“Like tomorrow was a gift
And you got eternity to think about what you’d do with it…
An’ what did you do with it?
An’ what can I do with it?
An’ what would I do with it?
Skydiving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing…
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu…
And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin’…
An’ he said someday, I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’.” ~ Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dyin'”
I’m a worrier. That’s just what I do, who I am, and always have been. No doubt due — at least in part — to a watery, depressive Pisces Ascendant and an overactive imagination brought to you in part by an Aquarius Moon. I remember one time in particular when I was just eight years old, my mom and stepdad hadn’t returned to pick me up from a relative’s house on time and there I was, a third grader, pacing the floor, convinced that they had succumbed to a fiery vehicular death. I wondered who would take care of me if they died? Needless to say, I was wrong. But when they finally arrived, I overheard my great-aunt chuckle to my mom, “I’ll tell you what, that little girl is something else. What a worry wart…she’s gonna give herself an ulcer!” That was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “worry wart.”
And that’s just one example. In fact, I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t suffer from anxiety, to one degree or another. I don’t remember when, how, or why it began; I just know I’ve always been that way. Maybe it’s in my DNA. I have a very vivid memory of being three years old and having a tummy ache…and anxiously thinking, “I hope it’s not cancer!” Yes, you read that correctly: at the age of THREE. At that age, I hadn’t yet known anyone who had ever had cancer, let alone should I have known what cancer even was. But I had enough grasp of the concept to know it wasn’t good, and that it could kill you. An angst-ridden, hypochondriac toddler. Oh, I must have been a joy to be around.
Every human being on the planet worries, at least occasionally, and some more so than others. And usually, our fears are unfounded. When someone is running late, as I described in the example above, or we can’t reach them, we might begin to play out horrible possible scenarios in our minds that tragedy has befallen them. But about 99 percent of the time, we’re relieved when we learn everything is okay. The chest pains turn out to be muscular and not due to a massive heart attack; your child didn’t make it home from school not because he fell prey to a shady stranger luring him with candy from a windowless van, but because he stopped off at a friend’s house and forgot to call you; your excruciating headache is “only” a migraine, not a ruptured aneurysm…you get the idea. We’ve all had these or similar experiences.
So what about that remaining one percent of the time…when you’re worried something terrible has happened…except this time, your worst-case imagined scenario turns out to be very real?
I am in a long-term live-in relationship with a wonderful Cancer-Gemini cusp named Mike who is my polar opposite when it comes to worrying. Where I am wringing my hands, pacing the floor, imagining the worst, Mike is the rational, level-headed one who reassures me that whatever it is I’m freaking out about is going to be fine. In fact, at that point he’s likely going to offer me a beer and encourage me to relax. This is intriguing to me because Mike was born within four and a half hours after the Sun entered Cancer, but close enough to the Cancer-Gemini cusp that he tends to exhibit more Geminian traits than Cancer traits…although astrologically speaking, he has a Cancer Sun and because the Sun always shines, it’s a little unusual that many of his behaviors and tendencies are more Twin-influenced than Crab-influenced. That’s the long way of saying Cancers tend to be worriers, yet my Cancer man doesn’t seem to be one. However, I was married for several years to an easily stressed, somewhat-hypochondriac Cancer man who was born nowhere near the cusp, and he managed to singlehandedly turn worrying into a sport. I can’t count the number of times I remember him proclaiming “oh my God, I’m dying!” I would dismiss him, saying, “No you’re not!” and he would become agitated, accusing me of not caring. He was a champion worrier. If worrying was an Olympic event, the man could have won the gold. Everything was an emergency, he always just “knew” something would go wrong, and although many times he was wrong, often he was right — though I always chalked it up to the intense worrying itself which had influenced his self-fulfilling prophecies, while he disagreed, insisting that no, he knew whatever it was he was stressing about would happen.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012: Though he is scheduled to work until 6pm, Mike worked until around 10pm that evening because his good friend and coworker in the auto paint & body shop where he works, a Virgo workaholic named Jimmy, needed to get home to wrap up painting on an urgent side job he had going. Jimmy stuck his head in the door of the paint booth in which Mike was working and said, “Okay, you got this?” Mike told him he did, and added, “I’ll see ya in the mornin’, fucker” to which Jimmy replied, “Aite, see ya, fucker.” With that, Jimmy left the shop at 6:38pm, heading home in a 1933 Ford that had been converted into a hot rod which belonged to his banker, and which was scheduled to be his next side job.
Mike arrived home that evening around 10:25pm. He kissed me hello and headed to the fridge. As he grabbed a beer, popped it open, walked back into the living room and sat down in his chair, he told me, “So I guess Jimmy never made it home after work.” “Really?” I asked incredulously. He nodded. “Yeah, I know…it was the weirdest thing; I was locking up and when I went outside, his woman was sitting out there in her car and she honked…so I went over there and she asked me where Jimmy was. I was like, ‘uh, he left around 6:35-6:40…he’s not home yet?'” She replied that no, he hadn’t come home and he wasn’t answering his cell phone either. She was growing even more concerned now, upon learning that Jimmy had left over three and half hours earlier for what was routinely a 12 minute drive home.
