My parents gifted me a wonderful encyclopedia set at the tender age of four. Little did they know what frustration this would bring upon our household! Days went by filled with careful studying of the pictures and reading what words and phrases I could decipher. There was so much to learn and so much to know and so much to ask and…
“Well, I’m a runner. So if the Russians drop a bomb on LA, and we’re here at your house in Azusa, and you figure where the radius of the hot zone would be,” my older cousin Matt rationalized in a conversation with my mom and other guests, “then I could make it to Vegas on foot if I give myself a seven minute mile average. Not a bad chance for survival, if the Soviets go that way.”
My mom smirked and laughed. “Yeah, whatever, man. We’ll all be cooked.”
“See, that’s a defeatist attitude!” Matt retorted, as if he would change the mind of either parental unit who would still balk at the idea of running, even if being chased. Matt did a double take at my blank, wide-eyed four year old stare and ideas for a proper response quickly darted behind his eyes. Clearly, he wasn’t aware of his conversation’s mixed company.
“Don’t worry about the bomb. It probably won’t happen.” Matt’s tone discounted his true convictions, as he tried to comfort me. “You know, anything can happen. If the sun bugs out, we wouldn’t even know for seven minutes. We’d all be done for. Anything’s possible!” He laughed uneasily. “So, don’t worry about the bomb, okay?”
I just nodded and promptly retired to my room. As a Cold War kid, the bomb didn’t bother me. I had already been witness to many unsanctioned detonations in our very own backyard. But why would it take seven minutes for us to know if the sun “bugged” out? How far is it from Earth? How old is the sun and how much longer will it be alive?
I dove into the encyclopedias and surfaced only with more questions than answers. Dad? Mom? Neighbors? Family? And then more questions. For three days, I entertained questions, sought information from the resources around me, and ended up with more questions. For three days, I didn’t sleep. The questions began to test the breadth and depth of astrophysics and cosmology; my father, a machinist, was at his wit’s end. No answers. No sleep.
“Hi, uh, you know about space, right?” My dad asks nervously on the phone with one of the engineers at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. “I need you to speak with my daughter. She, er, we haven’t slept in three days. Please, for the love of all that is sane can you answer her friggin’ questions?” A pause. Relief flows over my dad’s face. “Great, thank you so much, ’cause I sure as hell can’t!” He hands me the phone.
Yes, I was four, but I was already well indoctrinated into “talking like and adult” and “using your big voice” as well as answering the phone within three rings. These habits ingrained in me before I could walk were the result of growing up in a second generation family business. I grabbed the phone excitedly.
“Hello?” I offer to the engineer on the other end of the line as my dad stares quizzically at me, hearing only my side of the conversation. “Karen.” He begins to pace. Is this going to work? “Yep, I’m four.” Dad starts pacing, anxiously. “So, how far is the sun?” I smile as the kind engineer begins to answer; my dad mirrors my smile cautiously. “So tell me about the seven minutes. Why would it take us seven minutes to know if the sun “bugged” out?” His answer made me smile again. I like a guy that doesn’t sugar coat things! “Tell me about light years!” The engineer patiently discusses light years. My dad’s attention span wanes and he walks away, leaving the patient engineer on the line with me.
After nearly half an hour, I was satisfied with our conversation and handed the phone back, promptly falling asleep for nearly a full day, in a world much more accessible than the one I lived in before my dad made that fateful call. Dad fell asleep for quite some time, too. Needless to say, my reputation for tenacity came early on in my life.
Today is my birthday – another trip around the sun. Every year, when the subjective odometer in the sky rolls over March 2nd, I think critically about two gifts to myself. Invariably, these gifts are a new skill and a near-life experience. This year’s skill is consistently writing a personal blog. This year’s near-life experience will be returning to my former APAT form.
I have *a lot* of writing experience. My first non-family job was at a political magazine when I was 14 years old. Hundreds of 5 minute narratives about patients in various states of emergency during my years in prehospital care. Corrective actions and learning plans for countless baristas while at Starbucks. Technical writing for various audiences throughout my adult life. But writing about myself? Meh. That’s the unknown unknown. Hence my focus on this skill.
Returning to my former APAT form is returning to myself. It is my most comfortable version of me. I’m done having children and they’re done relying on my body for food. I am in remission mode. I have future near-life experiences depending on this APAT baseline. The time is now to do this, and I look forward to it!