Shootin’ Down the Walls

Never liked <I>Sesame Street</I>’s Telly Monster, who seemed unhinged...
Never liked Sesame Street’s Telly Monster, who seemed unhinged...
...but I just wanted to hug Very Worried Walrus.
...but I just wanted to hug Very Worried Walrus.

My mother says we are worriers. Not warriors; that would be amazing if she once invoked some steely line of courage underscoring the women of our family—but no. Instead she sticks with simple fact, and by drawing attention to it, aggravates the tendency. “We are worriers,” she’ll say over her fifth cup of coffee, warmed in the microwave. She’ll blow over the top and shake her head, unsmiling, just one of an accursed line of women who needs something to latch her mind to in order to analyze its possible disastrous outcomes down to the finest points—sharing only the iceberg-tip of these concerns with others for fear of bothering them or looking crazy.

I’ve found certain practices keep that iceberg relatively small: running, writing, engaging friends in long discussions—and realizing that saying a thing sometimes makes it true in ways that give it undeserved precedence in life.

Still, I am of these quietly-ruminating, worrying women. My usual areas of worry concern life legacy: career failure, thinking about people with whom I’ve lost touch and dissecting what I should have done to prevent this, and mentally replaying conversations to find the moments I said something idiotic.

I went through a phase last year during which I was weirdly terrified that Marshall would have an awful car accident in his sloggitty daily commute to work, and my latest concern is something I have about as much control over as some maniac on the roads.

I am worried that we will get broken into.

I have become a homebody; that is to say, any nights I actually have free time—and these nights are few—I’d rather cook and hang out on the porch than go anywhere. Our house is a home. (Unrelated pet peeve #458: the real-estate-turned-media-turned-everyone trend of calling the physical building where one lives a “home;” the idea that you can sell homes. How cruel-!, this buying-and-selling of quotidian moments that transformed mere living space—apartment, house—into Home.) Moreover, in this time of job searching uncertainty, our house pretty much serves as our one place of sure footing.

An awful lot of people I know—and not a few in my neighborhood—have been broken into; ever after, they speak of their place of residence with slightly deadened expressions and a restless twinge in their eyes. They no longer rest their souls there. They’re still angry about a time they did so, only to have that betrayed.

And that’s what I’m afraid of. My repeated mental inventories of late reveal that we possess little of monetary value. The burglars would leave, pissed to have braved the annoyance of a piercing house alarm to find two old computers and a stereo from 1990. When it comes down to it, what I prize the most—two quilts made by my grandmother and my mother respectively, and my word processing files, which I back up obsessively—would likely be safe.

Of course, what I hate is the idea of violated space. You know how in movies, the camera momentarily becomes the eyes of the burglars, and the burglars are always looking with cold, uncaring eyes at beloved framed family photos? It’s that imagined moment that gets me. The idea of that violence and ill-will and strangerly-ness keeps me wondering whether I locked the back door as I drive to work. I imagine strange hands rifling through drawers whose handles only we’ve touched. I imagine the knocking down of pictures we hung. Stealing, not things, but the sacredness of home.

But there’s what you can control and there’s what you can’t. The fight-or-flight instinct plus an extremely well-developed imagination is perhaps the most useless of combinations, and later we’re on a walk, discussing this. We have locks, we have deadbolts, we have an alarm, and that’s about all we can do. Marshall takes my arm and says that if you start living with the goal of preventing violation, you’ve already lost. There’s been no fiery crash; we return home and home is there. I have not lost what’s most precious, and imagining scenarios in which I do won’t mitigate tragedy when it comes in whatever form it eventually will. It’s funny how this should be a lesson to learn: to enjoy a walk, a dinner, a period of rest at night in one’s very own bed.

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