Now, at this point even I knew something wasn’t right. From everything I’d heard about Jimmy, this was completely out of character for him, a totally devoted, hardworking Virgo who constantly touched base with his fiancee, Carla, throughout the day, every day. She was his life, his world, his everything. He had met her when they were five year-olds living in the same neighborhood, literally his childhood sweetheart, and he couldn’t wait to marry her.
I had a foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Wow, that’s not like him at all,” I shook my head. “Damn…I hope he’s okay…”
Mike agreed. “I know, right? He would never just not go home without letting her know what he was doing. That’s just not him. He’s never once said anything about going anywhere other than home; he doesn’t go hang out at buddys’ houses, he doesn’t go to bars. That just ain’t who he is. I hope nothing happened to him…” I could tell that my usually-rational Cancer cusp was somewhat unnerved by this.
Dismissing my own ominous feeling, rationalizing that surely Jimmy was fine and surely this must have been caused by something trivial, I chuckled, “I can’t wait to hear what happened tomorrow…she is gonna be pissed!” Mike laughed and agreed. “Oh yeah, me too.”
The next morning, Mike left for work before I woke up. I had an appointment with my eye doctor and was putting my shoes on, getting ready to leave. I had forgotten all about our conversation the night before when, at 8:15am, my cell phone rang. It was Mike.
“Hey, whassup?” I asked cheerfully.
“Hey, babe,” he responded solemnly. I then heard him take a deep breath. “Jimmy was killed last night.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. My hands began shaking. I sat down on the edge of the bed, in shock. “Oh my God…what happened?”
“Well, he was driving that 1933 Ford he was about to paint for his banker…it’s got a 900 horsepower motor…it’s a race car. He was heading south on highway 4 on his way home and I guess he just couldn’t stand it…he had to push it…the cops said they think he was doing at least a hundred and maybe even 130…you know, those old cars aren’t aerodynamic like the ones today…I guess he lost control and rolled it…the thing was practically made out of glass… it just disintegrated…he was ejected…he was gone before 7:00…” That meant more than three hours had passed since the accident when Jimmy’s fiancee came looking for him at the shop, and nearly four hours by the time Mike and I were talking about it at home, hoping he was okay. Witnesses put the time of the accident at 6:46pm. Mike had been the last person to see him alive, just eight minutes earlier. Another witness who had been driving behind him stated they had seen his taillights ahead of them when suddenly the tail lights disappeared and then all they saw was “headlights over taillights over headlights over taillights” as the car rolled repeatedly.
Such a senseless death. A terrible waste. So unnecessary. Dammit! If he just would’ve resisted the urge to test this car’s limits the way he did; after all, he knew better than that! If he’d just stayed at work instead of going home early to work on that side job…yet behind this tragic accident, there was a single intentional act: a guy who lived and breathed race cars who found the temptation to see what this hot rod could do on a rural Oklahoma highway simply too irresistible to ignore. And that single intentional act led to an unintentional and unthinkable outcome, leaving in its wake a shattered fiancee and nine year-old daughter, not to mention numerous devastated family and friends.
Though I went to high school with Jimmy for a semester in ninth grade, I didn’t know him. I remember him, and he “kind of” remembered me. I kind of felt like I knew him vicariously through all of Mike’s work stories, which is why I was immediately concerned when I heard he hadn’t made it home; I knew enough to know that just wasn’t like him. But even not actually having known him, his death still hit me like a punch in the face. Not only because of the tragedy itself and knowing how deeply Mike was grieving the loss of his friend and coworker, but because it was a massive jolt to everything I’d always believed to be true. Here’s what I mean. As I said earlier, even when we worry about people or events and picture horrible outcomes, it’s safe to say that everything (almost) always turns out okay, and we come to rely on that. Although we might still worry, in the back of our minds, we’re reassured that statistically, everything is probably just fine.
This time was different. It was the first time in my 40 years that I could recall ever having been worried that something awful had happened…and been right. Not only was I right, it was the absolute worst possible scenario. Jimmy hadn’t just had a fender bender and suffered a few minor injuries, or been hauled off to jail for doing 130 mph down that road. It’s like we just skipped all of those unpleasant yet lesser of the evil scenarios and went straight to the worst outcome imaginable. It seemed so unfair, like the Universe had somehow cheated him. He couldn’t have just been a little banged up and ended up in the hospital, or pulled over and taken to jail for driving like that; he’s just dead? Just like that?
As a consequence of these events, my anxiety level immediately skyrocketed. I was reminded of the harsh reality that we are all but mere mortals and when our time is up, life can be ripped away in an instant without warning. None of us are infallible. What happened to Jimmy could happen to anyone, including the people I love, and including me. We truly never know when an innocent intentional act of ours, which might be so trivial that we wouldn’t think twice about it, could lead to something completely unintentional happening. Something totally life-altering…or life-ending. Additionally, when I find myself worrying now, the feeling is much more frightening…because of the one time I worried…and the outcome I feared had happened, had happened.
It certainly didn’t help when just 13 days later, my Cancer ex-husband was killed…also in a single vehicle accident…also due to a single innocent, yet intentional act.