Victor called my name at the open mic. My stomach went queasy. I walked to the stage anyway. My hands trembled. I read a story anyway. And then the audience shouted the Fearless Fridays Open Mic
affirmation, which they did for all the performers. “Dawn Downey, you are fearless!”
They were mistaken.
I’m afraid of: ridicule, poison ivy, spiders, ticks, deer, police cars, water, tall men, cows, getting lost, yellow traffic lights, and new software programs.
Dogs used to scare me, but only if they were outside. To be fair, my best childhood friend was a blue-tick hound. My family owned beagles, labs, retrievers, and a sofa-sized Rhodesian ridgeback. When a friend bragged about her sweet, beautiful, pet––how Fido’s love had healed her emotional wounds, I was excited to meet this angelic creature. But when I went to her house, she put him out in the yard. She said, “He’s weird around strangers. He might bite you.” Now I’m afraid of inside and
I live with terror. I breathe anxiety. It’s the way I’m made.
When Victor calls my name at next month’s open mic, my hands might tremble again, because I’m not fearless.
Although … I’m not afraid of bees.
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You take the gold lame´ clogs down from the closet shelf again. You forgot to put them in the give-away box last month, and the month before, and the month before. Made in Italy is stamped on the insole. Ferraris for your feet. Hand-stitched metallic leather wraps around the shoe, even on the bottom where nobody else can see it. But you know you’re walking on gold. They’re as flawless as they day you bought them a decade ago.
You and your best friend were vacationing together. A weekend of shopping the sales in luxury department stores. She’d shown you what to buy and told you you were gorgeous every time you tried something on.
You turn the clogs over in your hand. Buttery soft leather. You felt a little foolish the last time you wore them. They’re a bit too dressy and a little too high. They turn your modest walk into a swagger.
Can you still call her your best friend, though you haven’t spoken for … my goodness … how long has it been?
You place the shoes in the give-away box on top of outgrown dresses. Your hand lingers.
That last phone call was awkward, you and she unable to fill long pauses.
There's no denying the shoes are gorgeous, but they no longer fit your wardrobe … or your life.
You wonder how she’s doing.
The closet shelf looks empty. Maybe you’ll wear them one last time.
A woman approached my car from across the parking lot. Middle-aged. Skinny. Shorts. My eyes narrowed.
She carried a drug store sack and was sipping from a fast-food cup. “Can you give me a ride to the other side of the highway? There’s no safe way for me to walk across.”
I didn’t want this stranger in my car, her shoulder right next to mine, but––familiar with the area––I knew she was right. Besides, you can’t leave a woman stranded. I grabbed my purse from the passenger seat, shoved it into the back, underneath my sun shield. “Okay,”
She climbed in. “You know where the highway is?”
“Yeah, I live on the other side. Miserable day to be out. Too hot.”
“Heat’s not so bad. My legs gave out.”
Awkward silence. At the light, I maneuvered to go straight.
“No. Turn right. Get on the highway.”
She directed me in the opposite direction from home. Police would have to track my cell phone signal to find my abandoned car. God knows where they’d find my body. “What’s your exit?”
“Get off here. Go to the stop sign.”
We were in a rural neighborhood, overgrown trees, no sidewalks. Her boyfriend would spring out of the woods waving a gun. “What stop sign?”
Around the bend, foliage gave way to a sunny intersection––and a stop sign.
“Thanks for the ride. Have a good day.”
Still tense, I headed home. Was she afraid of strangers when she asked for rides? Wait a minute. I was the stranger.
I've got to tell you, that proved to be far less scarey than being me.
1970. A coed scrambles to finish a term paper due in three hours. Her American Lit professor had assigned it six months earlier; she'd begun writing it the previous week. Because her father says Cs mean failure, she maintains a B minus minus minus average at Pomona College. Cigarettes. Cold pizza.
1980. A (wannabe) designer manufactures reasons to call in sick. Two years after graduating from the Los Angeles Institute of Fashion Design, she labors in a sweatshop an hour's commute from her studio apartment in the ghetto. Fabulous wardrobe. Factory job.
1985. A wife (double-income-no-kids) gulps aspirin to tamp down a hangover after the previous nights attempt to anesthetize herself––downing wine at a smoky blues bar. Husband's beer bottle next to her plastic cup, his chair angled so she'd seen only the back of his shoulder. Two-car garage. Credit Cards.
2000. A divorcee pauses in her kitchen doorway. She fills a kettle and catches her Mona Lisa reflection in the window above the sink. After the pot whistles, her hands close around a steaming mug. Wool socks. Chamomile tea.
2005. A seeker lies on a narrow bed, on the final morning of retreat. In the nightlight's glow, yesterday's dharma talk seems to flicker across the ceiling. … biggest impediment to awakening is the belief there's an impediment …. Zafu. Yoga mat.
2015. A woman opens her bedroom window and leans into winter. Above the patio, a half moon hangs in the navy blue sky. The air smells like new snow. It is bracing, against her breasts. Wrapped in the gentle snoring that drifts up from her bed, she pads downstairs for breakfast. Bare feet. Birthday oatmeal.
On the way to the mailbox, I leaned over to pull out dandelions popping up through the cracks in the driveway. I grabbed sturdy leaves in a bunch, my knuckles scraping concrete, and I yanked. Another plant seemed to pop up every time I plucked. They were cartoon dandelions, each tap root connected to the top of another dandelion in the ground beneath it, whose tap root was connected to the next, an endless chain all the way down to China. That's it. Time for reinforcements.
