Worriers come in many varieties. Some people worry about their health. Some people worry about the national debt. Some worry about terrorism and the threat of war. And then, there are those who worry about everything. These are the world-class worriers, the people who have it down to an art form. I am an artist.
It isn't just that I worry willy-nilly about anything and everything: it's that I systematically and methodically worry about everything. My worrying is organized and disciplined and covers an astonishing range of topics. My health. My daughter's health. My truck and my job. Our garden, our finances, our house. I have a twinge in my back: rheumatoid arthritis. Mary has a sniffle: time for a trip to the emergency room — it could be pneumonia. I spot a small flying insect in the kitchen; we have termites — we're gonna lose our investment. I hear thunder outside: the Chinese are attacking with nuclear weapons.
Worrying of this magnitude isn't a talent that you're born with, or something that you acquire overnight. This is a skill that requires years in the trenches to build, that must be refined in the fires of skepticism from friends and family. One must start slowly and build on a firm foundation. Begin with the little things, and gradually you become adept at the monumental, the world-class things.
In my early, formative years — my twenties — I worried about the things all twenty-somethings worry about. Can I finish college in under eight years? Do I have enough money to eat anything besides nabs today? Can I get lucky at the local nightspot if I sit there all night nursing one drink? These aren't things that will separate you from the common herd of worriers. They provide you with the necessary foundation, but you have to build on it. An excellent way to do this is to get married.
I got married and that one action set the stage for me to graduate from a common worrier to a world-class worrier. I instantly had something to worry about other than myself. I worried about our finances: could we afford a new car? I worried about our careers: would I get that badly needed raise this year? I worried about our health: Ann had a small mole on the back of one arm. Time to see the doctor — it could be cancerous. Yes, being married expanded my horizons, and gave me fresh grist for my worry mill. I bloomed and grew, and began to really hit my stride. Then came the birth of our daughter Mary, and that is the point where I became an artist.
I was there in the delivery room when Mary was born, and when she was placed in my arms I surveyed her rapidly. Two arms and hands, two legs and feet. The correct number of fingers and toes. No harelip, no cauliflower ears, no facial deformities. All was well for about 10 seconds. As I stood there uncomfortably holding my newborn daughter, she underwent a rapid transformation. Her red, wrinkled little face suddenly went purple, her mouth worked angrily and she cut loose with an ear-splitting squall. I looked up in alarm. "Is everything alright? What's wrong? Is she sick?"
One of the nurses walked over, bent and cooed at Mary. "No, everything is just fine, isn't it sweetie?" She tickled the side of Mary's face. "Such a pretty little girl."
I looked down. The pretty little girls face underwent an alarming series of contortions that culminated in a purple-faced, toothless snarl. "Are you sure?" I asked anxiously. "Don't you need to run some tests on her or something?"
Now I was prepared to enter my period of artistic triumph. Mary gets bitten by an ant, I want to take her to the emergency room. Mary gets a diaper rash, I want to call her doctor. We find Mary eating Alpo out of the dog-food bowl and Ann has to snatch the phone out of my hand as I'm frantically calling for an ambulance. Those were my golden years, the years I look back at with fondness and think how I reached artistic heights I never thought I'd attain. It's difficult to maintain such a finely-tuned state, however, and over the last year or so, I've needed new inspiration. I felt I was growing stale and tired, with no new challenges to tackle. Then came my middle forties.
The middle forties is when you've usually settled well into your career. You've bought a house, you're providing well for the family, it's a time of stability and comfort. It's also when your body rebells against years of abuse and starts to fall apart on you. This is a fertile period for the seasoned worrier.
In my forties, the common garden variety back-ache becomes a crippling disease. Gradual loss of vision signals oncoming cataracts. That knee I hurt in high school football is suddenly so arthritic I'm going to wind up in a wheelchair. Now my body is a budding cornucopia of illness, each one just waiting for the right moment to put forth it's first fatal bloom. My list of personal heath worries has increased to the point where I have considered creating a database of illness that I can divide up and distribute throughout the week. That way, each day I can worry about one or two illnesses, secure in the knowledge that tomorrows problems, should I survive today, will be there waiting for me like expectant parents.
Like any artist, I feel that I am not appreciated. If I vocalize my worries, they're met by my wife and daughter with hoots of derision, so I've learned to keep them to myself. Maybe that in itself is symptomatic of some grave mental problem. I'll have to check that against my database of mental illnesses. Let's see, if it's Tuesday this must be manic-depression day.