Mayhem Literary Journal is generously sponsored for 2019 by Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, The University of Waikato

I Wasn't Worried - Melody Wilkinson

Tuesday

I am optimistic.

I am not worried. I reach over and grab my husband’s hand before he changes the station on the truck radio. I hear the words “World Trade Center bombed.” In the twenty minute drive across Denver to Regis University (where I am studying nursing), we learn it was not a bomb but a plane and a second one has just hit the other tower. No way, they must have it wrong… first news reports can be completely misleading. They are saying we are under attack. That seems like an irresponsible exaggeration. I hate how the media plays on our fears and insecurities to keep us listening. I get to class. Today is the mid-term exam, worth 50% of the grade.  My classmates are outraged the test is not cancelled and will continue as planned. I think that would be a bit extreme, as it is all media hype: it is sad, but it was an early morning flight and not too many will be killed. Besides I studied hard for this exam and I want to get it over with. I keep my eye on Curt, a Navy man in our class as he will not stop pacing… I’m pretty sure he wants his gun. And a jeep.

 I ace the exam and, back at home, call my sister Marleen. Her tone is serious, which is unlike her.  I keep trying to make jokes to cheer her up but she will not laugh. I am a little worried, but I have confidence in those brave heroes, the ones who run toward, not away from danger. I know that the injured will be transported away and taken care of. I know our military is ready: they know how to protect us.

I felt I had the right temperament to be a nurse; calm in emergencies, empathetic.  In the US, nurses are an integral part of emergency preparedness plans. The other nurses and I form a critical link in a strong chain of excellent emergency care. I have heard us referred to as heroes, but nurses know who the real heroes are: the first responders.
 
The fire crews, police and ambulance officers are the ones on the front line in a disaster. They are not volunteers; they are trained experts, the best in their field. Nurses in particular have secret crushes on first responders. We love our patients and fight for them every day. But there is something about those first responders; they are real men and women who put their lives on the line to save others. We understand it. We admire it. We love it. When they come to the unit because a fire alarm goes off, due to some overworked nurse forgetting her popcorn was in the microwave, we all suddenly have urgent business at the front desk, quickly pulling our 4am hair into something slightly presentable on the way to the nurse’s station.

These were the men and women I saw responding to the Twin Towers; if they were there, everyone would be OK. The injured would be rescued and passed on to nurses like me who knew exactly what to do, doctors hovering behind, overseeing it all. I know they would have evacuated the buildings; everyone able-bodied would be on their way home. The system is in place, we all know what to do. Sure, the media is tossing around numbers like “30,000 people work in the World Trade Center” but the media always exaggerates.  The buildings come down. People are freaking out. I am confident no one was in there: they are American heroes, they know how to get everyone out, there was enough time. They know exactly what to do, particularly after that bombing of the WTC in ’93; they would have rehearsed this very scenario.

As the day wears on, my optimism is fading. When news arrives about the Pentagon and then the Pennsylvania crash, I talk myself through it using a rather valuable little tool called Denial. Very useful when one wishes to remain upbeat in the face of such dire evidence.
For the first time in a long time that night, I say my prayers.                                           

Wednesday

I turn on the TV in the morning, optimistic that the numbers projected for the injured and dead will be down significantly. I am concerned for the wellbeing of the New York hospital staff, knowing they will be ‘pulling doubles’.  They must be exhausted. But that’s when I see it, the news footage of a Manhattan hospital: there are rows of empty wheelchairs and stretchers and two stationary ambulances. There are two doctors and a nurse standing outside, talking. I recognize it. It is the picture of readiness for increased volume of patients in a disaster. I had to learn about it in nursing school. The hospital staff is prepared but they are not running around ragged, triaging patients on the go, as I expected. They were ready. But no one came.

Now I understand. Now I cry.

I can’t breathe, and my eyes are blurry. I sink to the couch. The images keep coming: the smoke cloud, the piles of rubble, the corpse of a fire truck, my heroes covered in dust looking so …human. And the sound. It is the sound of the fire fighters’ locaters - the signal that a fire fighter has been lying motionless for too long. The tears come… “… but… but they’re invincible!”

