Forensics of Anxiety by Alfred Fournier

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The day my father and infant daughter first met on his hospital bed birthday, both grinning, happy babies.

Or screaming with her, side by side, hair flying on her first rollercoaster ride, which she would only try with daddy.

Watching scary movies as a kid. Nightmares that sent me shivering between mom and dad in their bed. He’s too old for this, dad grumbled. But mom wouldn’t let him send me out.

With the psychological definition of anxiety: Intense fear or dread lacking an unambiguous cause or a specific threat.

Last night, when she came to me for the fifth time, attributing a house-noise to phantoms, evil birds, men with guns outside.

Later, awake in bed, trying to recall when it began. Insect in her baby tub? Fire ants that stung her ankles when she was three? A year later, the first time she asked, Daddy, what happens when we die?

Visiting mom in her hospital bed, tubes and machines draining her life as I stood in Sunday best, an older sister squeezing my hand, nudging me to smile.

Mom in the living room chair, fingers fretting through rosary beads, mouthing the words, Hail Mary, full of grace.

The spring mom died before my twelfth birthday. The way grief robs us of security.

The first time her baby-tight grip closed around my finger. Warm. Damp. Strong. New life instinctively grasping for something to hold on to. The terror that pulsed through me then.

In a future I try to imagine, looking back, her fear and my response just a rickety stretch on the long track of our relationship.

With acceptance that love doesn’t have all the answers. Love is not turning away from her questions, even as my own fears overflow my lungs, rise to fill my throat, threaten to tip the amusement ride boat, as we slide together into darkness.

Micro Life Interview

Tell us what sparked this piece

After my daughter turned ten, she started showing signs of extreme anxiety. As a parent, and an anxious person myself, I struggle with my ability to help her deal with it. Also, it triggered memories of my own childhood fears, my mom’s fight with breast cancer, and her death when I was eleven. This piece was an attempt to look across generations, to examine possible origins of anxiety, and my own guilt and helplessness as a parent.

What do you like about the flash form?

As a poet, I am drawn to imagery and a certain density of language. Also, the mind itself seems to work this way: focusing on brief moments, scenes, vignettes. I am interested in what one small incident or moment from the past means, what light it can shed on larger questions, how it shifts colors like a prism when viewed from a later vantage point in life.

What’s something great you’ve read (or learned) lately?

I loved Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection “Her Body and Other Parties,” as well as her memoir, “In a Dream House.” She is a master of language and imagery. She is fearless, mining psychological depths with terrifying finesse. There is nowhere she can’t take a reader who is brave enough to follow her.

Alfred Fournier is a writer and community volunteer in Phoenix, Arizona. His flash creative nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Delmarva Review, Lunch Ticket, Toho Journal, Kind Writers, and The Perch magazine. His Poetry has been featured in many literary journals, including Plainsongs, The New Verse News, Welter, Hole in the Head Review, Third Wednesday, The Main Street Rag, and The Ocotillo Review.

Sets of hands laying on top of each other

Photography by Ricardo Moura

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