Give me fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, and any other cides on the market.
The idea shriveled up, dead on the vine. A sensation I'd never felt before crept across my sweaty palm, informing me I would not be using any weed killer. It stopped my bomb-'em-back-to-the-stone-age plans as effortlessly as a red light stops my car.
I quit using chemicals in the yard a couple years ago, because of the environmental impact on ground water and pollinators
. Blah blah blah. This new feeling didn’t give a hoot about all those fancy words. It was unimpressed by my intellectual prowess and unconcerned with ecological issues. It simply zapped away the distance from between Dawn the Gardener and Betty the Bee.
I'll pull weeds by hand. Spraying poison would be shooting myself in the foot. Lesson two: disarm.
How To Make Peace With Nature: Part I
"My brother Michael said, “A cousin you probably don’t remember wants to call you.”
“Keisha’s mother and ours were half-sisters. We have the same grandfather.”
I perked up. I longed to learn about this particular grandfather, who died before I was born and whose name I’d never learned.
Michael asked, “Can I give out your phone number?”
Mama's father had been a bootlegger. That summarized his whole identity. It was as though he’d sprung to life full grown during Prohibition, but I’d heard stories. As a little girl, Mama’d adopted a stray kitten, but he’d snatched it away and killed it in front of her. When she’d earned the only high school diploma among his four children, he said it was a waste and did not show up for the ceremony. He’d cursed her on his deathbed. I didn’t know what that meant, but grandpa sounded like the devil.
Was he the reason Mama sometimes retreated inside herself? Did she see him in the distance when she stared out the window? Had the specter of my grandfather caused her to be sent away to a hospital when I was a kid? I worry that Grandpa Evil haunts me, too. Will this new cousin shed light on the darkness that sometimes closes down on me?
Today I’m waiting for Keisha. She’ll either bring closure … or open up a can of worms.
Ben and I pace around the indoor track at the Y. On some days he prods me to go. Other days I prod him. We never get from Point A to Point B, but it’s good for us.
One mile for health.
A mother in East St. Louis, locks her kids in the apartment and plods past a liquor store on the corner, a gas station and McDonalds opposite, and a PayDay loan down the block. She heads for the supermarket nearest her redlined neighborhood, to buy what she can carry.
Five miles for food.
A man, woman, and boy flag down our car. “Will you take us to WalMart?” Ben answers, “There’s none around here.” Mother says, “It's in Liberty.” They climb in. I ask, “Walking? Where do you live?” Mother says, “City Union Mission. We don’t have a car. My sandals broke again and WalMart’s always the cheapest.”
Twelve miles for shoes.Siblings in Sudan flee from soldiers
who killed their parents, burned their village, and kidnapped their brother. The second-oldest boy, now their chief, leads them across a desert. They drink urine and hide from lions, before stumbling into a Kenyan refugee camp.
1,000 miles for safety.
I poke my head into Ben’s office. “I’m going to bed. You?” He’s staring at the computer screen. “Be there in awhile.” “Okay, nighty-night.” I lean over in my jammies, to offer a kiss. He grins at me and closes his laptop. “Changed my mind. I’m coming now.
Zero miles for love.
Read other posts about walking:
How to Make Peace with Nature
Stations of the Cross
After twenty years of service, our dining room table lay in pieces in the driveway.
My first husband bought it for our big corner house. Saturdays, he dusted all the furniture––caressing antique European curves with a 100% cotton cloth dabbed in lemon polish, while the stereo blasted Percy Sledge wailing about how a man loved a woman. We seldom ate at the table. I acquired it in the divorce.
My nephew Anthony, who lived with me after the break-up, slumped over notebooks strewn across the table. His ninth-grade teacher had ordered him to catch up on the year’s worth of assignments he’d ignored. I sat opposite, my crossed arms pressed against the unyielding wood. We faced off across no-man's-land, medium oak, oil finish.
The day Ben and I got married, we inserted both leaves, extended the table to its full length, and pushed it against the wall to make room for a house full of friends. They covered it with home cooked wedding treats. Ben and I were prone to suppers in front of the television, intertwined on the couch, but when we dined at the table, he waltzed me around the living room for dessert.
He and I stacked the top, leaves, and legs in the driveway. The Sherwood Center
sent their truck for it, and soon another family will transform my dismantled memories into a dining room table.
Read a couple of related posts.
7 Smells I Miss
A graph plots one woman's emotions over a twenty-four-hour period, on the second Sunday in May.
Line 1, bitterness at being wished a happy Mother's Day,
rises at the same rate as Line 2, regret at ending up childless. Note that Line 3, despair over the death of her mother, spikes when well-wishers add, "Even if you don't have kids, everybody's got a mom."
I missed my walk today. My feet left the house, but I lingered inside my mind––paying the gas bill, shopping for new shoes, composing a grocery list. In my absence, maybe my feet admired the willow around the corner, relished the crunch of broken acorns and reassured the hound dogs that bayed a warning from behind their fence. My walk ended before I caught up. At the front door, I chastised myself for all that thinking and figuring and planning. I clutched the doorknob and the promise of greater attention tomorrow.
A cardinal whistled, reminding me that tomorrow . . . nothing needs to change. And everything will.