BY KAILEY TEDESCO
My across-the-street neighbor had an aneurysm when I was in the seventh grade. She was having dinner with her family, feeling fine to anyone’s knowledge, and then she just keeled over.
That was how the death was described to me, days later — a keeling over. Death was something I knew well at this point: cancer, disease, car accidents. But I didn’t know that someone could just keel over. No warning, no “accident”; just there and then gone.
From that point onwards, my already boiling neuroticism bubbled over ten-fold. If my mom would leave the room to take a bath, I’d tell her to be careful. In fact, be careful became almost a mantra, or a prayer. If I forgot to say it, I was certain something terrible would happen as a result, so I’d start thinking it hard and incessantly: be careful, please be careful, god, please let them be careful. It didn’t matter if I was at school, trying to fall asleep, in the middle of a pick-up basketball game. I needed the people I loved to be careful. I needed for them to not just keel over.
Now, as a woman in her twenties, I’ve learned to temper my fears a little better. I still say be careful and I still worry like hell, but I’ve worked hard to not let this get in the way of my everyday tasks. Sometimes, my siblings drive themselves to the mall, and I don’t even know about it, let alone worry about it. It might not sound like it, but this is progress for me. For a while, I was able to accept the fact that I can’t control life, or when it ends. I started to really internalize that my chants of safety weren’t helping anyone, but often hurting me. I started to be able to appreciate the present and allow others around me to appreciate it as well, without my warnings and morbidity.
That is, until I got engaged.
I’ve been with my partner for nearly 10 years. In that time, I’ve always been most attracted to his level-headed capriciousness. As someone so superstitious, it has been a breath of fresh air to be with someone who is able to provide a rationale for everything, who can take my most outlandish worries (i.e. I have sleep paralysis because our apartment is haunted by a demon) and re-frame them in such a way that rationalizes the situation and quells my fears (even if I don’t always believe his logic).
With him, I’ve been able to step out of my comfort zone and return to the part of my childhood where I felt less touched by death. I have even been daring, enacting the same spontaneity and lack of concern that led me to jump off of swing sets or into cedar-soaked lakes as a kid, even though I hadn’t felt that in years.
But the day we started talking seriously about forever is the day I began to quantify eternity, and how sometimes that quantity can be so, so small. As a child, I worried about being bereft by the loss immediate family members, left alone (and I still do). Now, though, the words widow or even widower are at the forefront of my mind. I sit and try to write my vows, and I immediately imagine life without my fiancé. The image of me in my long wedding dress crying into my palms comes to mind often. Or, sometimes, it is me in my same dress, but casketed. In either case, it is a love ending in tragedy. And while I know this is the time that wedding planning and seating charts should be what’s keeping me up at night, instead it’s this very hypothetical loss that makes me lose sleep.
I imagine that this is partly because of the language surrounding marriage. ’Til death do us part and forever and eternity get plastered onto every wedding planning website and Pinterest board. While in this time of celebration, it’s difficult to avoid immortality. Ghostly mantilla veils and the purchase of a dress I’ll only wear once are reminders of ephemerality. Bridal shops look ghostly, and in so many ways, they are. A wedding, to me, is a communal vow to be a part of each other’s lives forever, and in some ways, I think I also feel like we’re agreeing to assume a certain amount of responsibility over each other’s lives as well.
Sometimes, I roll over at night and say “you know I love you, right?” even though he’s asleep. One night, we were joking around, and I told him to “shut up.” The next morning I woke up with a foreboding feeling. He didn’t message me that he arrived to work safely as he usually does. (He has a two hour commute on one of PA’s most dangerous highways.) Thoughts of tragedy swarmed me as I messaged him on all social media outlets to no answer. Finally, I called his place of work, tried to hold back my tears as I asked the administrative assistant to connect me to his extension, and then counted the seconds until he picked up the phone with a heart beating so fast it made me dizzy.
He picked up, and he was fine. He apologized for not letting me know, and because of all of the adrenaline, I broke down in sobs. Mostly, at this point, I felt embarrassed. My mom used to do similar things to me when, as an adult, I forgot to text her when I arrived to work safely. I used to think I could be optimistic enough to weather the unknowing for at least six hours, but I wasn’t.
For a while, I’ve dismissed my worrying as a part of my personality; this is who I am. Lately, though, I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be who I am always, and I may need a little help in the near future. I’ve spent so much time sacrificing happiness because I’ve convinced myself that I need to focus on constant thoughts of bad things in order to keep those bad things from happening.
I am so excited to marry my partner whom I love so much, but for the first time, I’m acknowledging that I’ve been hurting my own mental health for too long now. As an act of love for my family, my future family, and myself, I’m finally going to start working on it.
Kailey Tedesco's books She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications) and These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) are both forthcoming. She is the editor-in-chief of a Rag Queen Periodical and a performing member of the NYC Poetry Brothel. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her poetry featured or forthcoming in Prelude, Prick of the Spindle, Bellevue Literary Review, Vanilla Sex Magazine, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.