We were packed into the grocery store like sardines, a sea of mostly gray-haired, shuffling retirees, a few students and some young parents, pushing carts down aisles clogged like fatty veins, each with our own bumper car loaded up with shiny shrink-wrapped turkeys, plastic bags of stuffing mix, sacks of potatoes, cranberries, pecans, pie crusts and tins of mashed pumpkin.

I squeezed my way toward the checkout lanes, a virtual salmon swimming upstream, paid for my bagged groceries and jumped through the automatic door. Leaving the parking lot my progress stalled by two large neon-yellow vehicles, one fire truck and the other an ambulance. Rubberneckers paused at the crosswalk to ogle the spectacle before merging into the busy traffic on Maine Street.

Eventually it came my turn to witness the scene beyond the flashing white and red lights and buffed chrome. At first glance, feeling a sharp twinge, I thought sure the paramedics were lifting a child onto the gurney but as I got closer I realized it was the head, braced neck and shoulders of a youngish bicyclist. She winced with a grimace of what looked like shock and pain, though might have been described as fear, even embarrassment, I couldn’t be sure. Behind the medics rested her mangled one-speed bike, the kind I used to ride as a child, powder blue, one of those heavy types. Its tires were twisted, warped into some wavy Salvador Dali version of a spoked wheel. An arm’s length from the victim stood an elderly woman wearing a blotchy, tense expression. Frizzy white hair framed her distressed face, one hand leaning precociously on the plastic handle of her metal cane, the other dabbing nervously at her face, her mouth, strands of her hair. She was white as a ghost. I assumed she was the driver, worry etched into her features in some crazy, clownish mask.

I know worry, I thought, the kind that gnaws at the core of my being, chips away at my spirit like relentless, dripping water wears a pit into soft stone. This worry never really escapes me—this watching, waiting, fearing my child’s next seizure. It’s omnipresent—scratching sharply just under the surface, carving ragged ruts into my brow, tearing bits out of my cuticles. The fretful feeling I get is similar to sick coffee jitters and shirking it feels as hopeless as attempting to outrun a train.

Try as I may I cannot seem to flush it from my marrow. This constant worry slices through me like a web of lasers, sometimes strangles me as if a noose, a straitjacket, or some kind of suffocating mummy suit that affords only tiny holes for seeing, two smaller ones for me to eke out a breath if I can manage it. At times it has the weight of a huge rock resting on my chest. But mostly its harm is dark and erosive, feels as though something evil is peering over my shoulder, breathing down my neck.

If it weren’t for the seizures that make my son choke and writhe, and the drug side effects that cause him to dizzily careen sideways, his head missing a rock or the cast iron radiators by mere inches, or causing him to refuse food so that now we’re seeing his ribs, can count every vertebra, I think I’d have less trouble climbing out of this well of worry, might not have fallen in to begin with.

And so I felt for these two roadside casualties, but somehow, strangely, more for the disabled woman standing there on the curb watching her poor victim be carted away with sirens, sorry for the dread she must have been feeling having struck a soft being with a huge chunk of speeding metal. I felt sorry for this unfortunate woman whose life might have just taken a profoundly crooked turn right before her blinking eyes, the broken body under her wheels.

And then, a few blocks from home I passed a beautiful brunette girl named Emily who walks miles each day on our town’s streets, sometimes spinning as she goes, her arms out to her sides like a whirlybird or as if about to launch into a cartwheel. Some might describe her as simple-minded, this girl—woman, really—of few words. She appears to have no concept of worry, of dread, and so I envy her at the same time being thankful for the occasional reminder of her happy presence ambling down the street as I pass. She makes me think of Calvin who, except when he has seizures or feels the drugs’ ills, seems not to have a care in the world, weaving through life’s struggles as easily as a fish swimming downstream, effortlessly coasting with only a smile on his perfectly smooth, worry-free face. And somehow, just knowing that makes my own angst dissolve into a cool clear pool, if only for a moment.

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photo by Michael Kolster

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