of disappointment or threats of being disowned. He told me not to freak out, but I had a long drive ahead. I never stood a chance.
The ride home started out ok. I put on a great CD (Steady as she Goes by the Raconteurs) and hit the highway. Along the way, I heard nature’s call and stopped at a gas station. On getting back to the car, I noticed huge scratches across the driver’s side which I was certain had not been there when I stopped for gas on the way up.
Imagine a moment of crazed denial, a halfwitted hope against hope. Imagine me, hoping that the obvious scratches on the weather-beaten Dodge were just streaks of road salt, and my mad, frantic scrubbing at them with the little windshield squeegie-sponge from the gas station. Set it all to the climax of the Rolling Stones'”Gimme Shelter,” and that is what I was just then, a flesh-puppet full of panic held together with perhaps the most paranoid song ever to issue from Mick Jagger’s lips. Indeed, it seemed to me that a storm was threatening my very life, and all I wanted was some shelter.
How could I be this careless, I wondered, as I struck out again towards the highway. I don’t take the best care of my things, it’s true, but I did my very best with the car this trip – what the hell was wrong with me?
The ride was a blur of self-recriminations and attempts at calming myself down.
Maybe the scratches weren’t my fault, I vainly hoped. Maybe Dad won’t notice. Maybe it’ll be ok…
You lazy, no-good shit! You never take responsibility for anything – not that it would do you any good! Of course he’ll notice, and of course they’re your fault – and it will never be okay.
By the time I got to my parents’ place, I was ready to crawl across Providence to my own apartment like a worm, dragging my guitar behind me.
Dad greeted me outside the parental palace, and I held my breath. He walked around the car, and finally said “What were you talking about exactly?” I showed him the crunched door handle, and he looked at me askance. “Oh, your brother did that a while ago.”
Pardon? I showed him the scratches.
“Oh, your mom did that.”
My entire internal melodrama melted into liquescent relief. I saw then the cosmic joke of that beat-up minivan – that somewhere along the line, despite any and all evidence to the contrary, I had subconsciously bought into the not-good-enough trip. I caught myself, but only just. The ironic perspective of myself has not left me, nor has the insight into anxiety as a fact of my life and the lives of others. I hope the lesson will remain clear. Well played, Universe. Well played.
It is tempting for us to deny the role that anxiety and fear play in our lives. We are told that ‘fortune favors the brave,’ and that ‘fear is failure and the forerunner of failure,’ or, for my Frank Herbert fans out there, “Fear is the Mind Killer.” Certainly none of us want to think of ourselves as cowardly beings driven by dread, but to push that part of our experience away is not the answer. Even revisiting the experience in the relative safety of the Rochambeau branch of the Providence Community Library brought back a visceral sense of that fear, the fear that some inner corruption, some basic rottenness inside me would spill forth through carelessness and cause those who claim to love me to reject me. This is a fear – indeed, a grinding, chronic angst – that lives in many hearts these days. I’m not here to speculate about how it got there or who’s to blame. I’m here to do my best to integrate it, and to help others do the same.