It seems like a little thing, removing T’s car seat from the car and leaving it at preschool so he can go on a field trip. But I’d been dreading it for a week. New stuff scares me. In fact, I’ll do anything to avoid learning how to do things that seem overwhelming. Sadly, figuring how to maneuver a toddler car seat falls into that category. The fear comes from the possibility that I am too stupid to handle even the easy stuff. So moving the car seat is Z’s thing. Except Z teaches while T is in school, and I had an errand to run. Otherwise I would have attended the field trip simply so I wouldn’t have to learn how to move the seat. That’s how convoluted and cumbersome an anxiety disorder is.
Z taught me how to install it the night before, and of course it was completely manageable. But I still woke up with fear gripping my belly. I knew if I made one false step in the day something terrible would happen. When was the right time to leave for school? If I forgot one thing and had to turn back would that be the catalyst for the terrible thing? Would there be a sign? Would it be luck? Would I fuck it up?
I got the seat out of the car and T’s teacher actually came out to grab it so I wouldn’t have to make two trips, then she recruited the school’s director to take T in so I didn’t even need to take C out of the car. Several hours later T’s teacher was back in the parking lot when I arrived to hand me the seat and I got it installed with no problem. I breathed a sigh of relief and went inside to pick up T.
I thought I’d passed the test orchestrated by my anxiety. My guard was completely down as I pulled out of the parking lot. The roads of south campus are winding and filled with stop signs. Three turns out of the lot I noticed the campes security car with its lights flashing. I didn’t recall doing anything wrong, so I pulled over and assumed the car would go around. It pulled behind me. And it sat there. And sat there. And sat some more. What the hell was going on? After a few minutes another security car with its lights on pulled up. I couldn’t imagine that this was for me, I started to get out of the car to find out what the deal was and an officer in the second car shouted at me to get back inside. I started to get really scared. T wanted to know what was going on and I didn’t know what to tell him.
Finally an officer in the first car approached my window. “What the hell is going on?” I asked. Looking back, that was not a great opener, but while I haven’t been pulled over that many times this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, “What the hell is going on?” he yelled, “You blew right through that stop sign?” I gave him a blank look. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. “You didn’t stop at the first sign, and then you stopped at the second,” Long pause. “I need your licence and registration.” I gave it to him without saying anything and he walked away.
I don’t think I ran the stop sign. I really don’t. But I can’t say for sure because I don’t clearly remember. But the traffic violation really isn’t the point here. The whole tenor of this event with the long waits and two vehicles was terrifying. And confusing. And I felt completely unwarranted. He was taking so long in his car my fear just grew and grew. And finally he got out of the car. But another officer got out as well. They were both slowly walking towards the car from either side. The man on the passenger side put his hand by his weapon. What the fuck was going on? Was I going to be arrested? For running a stop sign? Why did this man have his hand near he weapon as he was looking in my rear window and at my boys? I was so paralyzed that I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. Time seemed to stand still and I was jolted back to reality by the other officer rapping on my window. I’d completely lost track of him because of the second officer. I didn’t say a word as he handed me my license, registration, and ticket and explained how to plead guilty or innocent. They pulled out at I put my papers away. I saw one of them in a parking lot ahead.
I pulled back on the road behind a bus. That didn’t completely stop at the next stop sign. In view of the cop. Which I know is neither here nor there, but it still rankled me. And I kept it together until I got home and was unable to reach Z on the phone. I did get a hold of my parents but still I didn’t start crying until I got to the part about the officer with his hand near his gun.
So it was a shitty scary thing. So while I am positive I didn’t “blow through” the stop sign the possibility does exist that I didn’t come to a full stop for three seconds (which I seem to recall is the law). So the behavior of the officers was (in my experience) incredibly unusual. So this event was not orchestrated by my anxiety disorder to keep me in line and let me know I was not, under any circumstance, to try to learn new things and take a more active role in my life. But sweet jesus, that is what it feels like.
The sick part of me says, “Karen. You were right. You shouldn’t have dared learn how to do the car seat. Who the fuck to you think you are? You are nothing. You are useless. You deserved to be shamed and if you try and face things that scare you in the future I will make you pay.” And now I am scared to drive on South Campus. T’s wonderful school no longer feels safe. And since Thursday the dread has settled into my bones and my throat and my belly. Z had a work obligation last night and I put the boys down alone for the first time since their bedtimes became the same time. When I got downstairs I should have been relieved, but my anxiety took hold. I was waiting for something terrible to happen, for someone to break in, for something awful to happen to one of the boys. I sat on the sofa until Z came home, frightened in my own home, the anxiety punishing me. I am stuck, positive something truly terrible is going to happen. And it will be my fault.
For the boys I need to fight this off. And I hope I will. But right now I feel completely defeated. I feel like the anxiety is the only part of me that is truly strong. I feel like I will be punished any time I try to fight it, I feel like the boys will be punished if I surrender.