I reside in Los Angeles, which, even in the winter, is one of the sunniest spots on earth. But no matter how bright it is outside, it’s always dark inside my head. And not just a little dark – we’re talking black skies with pounding rain, hail and lightning. All inside my not-so-little noggin. I’ll give you an example. While visiting Vancouver, B.C. with my children recently, somebody suggested a day trip to Victoria Island. It’s supposed to be a quaint, romantic locale, a perfect weekend getaway. And the best part: it’s only an hour and a half by ferry. Immediately, the images in my mind of cobblestone streets lined with charming cafes and pricey boutiques are replaced with a shot of the capsized ferry. As the other passengers go down with the sinking vessel, I cut through the icy black waters of the Pacific with a ten and seven-year-old clinging to my back. Eventually I’m pulled under by the weight of the children. We all die of hypothermia.
Vancouver has lately been the trigger of many imagined disasters. This week while visiting the suburban studio where my husband, AO, is producing a TV show, Seven and Ten went missing. While AO and several crew members searched the massive soundstage, I went outside with the set decorator and looked for them. Standing in the chilly darkness, I felt my fears taking over. As I crept along the exterior wall of the converted office park I fully expected to find one of my children strangled or stabbed to death. That special expat Thanksgiving dinner we had planned the next evening? It would never be enjoyed. We’d go through Christmases and graduations and the rest of our lives bereft. If only I had kept better control of the boys… FYI, the dark fantasy didn’t play out. The kids are okay. They shrugged when we found them on set forty minutes later, too transfixed by showbiz to care about the worry they had caused.
My own childhood was fertile ground for dark imaginings. Being left alone in parked cars and hotel rooms, coming home to find that burglars had raided my piggy bank – these incidents allowed my worst fears to take root. What’s strange is that over the past five years, my phobias have gotten worse, especially when it comes to enclosed spaces. My train of thought in an elevator goes like this: I walk in and survey the people inside. Are they friendly? I sure hope so because we may have to spend the next few hours together. Then I analyze the emergency panel. Is there a phone or just a call button? And how long will it take for help to arrive once the elevator breaks down? A busy building in the middle of the week with a responsible doorman is a good bet. A poorly attended building on a weekend is a recipe for disaster, which is exactly the situation I found myself in while visiting Vancouver in October.
I was stuck in the elevator of my husband’s apartment building by myself on a Sunday afternoon. Electronic key fobs are necessary to access every part of this modern high-rise. You cannot get to your floor or even out the door into the parking garage without scanning your key. For some reason, the moment I got into the elevator and the doors closed, everything electric shut down. I pushed the weak sounding alarm button and screamed “help”. Nothing happened. Eventually the doors opened on their own. But by the time I had walked the twenty flights down to the lobby I was in full panic mode – crying, hyperventilating and dripping with sweat. The doorman claimed that he didn’t hear any alarm. He was actually rude and refused to help me access the parking garage via the stairs (because there was no way in hell I was getting back in that elevator) until my husband called and ordered him to do so. For weeks afterwards, I tried to figure out the meaning behind the incident. Should I feel strong for having survived one of my greatest fears, or guilty for somehow making it happen? I can see Oprah and Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra wagging their fingers at me for forgetting the most basic of New Age tenets: your thoughts create your reality.
I’m envious of people who walk through life without a care in the world. My younger son, Seven, is like that. He literally skips through his day. My older boy, Ten, is more like me – cautious and intense. My husband has a healthy optimism about life. He worries about stuff – money, health, losing his hair – but he’s basically a “blue sky” kind of guy. AO has been the victim of a mugging at knifepoint, temporarily paralyzed from a crash that totaled his car, and lived through the 1994 Northridge earthquake. And yet, he is able to find the humor in it all. That’s probably the thing I find most attractive about him. If you asked him what he’s thinking about at any given moment, he’ll say Hawaii – and not the tsunami that I’m always worried about. He literally hears the ukuleles playing in his head. When we’re together standing very, very close, I can almost hear them too.