“Because she did not look behind, September did not see the smoky-glass casket close itself primly up again. She did not see it bend in half until it cracked, and Death hop up again, quite well, quite awake, and quite small once more. She certainly did not see Death stand on her tiptoes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest, but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.” – Catheryne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
I’ve been dealing with this fear I have for a long time now, the fear of driving on bad roads. Any sort of bad roads, when it rains, when it snows, when it’s ice, any of it. Most of you know why, you know about that accident back a few a years ago, but each time I get behind the wheel I think of it. So I will remind you.
Picture this, a cold morning, not as cold (polar?) as it has been, but in the low thirties. The roads were mostly clear, some small snowy patches here and there. The sun was just rising over the fields that run along both sides of that road, copses of trees off in the distance, turning the bay pink. Me in my long worn out favorite pajama pants, dark grey with pockets and no elastic around the ankles, an old sweatshirt, a blue fleece, bare feet jammed into my soft boots. A cup of coffee sits on the console next to the cup holders (because I never have to-go cups and always find a spot to sit a real mug, you’d be surprised how very rarely it spills). The girls are all bundled up, Kaia ready for school and Ave ready for daycare. We have about three miles to traverse.
We were in our Band Perry phase then and in the process of wearing out their CD. Coming down 3 Mile road and I see a man in the road with a shovel or snowblower, not thinking, I steer a little toward the center of the road and that was it, that was all it took. The back end started to fishtail, the girls were yelling at me to stop it, right now! Then the front end joined in and we spun. The Band Perry wailing, I’d walk through fire for you, walk through barbed wire for you… I was pure instinct, not thinking, fighting with the wheel, desperately trying to hold on; in a situation I’d never been in before.
And then we were upside down, there was glass everywhere, the CD was still playing, car still running. I wrote about it, hoping for catharsis I think, right after it happened:
“I think of Kaia falling, arms up, hair streaming, moving in slow motion like Alice down the rabbit hole after I released the seatbelt that will bruise her skin but held her suspended in the air. I think of her reaching out for her sister with the tenderness of a mother and saying, “Oh Ave, come to sissy” with her arms open wide, balanced in the back of a turned over suv; trying to be brave, on the very precipice of panic.
The dreamscape out the back window of the Tahoe, how the window was steamy and all we could see was the flat road and the cars slushing by. Pounding on the glass and begging someone to open the door, just open the door! A sea of concerned male faces as the door opened, one in tears asking frantically, “is this all there is? just three? are you sure?”. The warm feeling of being shepherded across the road by that same sea of concerned men. A warm car, a warm smile, a phone to use.”
My mother came for me that day. I called her from that warm car, that nameless woman who patted my leg and clucked over me after another parent who used the same daycare, who’s child went to the same elementary school stopped when she recognized our vehicle. She ran down the side of the busy road, in a panic. She took my children for me. She was brave. My mother was too, this woman who can be so fragile has amazing metal. She showed it that day. As I sat first in the woman’s car, and then in a police car (but only for a minute, I demanded he let me out and wouldn’t talk to him anymore after he told me he was writing me a ticket), I saw my mother’s car come trundling down the road past the tow truck hauling my poor Tahoe. She skidded to a stop, she got out, in her coat with the fur collar and her mom scent. I remember running to her. Crying for the first time, a loud and painful sob. And she was so brave for me that day.
And so I am scared.
I am also scared of snakes, our last summer in TC I innocently went to turn on the garden hose and there, right at my feet, was a boa constrictor. It was long, about three feet, and shiny emerald green with a yellow stripe, and thick! I had a paint brush in my hand, full of paint from some outside furniture I’d been working on. I may have danced away screaming OH F***… over and over. You get the idea. Hey, we had bigger yards up there, probably the neighbors didn’t even hear me.
When I was pregnant with Ave, a familiar refrain ran inside my head. I felt so lucky, so lucky to have made a magic wish known to my husband, and then to have had it granted in the face of so many I knew who had/have struggled to have a baby. So lucky. I know it, you don’t have to tell me, I know it. “You’re gonna lose that girl, yeah yeah, you’re gonna lose that girl…” running through my head for months. Dreams of falling on my stomach, dreams of waking in the night with my legs drenched in blood, an empty, bereft feeling inside. I don’t know when this stopped. I don’t hear the refrain any more very often. I don’t dream like that hardly ever. I don’t think of all the things that can go wrong, how fragile she is. But once in a while, when they’re out on the bike path playing together in the summer, when they’re spending the night away from home, a whisper of it will run through my head. A warning, a threat.
Finally, needles. No one really likes them right? I had this thing where I would literally sob if I had to be poked by a needle. I couldn’t control it, couldn’t help it. I tried to be brave. I didn’t look at the exposed flesh and the sparkly pain bringer. Still I cried. Not any more though. Would I be excited to go get a shot tomorrow? No. Am I giving blood? I’m sorry, I sing in the choir, I help out at the elementary school, I made stage curtains for goodness sake! I can’t give blood too. But having two little girls helped me to get past that one. Thank gawd, or I’d be paralyzed by fear, never leaving the house, pushing my inadequacies and lunacy off on my children like my nose or my dimples.
Anyway. I can avoid snakes and needles for the most part. I don’t hear how I’m gonna lose that girl very often any more. But the driving, man, I can’t avoid it.
So I go slow, too slow probably. I know that people get angry with me. I know that it’s irritating when you want to pass me and you can’t. I know that you think I’m nuts and that whole churchy bumper sticker on the back of my truck doesn’t really lend to your good opinion of me. I’m sorry. I am trying SO HARD to go faster. I am aware of being a hazard. But today, as I was coming down the hill by Holiday Inn there, off the treacherous bridge, almost home, I didn’t brake. I let my speed get up to a very daring 30 mph, which is the speed limit for those garden variety idiots out there who are still mad at me (I have no patience for you, learn how to drive). I was a little scared, my heart pounding a little too purposefully. My legs having just the slightest tremor. But I did it. And when the hill ended and the road was flat once more I actually accelerated a little bit.
I don’t want to be scared. I hate to be scared, of anything, for any reason. I like to think I am better than fear, stronger than that. I think the fact that driving is unavoidable is helping. I have to do it, over and over I have to face that fear, do it anyway. Come home with shaking hands and adrenaline coursing through my veins. And I have to do it with my girls too. Face that fear, do it anyway. Sometimes have shaking hands and that dreaded shot of adrenaline. Trying to ignore that nagging voice in my head that preaches to me about my inadequacy, telling me I don’t even deserve them, I’m doing it all wrong.
As I go forward, instead of being hyper vigilant or hyper stupid, I am trying to be in the middle. To temper my over the top vigilance and fear with reason and a dash of risk. To hope that I make good choices on wet roads and snowy roads, that what happened on that cold December morning never happens again. To hope that I make good choices in the raising of two little people who still, amazingly, think the world of me. I won’t let fear hold me back, or them either. I won’t let it rub off on them, taint their minds into believing that they can’t do something, just because their mother was afraid. My mother has been brave for me.
So I will be brave.
“I was thinking, that I might fly today, just to disprove all the things that you say…” Jewel
““When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.” Catheryne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making