It’s a bit fuzzy, but I remember the blue tiles and tan cabinets in the kitchen and the dining table with six chairs carefully tucked up next to it. I can see the living room with the fireplace that had a huge mantel holding our day’s artistic endeavours. I can hear the sound of the television, and see my sister and brother intensely watching a movie with the babysitter.
I remember my mom kissing me on the forehead to say goodbye. “Just one more hug,” I begged her, somewhere between desperate and hysterical. She sighed, gave me a quick squeeze and pushed me toward the TV before rushing out the door to meet my dad who was waiting in the driveway, the car running in exasperation.
To this day, I can still feel the panic slowly seeping into my chest and the warmth of the sidewalk on my bare feet as I race to stop them from leaving.
The car crash I imagined always felt so real. The car skidding out of control on a snowy road, crashing headlong into a tree. The screams. The phone call from the police followed by tears, fear, and loneliness.
For a five year-old, having an active imagination is the primary pastime. But usually, that imagination conjures unicorns, superheroes, or imaginary classrooms. But for me, it went to a far less endearing place, and not one with monsters under my bed. Every time my parents left, I had visions of car accidents, killer bees, lightning strikes, and anything else that could possibly steal them away from me.
The first time it happened my parents stayed for a little while and tried to calm me down. My mom felt guilty leaving, I could see it in her eyes and knew all she wanted to do was give me that one extra hug. After a while though it became a routine that my babysitter hated and my parents resented. I could see them roll their eyes as mine filled with tears. Here we go again they must have thought as they tried to distract me with my favorite movie or stuffed animal.
But the fits I threw, they weren’t for me, and they weren’t for attention. They were for an all-consuming terror that I’d never see my parents again. That I’d be left alone. That I could have saved them, if only I could get them to stay.
I never told them what I was thinking for fear of it coming true. A jinx if I said it out loud.
Twenty-five years later, my imaginative five-year-old self and her fear of abandonment are still in my life. Thankfully she’s no longer consumed with the thought of my parents being attacked by killer bees. Unfortunately however, her fears have been nourished by experience, reality and the far too real sense of her own mortality.
Lately she reminds me to say “I love you” to the people I care about, even when I’m mad. “What if something happens to them?” she asks, remembering her friend’s brother and his 14 classmates who died in Columbine. There one moment. Gone the next.
She shutters reading the news about Afghanistan and Iraq. “It could’ve been him,” she sighs, thinking about her brother and the friends he left behind.
On his 61st birthday, she hears her dad mumble under his breath that he’s now the age of his father when he passed away. “You can’t leave me,” she whimpers, panic slowly seeping into her chest.
She cries when she visits her grandma in the nursing home, imagining that every goodbye is the last. Until suddenly it is. “Just one more hug,” she begs. But the car is in the driveway, and everyone is waiting.
My five-year-old self still wants to hold on tighter and longer. She’s still crying in the living room, scared of losing her parents. My 30 year-old self calls her Anxiety and adds to her list of worries. “Don’t forget about your siblings, husband, friends, future children, and Mother Earth.” She’s dying too.