The Only Way to Worry
By Michael Maguire
The worry was going to eat him up, lick the salt from its lips, swallow him down. It was just a matter of time. If he could only find some place to escape, a safe haven of the soul. But he couldn't.
Every day began the same… the alarm, a quick pathetic set of pushups, and the shower. It usually crept in during the shower. It started as a small pressure on his shoulders and the back of his neck, crawling down his spine, tensing his thighs and making his calves ache. His stomach burned and his eyes stung. By this point he was used to it. He followed its progress the way his wife's finger traced the roadmap. This did nothing to lessen the pain, the weariness that followed him from morning till' night, but it provided him with a framework, something for his mind to work with.
He called it the worry. To the doctors, his wife, his family, it was always anxiety, an unsettling feeling, but to him it would always be the worry. Nothing in particular that he can remember set it off. There wasn't a traumatic event… a car crash, divorce, death… that brought it on. It just appeared one day. It found him, sitting in the shower, the water a small warm stream on the back of his neck, and decided, this is the day, this is the guy.
There were problems at first. Problems getting out of bed, problems going to work, problems with his kids. He walked the half-mile that was the edge of his back yard for hours. His kids stared at him from the kitchen window, occasionally knocking and waving. He tried to smile, "walking" he would mouth. His wife referred to it as a phase, depression, everyone was going through it these days. Her sister Mary Jo's eldest was taking some type of pill and it was working wonders for him, he'd made lots of new friends at school. But that kid didn't have to deal with the worry. It was different.
The doctors had all been the same… try some exercise, take half of this pill daily, eat healthy, keep your mind occupied. After three or four visits with the same doctor he'd stop going. He'd lye in his bed until his appointment had already begun and then go out in the backyard, a cup of cold coffee in his hand. His wife almost left him after the third doctor. She ran out in the backyard, her briefcase in hand, tears in her eyes, telling him it was over. But it wasn't. That night she came home at the same time, made dinner, rubbed his back.
After a few months he found he had some ability to control the worry. He'd just push it down, deep down, past his stomach and small intestine, until it was a faint echo… a gentle teasing. This would only last for a few hours, days at most, and then it would come back as strong as ever. The worry would rake his spine and twist his ears. It hid under his pillow and screamed at his co-workers.
Eventually, the worry began to color everything. He had trouble seeing. The world became a dimly lit black and white movie. He had trouble making out his kids' faces in the shadows and the television was an indecipherable flicker. He did his best to hide it. His wife barely noticed…she had given up…it seemed everyone had. He sat at his computer at work and stared at the screen. "Is it even on," he wondered. He knew he should be panicking, calling the doctor, checking himself into a hospital, jumping off the garage roof, but he didn't care. It was a relief to give over to the worry. Every morning the worry pulled him into its warm moist fold, his body nestled firmly in its belly, the pain a new comfort. Every evening it spit him out, his body splayed next to his wife in bed, his head pounding and the sheets covered in damp residue.
The third Wednesday of March his wife returned home, the front door was open, the shower was running. He often took long showers on his return from work, but he had been laid off the week before. She climbed the stairs, her fury mounting, sounds of the kids in the backyard, and pushed the door open. It was difficult to see the far wall as the steam crawled toward the cool hallway air. She called his name. Again. Again. Her voice was a whisper inside the steam; her polished aging hands cut a path toward the shower. She pulled the curtain back in one furious motion. The shower was empty… it seemed the world was empty… empty of sound, empty of color, empty of feeling. The water hit a small gray spot the size of a wallet on the white tile. She took in a long breath and turned the water off. She winced as her shoulders tensed and her calves began to ache. The worry hovered.
"I am 26 years old, live in Massachusetts, and am returning to fiction after a brief respite. I worked with David Huddle at The University of Vermont and I attended Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in 1997. My day job is at an investment company in Boston." Michael can be reached at mimaguire[at]mfs.com.