I was twenty. Driving down dark roads. Around us, only trees and stars, and the many, many curves the road threw before us.
I drove slowly.
It was our first night together. We’d end it lying on our backs on our gorgeous planet, shooting stars above us… I felt gravity, I felt roundness, I felt life, I felt complete and human. It was the perfect, terrifying, beautiful beginning for a relationship that would take us several years to destroy. But we didn’t know that then.
I was driving slowly, brights on, hands clutching the wheel. I needed to know the road was safe–was actually still in front of us–before hurtling into it.
“You don’t like to be surprised,” he said.
I stared at the road. I didn’t like his version of me. “I like to know what’s coming,” I said. And the distaste itched.
Back then, I wanted to be brave. To be seen as brave.
Times change. I still want to be brave. I practice it more, because I have to. Writers have to expose themselves horribly. But I feel ridiculously cheated when people don’t see my fear.
It’s strange how we encounter other people’s lives. Friends who know me will still think joining Peace Corps showed courage. It showed nothing but a desire to connect with others, learn new languages, explore life, live absolutely… find out who I would be in that situation.
I didn’t fear losing my money or my status or my comfort–because I’ve never been as connected, I suppose, to those realities. (Don’t get me wrong, I love comfort, but I’ve always been the one to give it up fastest, feeling I am least rumpled by losing it.)
Anyway, that took no courage. Resolve, yes. And that’s it. And then life’s tides took me, as they take us all, no matter where we are.
But the stuff that does frighten me, people don’t seem to register. I guess when people do things that seem risky or insane, we begin to assume that they belong on that speed. Or we assume that our fears are greater than theirs. Or that they know they can or will succeed. I do that with others. So I reckon maybe this is why I’ll share my great goal with someone, and they’ll act like it’s the natural next step, instead of the step that tears me into life like a woman running toward her own abyss. I reckon. If I’m like others and others are like me.
But I’m no risk-taker and I’m no braver. I only have another need, and I have a choice. Aim, or betray myself.
So, I take the risks like an addled donkey, one moment racing toward them and the next digging in my heels.
I need to step on the bough before I bury myself in earth. Even if a fall is what awaits. The air will be fresh above or in the plummet. I’ll breathe it deep.
I mentor kids now, and I speak honestly about fear. I want them to know that fear isn’t something to edge away from, that it doesn’t mean they can’t do things, just coz they’re frightened.
Maybe some of them hear me, but I think others think that their own fears must be greater than mine. Oh, heavy baggage. Heavy, heavy. Let it go, kids. Let it go, Self.