Tom Brokaw is telling me that hundreds of fire fighters are unaccounted for… hundreds? ...but they are invincible.  He shows pictures of our now-human counterparts helpless to save their comrades, and the hospital staff with nothing to do… just a normal day at work.
 Who did this? What do you mean, the military is scrambling? Our military doesn’t scramble. The terrorists had been on the planes? How? Why? Nothing makes sense. My optimism is gone.

Thursday

I turn off the TV. I can’t watch another person falling to their death. I can’t watch as helpless firemen dig with their bare hands, trying to reach their comrades.  I go for a walk to clear my head. But all I see is a sky empty of planes, reminding me that everything has changed. I long to see the contrails from planes criss-crossing the endless Colorado sky. But they are gone; the clouds left unaware of the fear we now live in. Monday we were safe. Thursday we are not.

Rules on how to remain an optimist and a nice person while still having contact with other humans - Melody Wilkinson

You may think that, in today’s world, it is impossible to remain an optimist and nice person but let me start out by saying: don’t despair! It can be mastered but you must follow my instructions to the letter. Any misstep and I will disavow any knowledge of you and the fact that you may or may not have read and studied these rules.

Rule Number 1 – Avoid conflict. This is problematic because you must be able to spot conflict before it erupts. If you don’t see it coming, you are likely to be caught right in the middle of it with no way out except crying on the ground in a foetal position. (This does work but it is recommended that you use it only in emergencies… if you overuse it, people will just think you are crazy.) So, learn to spot conflict. For instance, two friends are miscommunicating. I am assuming of course that you are a good communicator yourself. If not you will fail this step and there is no reason to continuing reading. At this point I wish you well, adieu, and other such words of goodbye mixed with endearment. If, however, you are a good communicator you should be able to see the germination of conflict before it occurs. It is important to then avoid these two particular friends any time that they are likely to meet and thus further their grounds for miscommunication.

Now you may be thinking, ‘why don’t I just step in and clear up the misunderstanding?’ This is noble and I applaud you for your bravery. However, this will only lead to your demise. And it brings me to another point: When trying to avoid conflict ALWAYS listen to the voice inside your head that says SHUT UP! It usually chimes in when you have a really good and noble thing to say about something you find important. You think, ‘I should really speak up about that’ and the other voice says ‘SHUT UP’. Always shut up.

Rule Number 2 – Avoid drama. Now I can see that you may think this is exactly like the first rule. But I assure you the difference is critical. I think of drama as having caused conflict, despite having followed rule number one to the letter. Sometimes, in the course of trying to be a nice person, you have inadvertently helped too much, said the wrong helpful thing, or, even worse, the sound of your voice or your intonation has reminded them of a truly hated person. They may not realize it, they just suddenly hate you. In which case, you may be confronted with a raving lunatic. If this occurs, do not under any circumstances try and make your point of view clearer: just apologise! You don’t even need to know why. Just say I am sorry in as many ways and in as many languages as you can think of. I have included a list of multilingual apologies for you to peruse at your leisure. Then try to maintain a sort of bowing profile: keep your body low and eyes down. You never know, avoiding eye contact could mean the difference between life and death in these moments.

Rule Number 3 – Avoid all scary movies. You can catch the occasional crime show but keep this to a minimum. If at any stage, while viewing a television show or movie or reading a book you start to think that the world is really fucked up, people are just too mean and sadistic and we deserve to have the ozone layer disintegrate around us… STOP WATCHING! You will be teetering on the edge of cynicism and before you know it you will be walking around sporting the latest sneer and flipping old people off for driving too slow. I’m afraid if you have gone this far there will be no hope for you and you should just resign yourself to sitting in your basement listening to rap music. (I should mention at this point that if you want to remain an optimist you should avoid almost all rap music… sorry) Also, a good indication of a problem is, you have started using the term ‘fucked up’. Nice people don’t do this.

Rule Number 4 – Keep your friends in very well-organized categories. Friends that you love, but who drain every ounce of energy from you, should never be mixed with friends who fill your love tank. Think of it like cyanide – one drop and it ruins the whole batch. 
SKIP THIS IF YOU TALK IN MOVIES
As a side note about friends, try to avoid going to the movies with friends who like to talk. You will have to suppress the urge to punch them in the throat. Now this is a very scary feeling for an optimist/nice person because we are generally non-violent. If you must take the talker to a movie make sure to see it first, enjoy it, absorb it, study it and then you are ready to sit back and have the experience ruined.

