I can remember, so clearly, being 8 or 9 years old and each morning my mum would leave for work and I’d wave her off, minimum fuss. My school was just down the road so I left later than her and I’d pop home for lunch, fed by dad who stayed home and studied; working for himself after he left the Marines in the 1980s.
Mum’s always worked hard: long days, late nights, lots of stress. She’s good at her job and she really cares about the people she works with: I can’t fault her dedication, but she definitely has a thankless task.
Back then she was management of some description, not so much front line, but I didn’t know, or care much about her work anyway. I knew it was fairly safe, and I rarely worried about her welfare in that sense, although she’d been assaulted once and I felt a vague, poorly defined sense of rage towards the man who punched her in the street so that she needed butterfly stitches in her eyebrow, unlisted our phone number and felt unsafe alone at night.
Nevertheless, one of my abiding memories of that period is that each and every time she left I’d go upstairs and cry, terrified something would happen to her and she wouldn’t come home.
Maybe an accident in the car.
Maybe something would happen at work.
She could just get sick and I wouldn’t know.
I was utterly convinced that someday, something terrible would happen. What if I hadn’t said “I love you” before she left?
I knew it was irrational: within minutes I was fine, distracted by breakfast, or the dog, or my lost homework, but well into my teens I worried if I didn’t end a conversation well enough, and I’d call her back to confirm my love.
I think she probably knows all that: we all fear the mortality of our parents although we have to accept its very real existance. If you’re lucky enough to have had your parents around you from birth, they seem indestructable, immutable, safe. They are, literally, the only things in the world, in my world, which has always been. I want to believe they’ll always be there but I know they wont.
I hope its okay that I’m not okay with that.
Those days I was afraid of very immediate things: car accidents, physical danger, heart attacks. I wasn’t scared much into the future- I was frightened of things which might begin and end before I had a chance to act: one line of my maths problem she’d be ok; by the solution she’d be gone.
The knock on the door. “Sarah, please come to the office…”
Now I worry less about those things: I know they’re unlikely, I know I can’t stop something like that.
Instead I worry about more common, more mundane and more awful things.
Seeing that car coming for months, and months and being unable to stop it.
There’s no reason why, there’s no logic behind the “bad feeling”, I’m nine years old and irrational, and by breakfast I’ll be fine.
She’ll be fine.