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Worried about the Wrong Thing

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I became this guy who works in agricultural diplomacy by day and crafts stories about people with superpowers by night. As an exercise in this exploration, I’ve taken to going through old emails that capture how I processed things at different points in my life. The following is an email I sent to a good friend after surviving a barrage of mortars fired at our base in Afghanistan. As I read it, my mind’s voice comes back to me so clearly, yet so unrecognizable. It’s funny how that happens.

December 1, 2011 | 12:10 PM


Ever since I could remember, I’ve always had a fixation with the wrong details of a situation. Were I watching a scary movie in which the female victim throws her purse at the assailant, I immediately become preoccupied with the hassle that the woman will have to go through to get the items back from her purse (which some hoodlum is bound to steal if found just lying there). Or while watching Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I see the slim-hipped housewife stumble from the car, leaving the car door open in her exit, and I begin to worry not about her finding her husband cheating, but that her car battery will go dead; batteries died quickly back in those days.

As I think back on it, I’m almost certain that this condition is hereditary. I remember my grandmother’s fixation with her electricity bill, regardless of the situation. Believing that noise attracted lightning, she was quick to hush us up when she’d watch over my brother and me during a storm and we’d get rowdy. “Keep all that noise down before y’all attract lightning to my house,” she’d say, changing the TV channel to whatever played The Young and the Restless. “And if lightning strikes my house, my light bill ‘gon be sky high.” It was something similar with the electric blankets that we’d sleep under during wintertime spent at her house. “Don’t be pissin’ in the bed with that electric blanket. If you do, it’ll electrocute you, then my light bill ‘gon be sky high.” Never so much concerned for us grandchildren rather than the electricity bill, figuring, I suppose, that everything else—death, hospitalization, etc.—would all get sorted out in the wash. Assuming, I suppose, that it wouldn’t be washed in her washing machine. On account of the light bill, that is.

And there’s my mother, who taught me to always wear clean socks and underwear just in case there is ever an emergency. Knowing this herself, she drove into town one morning to deposit money at the bank before it opened. In her rush, and because it was only a 15-minute drive, she left the house wearing yesterday’s best. On the way, she was involved in a head-on collision with another driver. The ambulance arrived, and the EMTs provided on-the-spot assistance but also requested that she ride with them to the hospital. Momma, sticking to her guns, refused the ride on account of her “yesterday’s best,” and instead caught a ride home with my Aunt, showered, and then went to the hospital later that evening.

These are the thoughts that ran through my head today after we received incoming rounds while I was on the treadmill at the gym (please don’t be alarmed. I’m only telling you this anecdotally; everything is fine). I left the gym and ran to the office—the nearest hard-cover structure I was familiar with—in my sweaty, yellow shorts and gray shirt. Realizing how I looked, I grabbed my gym bag and went to shower, all the while weighing whether it would be more embarrassing to get attacked smelling awful or being naked in the shower. I’ve yet to decide, really, and I hope that I won’t have to. For now, I am safe in my room, clean, and wondering if we get to pick out new outfits in the afterlife or if we are stuck wearing what we died in. And if we are stuck with the last outfit, is it the outfit before the assailant stabbed us through the midsection, or will we have holes in our spectral wardrobe? And if we do have holes…

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