Rule Number 5 – Try not to get a long-term debilitating illness. If this does happen (as this is likely out of your control) try not to talk about it. If you do, you will get all sorts of stupid things said to you. For instance, “Here, take these pills filled with cherry juice! They helped my dad with his back pain”.  If you have too many conversations like this you are in danger of becoming jaded and forgetting that they offer this advice because they care about you and feel helpless. Or because they are stupid and think if they cure you they can’t get your disease. I find when people see you limping and they say “Oh what did you do to your leg?”, you should just mumble while shrugging your shoulders. They will think you have answered and will say something like “You poor thing.” This is slightly annoying but the conversation will end quickly. Or you could say I have a disease that is ravaging my body and every movement is agony! Thanks for asking.

Rule Number 6 – If you are a mother (this is good advice even for non-parents), try to avoid Soccer Moms.  Now let me be clear; this is not ‘moms whose children happen to play soccer’, who drive a minivan for convenience; these moms are usually lovely and they may even become friends that fill your love tank. I am talking about those moms, you know, the ones who are offended because you haven’t joined the PTA. The ones who yell at you for not helping at the fundraising barbecue. The ones who make you feel guilty about every moment you spend away from your child. The ones who think there must be some health reason you only have one kid and feel free to discuss it with you even though you don’t even know their last name.  If you hang around them too much, you will begin to think that children run the world and you will end up hiding in a bunker waiting for them to invade. Because their mom said they could and made them a sandwich on whole-wheat bread so that they would have enough energy to launch a full scale assault on your household and neighbourhood. It is really important to avoid these soccer moms and their children, but if you do have the unfortunate experience of being in a conversation with one, avoid eye contact at all times. This serves several purposes. You may seem shy, in which case they might leave you alone. If they do not think you are shy, you will seem contrite and they will assume that you have packed your bags and booked your guilt trip with their travel agency. A significant thing to mention here is avoiding the trifecta: the soccer mom with more than four children who does not believe in immunization. This is an emergency situation; just turn and run. Otherwise you will be unable to hold your tongue and, before you know it, you will have broken rule number one.

Rule Number 7 – Try to avoid (ever!) discussing politics or religion. You may find this difficult, particularly if you have strong beliefs around these subjects. This is often when you will find you can talk the ‘shut up voice’ into being quieter. This is never a good idea. In fact, a good general rule is, when you are trying to tell the ‘shut up voice’ to shut up, you should excuse yourself to the bathroom. It helps if people already think you are funny because then it seems like you are doing a ‘bit’. If people do not think you are funny, run to the bathroom anyway. Having people thinking you are weird is a great start to avoiding conflict.

Rule Number 8 – Never underestimate the sympathetic smile. When attempting to be an optimistic/nice person there is one category of person that will very often catch you off your guard. A scenario sounds like this: you say, ‘how are you? They say ‘uhgg, I am so tired!’ and they look pretty upset about it. So, you say, ‘Oh no, why?’ They then regale you with their tale of woe of having to stay up late with friends. This is a crucial moment because at this point you may be tempted to give them some friendly advice about what real suffering is. This is a mistake! Just keep your mouth shut, smile sympathetically, and add a sentiment like ‘that sucks, I am so sorry’. You might, at this point, want to argue that it is better to say nothing, as the above statement is bordering on lying (I know because I would have said such a thing before I went on my pilgrimage to Disneyland and became enlightened in all things happy and sunny and studied the lyrics to ‘It’s A Small World’ till I can sing them backwards, which incidentally makes you sound like a demon but then you have faced the fear of sounding like a demon and are no longer afraid). Anyway, you may think it is better to say nothing. But saying nothing is a very big trap. Your eyes will give you away or, worse, you will actually roll your eyes. Then you will be enmeshed in extricating yourself from breaking rule number one, and forced to come up with a horrible lie like ‘my eyes roll like that because I have an eye condition’… So instead, you must come up with a half-lie. Now only a skilled optimist/nice person should attempt the half-lie. You need to summon within yourself every ounce of empathy and put yourself in the shoes of the immature nothing-bad-ever-happens-to-me-so-I-have-to-complain-about-good-things-and-make-them-sound-like-bad-things person. You can do it if you really try. It comes from a place where you really do hope that all they ever have to complain about is that they had to stay out late with friends. You genuinely want that for them; only then can you muster the empathy required. Or you could say: Your silly little complaint about how tired you are, because you had to hang out with your friends, is overall irrelevant to my life and has nothing on the fact that I only get 20 minutes of sleep at one time EVERY NIGHT.  Oh… Excuse me.

