The first notable experience took place before I was old enough to remember. My family lived in Illinois at the time, and my grandfather had called the day before to ask my dad to drive back to Texas to see him. He offered no explanation, but sensing the urgency of the request, my parents had loaded the family into the truck to make the cross-country trip back to Texas.
Midway through the trip, my father suddenly started behaving strangely. My mother, figuring he was just uptight and tired of the monotony of driving, tried to calm him down as she offered to take the steering wheel. She convinced him to pull over, and then my dad jumped out of the truck and started shouting and having an anxiety attack of some sort. My mom recalls checking the clock so she could do the math and tell my dad that it was X o’clock and that they’d be in Fort Worth in X hours, to calm him down a bit about how long the drive was taking.
We arrived in Texas to find that my grandfather had passed away unexpectedly while we were on the road, and that his time of death matched the timing of my father’s unexplained episode.
When I was a middle schooler, my mom’s father was diagnosed with cancer and liver cirrhosis. Hospice care was arranged at my grandparents’ house, and the doctors gave him a prognosis in terms of weeks. One Saturday not long after, my mom drove to her parents’ house to spend time with them and a big storm rolled through the area. We were used to the type of thunderstorms that would toss tree limbs in the road and knock the power out (and I not-so-secretly am a thunderstorm junkie,) so the storm didn’t cause any concern, but after a few hours I began to feel like something was amiss. The feeling lingered, then grew, and I began pacing anxiously through the house. I remember declaring to my dad that I needed to call my mom to check on her. When she answered the phone I was able only to utter the words, “Are you okay?” before she exclaimed something unintelligible and then quietly breathed, “He’s gone. He just passed away.”
The first thing she said to me when we talked later was, “How did you know?”
I had no answer, really, and I wasn’t quite sure I had known anything. I had felt something strange, something which only felt like anxiety to me, and suddenly I felt like I needed to talk to her.
My mother has that sixth sense that I think a lot of mothers possess, so she can usually figure out somehow that something is wrong with me no matter how many miles are between us. I remember when, moments after my car wreck in California in 2007, my phone rang. My mom, who was in Texas, didn’t even say hello before she asked me what was wrong. I hadn’t even had time to process yet what had happened and still had no idea what had just hit my windshield and crushed the top of my car. As I stood in a parking lot coughing up broken glass and blood, inventorying my body to make sure all the cuts and scratches were minor, she told me she’d just had a bad feeling all of a sudden, and that she’d had to call me right then.
I believe that sometimes we are able to form bonds with people such that we do sense things about their situation, regardless of the distance or difference in circumstance. And when B deploys, it’s this belief that keeps me from going nuts every time I read something bad on the news. It’s also the belief that’s kept me from collapsing into a pile on the floor any time friends or family called in a panic to bombard me with questions about B’s situation and to find out how long it had been since my last conversation with him. Those calls only served to make all of us worry about what we didn’t know.
Now, after several years of practice, I’ve learned to focus on what I do know, what I sense on my own. So a couple of weeks ago when a bombing rocked the area where B was working, instead of getting worked up I calmly went about my day, waiting quietly for a message or a phone call from him. I felt no anxiety (aside from the usual the-world’s-freaking-out-and-I’d-rather-have-my-husband-at-my-side-for-it nervousness,) and when a coworker later remarked that I was probably feeling anxious waiting to hear from him, I admitted that I really wasn’t.
A few hours later when B finally got to call to tell me he was okay, my honest response was just, “I know.”