I've been having strange dreams lately, about the house burning down. It goes up like a rocket made of asbestos. My friend Jasmine says these dreams mean I'm in a place of transition. I am the fire. I am the house, too. Not to rain on the science of dream interpretation, maybe I'm just worried the house will burn down. Yesterday I came home in time to catch my hairdryer in the act of singeing something. I'd thought it was off. It wasn't. Spooky.
It would be nice to be psychic. To know the Lotto numbers, help the police solve cold cases and have an excuse to drive around with the really handsome ones. But I'm pretty sure these dreams are not portents so much as simple deductive reasoning: getting clumsier and more forgetful, there is every chance I WILL burn the house down. Thank you brain, always nice to hear from you.
Less unsettling if I was actually asleep during these mind movies of mayhem. More and more I'm rigidly awake, cast on the bed like a woman in the grip of dodgy pudding. 3am seems to be the fear meridian, a haunted hour featuring flashbacks of every embarrassing thing I have ever done and previews of potential disasters. Some of the things I worry about: rats eating the wiring, adultery (I might do it by accident) and whether the oven is on.
Next to me a large economist sleeps, dreaming of cheese and Nobel prizes. His untroubled slumber seems a damning indictment. His deep regular breathing gets on my wick. Is the oven on? I won't get up and check because that would be giving in to the crazy. I know the oven isn't on. Yet I can't help replaying the act of turning it off. Slow-motion, visualising my hand on the dial. Squinting: does that say OFF or DANGER? Arrghhh! “Stop kicking,” mumble-pleads the economist.
Is this the start of some kind of OCD? Will I begin frantically washing my hands and locking and unlocking the front door 52 times a day? Am I destined to become fretful crossing the road – unable to turn back, incapable of moving forward? Forever stuck on the median strip of my psyche.
Maybe this is what ‘addled’ looks like. I’ve always wondered. My aunty Brigit, no barometer of familial sanity herself, painted the Axminster gold. As a child I remember it feeling deliciously crunchy underfoot. Will I start lying about my age and adopting the interior decorating sensibilities of a wall-eyed harlot? Oh, wait.
So, in addition to delusions of pyromania and loss of equilibrium, I’m dementing. Well, that’s just great! Lying awake in the pre-dawn silence, I can almost hear my synapsis shrivelling. Snap crackle pop. Ideas and insights drying to desiccated husks like wasp bodies on bare floorboards. “You're just worrying about stuff that hasn't happened yet,” says the economist, stating the bleedin’ obvious. At least I think that’s what he said, he’s not forming his consonants properly.
When did I start worrying so much? I never worried when younger. Too smashed, I suppose. It’s hard to worry, face-down in a pillow smeared with last night's mascara. And what do the young have to worry about, anyway? Facebook defriending, perhaps. Being attacked by their skinny jeans.
No, this tendency towards horriblizing begins the moment you start taking your makeup off before bed and double-bagging the rubbish. Morbid unease is clearly a symptom of creeping middle-class-ness, a sign you have too much stuff. Someone might steal it (In my case, extremely unlikely. 1. Its worthless crap. 2. The Mongrel Mob live just down the road. One would have to seriously question the appellation 'Mighty,' were they to put so little effort into crime). There might be a tsunami. Ravens.
I'm babbling. Most of us are these days; babbling into a headset, tweeting into the void, into the grey ether of faceless strangers. At least I know I'm listening.
My restless terror has finally woken the economist, and his bladder. Sighing, he pads to the bathroom making soft, still-unconscious noises: thud thud donk ‒ caroming off the walls like a drunken bobsledder. He's often peeing at 3am. I hope there isn't something wrong with his prostate. I fleetingly consider my own ominous pains. Twinges and cricks. Numbness, phantom tickles and other Google-exacerbated symptoms of New Age Hypochondria. My teeth hurt.
Worrying is genetic, say researchers at Yale, who have identified a gene mutation for rumination, a predisposition to obsessive negative thoughts, active in the hippocampus. And it could even be a good thing: imagining everything that might go wrong is known as ‘defensive pessimism,’ the magic shield of the worry wart.
Although a smoke detector and a stiff whiskey might be a tad more practical. “I've turned the oven off,” said the economist, sliding back into bed. “You didn't want it on, did you?”