Rule Number 9 – Avoid road rage. Now, this can be very tricky, but if you succumb to road rage you are in danger of arriving at your destination angry and twitching. This will leave you unable to focus on the rules and you will inevitably break one (most likely Numbers 1, 7 or 8 –  actually, come to think of it, probably 5 and 6 as well… oh hell… you are in danger of falling completely apart). So, when you are driving to your destination and the person in front of you has decided to drive 20 Km/hr below the speed limit, including when you go through a reduced speed zone, making it clear that they will never go fast, ever, you should try to picture them as having a baby in the back seat or on their way to visit a new born baby. Or even picture them as a baby, driving. Of course, this can backfire quite dramatically when you get the chance to pass them and they are actually in their thirties and give you a smirk that says ‘fuck you’. The only thing to do here is breathe deeply or follow them to their destination and stand at the back of their car so that when they get out they have to walk past a psychopath who is just staring at them oh… uh… I mean… give them a friendly wave.

Rule Number 10 –If you have been following my rules so far, you may be successfully functioning as an optimist and generally nice person. But, no matter how much you try, inevitably your feelings will get hurt by someone not following these rules. By those who chose to live by their own “I am the centre of the universe” rules. People who live by these, tend to leave piles of destroyed optimists/nice persons in their wake, while still managing to refer to the crumpled humans as “friends”. This brings me to Rule Number 10: when you have encountered this person, it is important to close ranks, hide out at a real friend’s house (only ones who fill your love tank). If possible, find that one person you can rant to. This is the person who you can tell everything to, how you really feel about the above mentioned “friends” who you would like to say ‘go fuck yourself’ to but you can’t because you are nice and, depressingly, still love them. This kind of friend is very hard to find and needs to pass several, critical tests:
1. He/she should be able to keep a relaxed attitude, no matter how stressed you get.
2. He /she should be able to understand the difference between anger and extreme hunger or fatigue. 
3. When you have a complete meltdown, (which you will, with more frequency than you would expect, as living by these rules requires a significant amount of suppression) and irrationally say to this person “I hate you!” he/she should be able to not over-react but ask ‘why?’ When you say ‘I don’t know’, this person should reply ‘because I am the only person in the world you can say it to’ and then that person should hug you. (You should let him/her hug you).
If you know someone who does meet the above criteria, they should be the person you keep around forever. They are your fire extinguisher and should be used in all emergency angry or depressed situations. Just pull the pin and aim at the base of the fire. You can try aiming at the flames but this will just cause the fire to spread. You should always try to aim at what is really making you mad or sad.
As a side warning, you should note that this person does have feelings. But, in order to fulfil the above criteria, they must keep their feelings buried deep inside and this lack of emotion may hurt your feelings. For instance, he/she may be unable to smile when you are excited about something. Or they may react poorly when you show them an attempt at poetry and their insensitivity may make you cry. However, you should keep in mind that this very quality is what allows you to function as an optimist and nice person. I do advise, if possible, not to marry this person, but it may be inevitable.
By now, you may be feeling rather overwhelmed. I am afraid this is unavoidable and if you feel you cannot follow these rules after all, you have two options left. Either, allow yourself to become a self-absorbed, inconsiderate, opinionated jerk or, sequester yourself in the mountains and have your groceries delivered by Yak.

Multilingual Apology Guide

Sorry - English
Pardon – French
Siehe – German
Συγνώμη – Greek
מצטער – Hebrew
क्षमा करें – Hindi
Bocsánat – Hungarian
Maaf – Indonesian
Scusa! -  Italian
사람 – Korean
îmi pare rău – Romanian
Извините - Russian

Contributor's Note

Melody Wilkinson is an RN BSN graduated Suma Cum Laude from Regis University in Denver CO where she grew up. She is currently writing a blog with the only goal to make people laugh. She received the Sam Barnes Award for excellence at Waikato University for her screenplay.

 

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