To­tal eclipse of anx­i­ety

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Af­ter Mon­day af­ter­noon’s so­lar eclipse frenzy, thun­der­storms were the last thing on my mind.

The sky was bright and cloud­less as I joined my co­work­ers out­side to gaze through spe­cial fil­ters at the sun. You know the one I’m talk­ing about? That gi­ant orb we’d all found far less in­ter­est­ing the day be­fore?

My hus­band pol­ished up a weld­ing hel­met for my use, but a co­worker brought in eclipse-ap­proved glasses she was will­ing to share. Five of us passed two pairs be­tween us, cran­ing our necks while I pulled up Bon­nie Tyler’s “To­tal Eclipse of the Heart” on YouTube. We were laugh­ing, squint­ing and cu­ri­ous. It was fun to be a part of a phe­nom­e­non unit­ing Amer­ica . . . if only for a few hours.

If you’ve hung with me for a lit­tle while, you’re prob­a­bly tired of hear­ing about tor­na­does. I de­vel­oped a mid­dle-school crush on thun­der­storms and wanted to be a me­te­o­rol­o­gist un­til I re­al­ized how much math was in­volved. Be­com­ing an English ma­jor was, of course, the in­evitable pro­gres­sion from storm chas­ing.

For as much as I love wild weather, ap­par­ently that’s only true when I’m mon­i­tor­ing it from the safety of a phone app. I used to study radar and maps for ro­ta­tion and bow echoes, wind shear and light­ning pat­terns; hur­ri­cane sea­son was my Su­per Bowl.

When faced with an ac­tual tor­nado warn­ing, though, I turn into a thrum­ming ball of anx­i­ety. It hap­pens enough in South­ern Mary­land that I should re­ally be less pan­icky about the whole or­deal, but it’s still jar­ring when a storm hits. They’re of­ten rough.

I was dodg­ing rain­drops jog­ging to my car Mon­day evening when sirens be­gan to blare in Leonard­town. I’d no­ticed the creepy sky, but hadn’t heard any­thing about se­vere weather. Still, “a tor­nado warn­ing has been is­sued,” de­clared a dis­em­bod­ied voice. “Don’t de­lay — seek shel­ter now.”

I had just a sec­ond to grab a bot­tle of wa­ter from the pas­sen­ger seat and dig for my phone in my bulky purse. Would it kill me to clean this thing out once in awhile? On the screen were in­creas­ingly anx­ious mes­sages from my hus­band, who was call­ing again. “Are you still at work? There’s a bad storm com­ing to­ward you,” Spencer said. “Don’t leave.”

I walked back to now-empty of­fice build­ing, stand­ing in the lobby with­out a clue what to do. My col­leagues had all gone on to ex­er­cise classes, din­ner and er­rands; I was alone with the lights flick­er­ing. All my years of weather-re­lated re­search did pre­pare me to know I needed to stay on the ground floor and away from any win­dows, but what was hap­pen­ing? Was there ac­tu­ally a fun­nel?

I found a TV broad­cast­ing the evening news in a nearby room; a me­te­o­rol­o­gist was shar­ing real-time up­dates from St. Mary’s County. To get home, I would need to head north: di­rectly into this se­vere, slow-mov­ing storm. I was stuck. Claus­tro­pho­bia kicked in. I had to shove down that fight-or-flight urge that made me want to run back to my car in the tor­ren­tial rain and just get out of there. If the place had seemed eerie be­fore, watch­ing a dooms­day-style news­cast by my­self didn’t help.

Un­able to leave but with­out any­thing to keep my mind oc­cu­pied, I wan­dered the halls of the build­ing for an­other hour and a half. I’d con­vinced my­self the rain was “slow­ing down” at one point and prac­ti­cally ran for the exit, but was met with a flooded park­ing lot. It was rain­ing side­ways, and I wasn’t dressed for all that. Also, no um­brella.

But it was tempt­ing. The need for free­dom was over­whelm­ing. I thought about what Spencer and the kids were do­ing at home, sit­ting down to din­ner with­out me, and thought I might ac­tu­ally burst into tears.

At least no one was around to see it.

The tor­nado warn­ing was dropped by 6 p.m., but the tor­ren­tial rain and thun­der con­tin­ued. I sat in the cafe­te­ria and watched dark clouds churn over­head. Some­one had left a news­pa­per be­hind, and I con­tem­plated cross­word an­swers with­out writ­ing any­thing down. I texted Spencer my ran­dom thoughts while wait­ing for the worst of it to blow by.

Even­tu­ally I gained some much-needed per­spec­tive: I was safe and dry, as was my fam­ily. So I was leav­ing work late. At least I was com­ing from a new job I love — even if I was cur­rently stranded there.

It was nerve-wrack­ing to start over with a new or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter 10 years as an ed­i­tor, but ev­ery­one has been so help­ful. At age 32, I can ad­mit when I’m strug­gling and ask for guid­ance at work in a way that I would have been too ner­vous to do at age 23. So much of adult­hood is fak­ing it ’til we make it: try­ing to look like we know what we’re do­ing. I’ve given up try­ing to be per­fect, and it feels pretty great.

Dove­tail­ing with be­ing im­per­fect? I’m not afraid to look silly. The weld­ing hel­met def­i­nitely proved that Mon­day — as did the space-odyssey-es­que glasses. The eclipse brought us all to­gether.

Now, if only some­one had had an um­brella.

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