Here is a neologism. “Catastrophism, noun. The unfounded fear that one’s life is about to meet a sudden and catastrophic end.” I have lived all my life with this underlying fear.
When the phone rings, I immediately assume we are getting news that someone has died, even though I have never been told of someone’s death that way. But in a way the imagined phone call does duplicate the unexpected news of your death. For me death is imagined to be sudden and unexpected.
I sometimes fear that someone – a spouse, a stranger – might kill me in my sleep. These fears manifest the childhood suspicion that your death was no accident and that my life would recapitulate yours.
The undoing of my personal world coincided with the unraveling of the larger world as well. The Cold War tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union generated widespread fear of nuclear war between the two nations. In school we were taught to prepare for a nuclear strike by crouching on the floor with head between one’s knees. What meager protection! We were taught to prepare in other ways as well. The local fire station blasted practice air-raid warnings out of its fire alarm. Television stations practiced the “early warning system,” with the familiar and unnerving tone followed by the assurance that if this were an actual emergency we would be provided with further instructions.
The result: Every plane that flew overhead I feared was a Russian bomber. Soon, the Vietnam War intruded into my consciousness, then the assassinations – President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, John Lennon – all males struck down suddenly in their prime.