I spend considerable time fretting over dying in a plane crash. The only other irrational concern I possibly direct as much worried energy to is being attacked by a shark. It goes without saying that the most unsavory of death scenarios would leave me swimming out of a crunched fuselage flooding with ocean water, arteries emptying into a red slick around me, while Great Whites nudge my torso. If left to ponder that thought too long my right eyelid begins to twitch in a discotheque-like staccato and I have to call the Fandango hotline just so that soothing voice can restore a little tranquility. Because I’m given to breathing into a bag aboard commercial flights, I’ve developed a panoply of rituals that help me to endure an airplane ride from my seat rather than on the pilot’s lap with a headset tuned to Air Traffic Control and the Weather Channel. These coping mechanisms include wearing sneakers, non-flammable cottons, and referring to my husband as Liam Neeson. My husband, G, says this derives from a need to control my surroundings and manage outcomes that are essentially out of my hands. He claims the definition of micro-managing is trying to negotiate every detail into the grave.
I say why stop at the grave? I have way more pressing concerns than the age I draw my last breath (104), and the manner in which I perish (choking on a baguette whilst in Paris at 104), and who writes my eulogy (Carrie Fisher). These matters pale in comparison to those I have after I leave this plane.
We have three children who must be cared for. They will need a mother figure to counsel them, and carry them when necessary, through the travails of adolescence. If that plane crashes or that shark snaps, I fear that my influence over what the kids see, hear, and feel is going to wane dramatically from my location in a DMV-like purgatory. “Who will allow Dom to twirl her hair till tears spring from her eyes from the pull on her scalp?” I ask G breathlessly in the middle of the night. “Who will know exactly which way Eve likes to wear her clothes so that she doesn’t take them all off in the school yard?” I point out as I dress her for the twenty-second time in an afternoon. “No one will know the way Liv likes to be held when she’s to too fussy to smile but not enough to sleep,” I remark as I lug her through the house, perched on my forearm. “Who, for Christ’s sake, will allow three children to sleep in their bed with them?” I groan while untangling my limbs and taking stock of a bed so littered with humans that it could only be found in a Lady Gaga video.
G is not consumed with trifling conversations like these. He is protected from foreboding by a callus of invincibility. When the plane shudders, he reclines his seatback – which fearful flyers know is like a big middle finger to the gods of aviation – and has another drink. When we swim in the ocean, he doesn’t even flinch when I scream, “I think I saw a fin, maybe nine of them actually!” And when I tell him that it’s high time we sit down and map a plan for the future of our kids, he thinks it’s absurd to consider one in which we’re not present. He trusts that we’ll be there for every sandwich, every joke, and each bout of illness. And if, through some tragic fluke of fate, we are not, he feels secure in the belief that each member of our collective families will suddenly rise to the occasion, certificates in Infant First Aid and Early Childhood Development magically manifesting, to take in our brood and love them exactly as we would have. In fact, I think he invests so strongly in the adage ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ that he believes our families will actually secede from the U.S.A. as a new protectorate, complete with its own postal code, city council, and Subway franchise, to shepherd our kids into adulthood.
When I married a lawyer, I thought I was moving on to Easy Street when it came to tax filings, parking citations, and how to respond to those to class action law suit notices that arrive in the mail all the time. I figured every decision would be managed with neat compacts and Last Will and Testaments. Yet, somehow, despite our children and my highly prized collection of Electric Youth perfume bottles, we do not have a will. We have no tangible directive as to the landing place of our children should we both die. G defaults to irritating, esoteric-Field-Of-Dreams mantras when pressed, “If the times arrives, the clear choice will emerge from the haze.” It’s not as clear to me when I see candidates who are too old…too young…too settled with their own families…too unsettled…too unmarried…too committed to life without children…too living on a submarine.
And, for the record, Kevin Costner sucked in that movie. And every other movie he’s been in.
In an effort to inspire G to codify my wishes for the family, I’ve resorted to pitiful attempts to strike fear into his mind about the fragility of life. A pulsation in my calf becomes Restless Leg Syndrome which morphs to a Central Nervous System failure which intensifies to a terminal brain tumor. All in the space of one Khloe & Lamar episode. Major world events, like the slaughter of Osama Bin Laden, become the backdrop for our own imminent death. “That could have been us. And then what would become of the children…” I warn with a grim expression. “What could have been us? A wanted international terrorist holed up in a Pakistani compound, shot by Navy Seals?” G asks incredulously. I remind him that my brother is, in fact, a Navy Seal and probably desired to shoot me most of our childhood and that I gave a Pakistani exchange student a television once.
Every place we visit becomes a landmine ready to combust. What if this grocery store is held up and a bullet pierces us through a box of Twinkies? What if I choke on my food and you attempt the Heimlich, but I elbow you in the windpipe because I hate anyone touching my waist? What if we die from…Lice. Non-profit fundraisers. Garage sales. Silent auctions. Yams. The self-checkout line at the grocery store. Crustaceans. Holiday gift exchanges. Car washes. Wearing Lycra.
Know what else is deadly?
Living without a will.
And fuckin’ airplanes and sharks.
(Am I alone here? Are you freaked out about what to do with your kids should you both die? Do you have a will?)