One of the Many Roots to My Anxiety

In honor of Throwback Thursdays, I’m sharing one of my first memories as a child. You’ll have a clearer understanding of the bond I have with my mom as well as why I have anxiety and abandonment issues.

One late afternoon in July of 1974 in Northampton, Massachusetts, all of the families in our neighborhood were in their backyard BBQ’ing or swimming in their above-ground pool. Our family was no different. My dad hovered over the charcoal grill, fiddling with hotdogs and hamburgers, while my mother and older sister sat at our picnic table and shucked corn. My younger sister was inside, sleeping in her crib, while my older brother was busy setting the table for dinner. I, however, was on the other side of the backyard tethered to a cinder block with a piece of rope my mom had cut from our old clothesline.

Now before you get all worked up about child abuse, my being tied to a block in our backyard had nothing to do with abuse or neglect. From my mother’s perspective, I was the frustrating combination of mischief, determination, and speed. While my siblings acted like loyal domesticated dogs, I was more of a wild coyote. If I wasn’t anchored to something, I was gone. Tethering me to something of substantial weight was an act of pure necessity.

Although I was four at the time, I can still recall that day as if it were yesterday. I looked across the lawn through our chain-link fence and into the eyes of our neighbor’s beagle, Puddles, which coincidentally was also tied to a cinder block. I wasn’t a huge fan of Puddles, but I was open to the idea of bonding with him for a few moments given the fact that I was sitting alone on the cinder block, wearing nothing more than a diaper and a t-shirt. I was starving for attention. Puddles and I held each other’s stare just long enough for me to realize that the dog was mocking me. If Puddles could talk, and based on the look on its face, I am absolutely sure it would have said something along the lines of “you tragic mess.”

Puddle’s stare was all the motivation I needed. I spent the next several minutes dragging that cinder block down the hill toward our pool. I got to the edge of the pool and somehow harnessed enough strength to lift the cinder block onto the ledge beside the pool. I then used the rope to pull myself up onto the ledge as well. Once I got into position, I turned toward my family and yelled, “Hey, Mama!” When my mother turned to face me, I casually pushed the block into the pool.

Two or three seconds went by between when I pushed the block and when I disappeared behind the edge of the pool. This was just long enough for me to see forty years added to my mother’s face. I don’t think she realized that my father had drained most of the water out of the pool earlier that day. Of course being tethered to the cinder block while my father emptied the pool in order to fix a leak, I was keenly aware that the pool was basically empty.

Obviously, my mom was relieved to find me sitting calmly on the pool floor in a puddle that was barely deep enough to cover my feet, but it still took months for her natural hair color to return. I don’t think she’s ever really forgiven me for that stunt. However, my mother always gets even. On my following birthday I received a beautifully wrapped box. Inside the box were a packet of new clothesline rope and a brochure from a cement company. I looked at my mother inquisitively, and she just shrugged. “Well played, Mother,” I said.

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