What Are You Afraid Of?


You’re going where? my mother asks me, whenever I go on a road trip.

I love to travel. I would prefer to travel with someone, but circumstances are often such that I am alone, be it flying or driving. I don’t mind – but she does.

Don’t do anything daring, she always warns me.

Like what? I say.

It is 1960’s New Orleans. My mother stands in front of a full length mirror in a dressing room reminiscent of Blanche DuBois. The air ripples from the merciless summer heat. A breeze stirs the curtains and blows warm air in through the windows and balcony doors that are carelessly thrown open in a way that suggests decadence, and revelry, and women of ill repute. It is early evening, and Jazz and Zydeco music dance on the air into the hotel room from the French Quarter below.

I don’t like you staying in a hotel. Always keep your door locked. I don’t like this.

She is there on holiday with four girlfriends, and it is a time when everyone left their doors open when they weren’t sleeping and people wandered through, drunk and friendly and lively with infectious spirit. Her hair is short and coiffed and stylish. She wears a white sleeveless blouse, with a collar and buttons paired with pink pedal pushers and a floral scarf around her head that nearly completes the ensemble. She is not sweating. There are no armpit stains, nor is there fabric stuck to her back. She is cool and calm, even as her young face is intent and frustrated as she tries to clasp a pearl choker around her neck. It is her third try, and her arms are starting to ache from the awkward position behind her.

Men target women who travel alone. I don’t like this. Don’t talk to any men.

She feels a pair of hands touch hers and startles with a polite sound of alarm as a voice says I’ve got that, as the ends of the necklace are expertly paired and she turns to see a handsome young man with friendly brown eyes and a rakish smile. The kind your mother warns you about.

She thanks him demurely, and they have a brief, flirtatious exchange where he invites her and her friends to join his group later, and he takes his leave with a kiss on the cheek.

Someone tells her that he is Patrick Wayne, movie and television star – but most famous for being John Wayne’s son.

PicMonkey Collage

A few days earlier, my father, whom she had been dating a short while, told her that while he liked her more than any girl he’d dated, he wasn’t ready to commit. She said that was fine, she was never getting married. Off she went to New Orleans, without him.

Don’t drink too much. And don’t get behind the wheel of a car. Don’t go anywhere in a car with someone you don’t know. I don’t like this.

She and her friends spent a week on the Quarter, much of it with Mr. Wayne and entourage, dancing and drinking and riding the riverboats, wandering and finding excuses to bump into each other. It was impulsive and bold and fun and completely uncharacteristic of the woman I know now.

She returned to my father, who had celebrated his hard-won freedom with one mediocre date with a neighbor girl. My mother eventually reneged on her stance against marriage and my fate was sealed, (How’s your girlfriend? she would ask him, every now and then, for the next 39 years. Fine, I expect, he would respond. How’s Sinbad?)

Fifteen years ago this October I rushed home early from my New Orleans honeymoon to say goodbye to my father for the last time. I will miss him forever – a word that I now understand.

But he left behind a woman who could not put gas in a car. Who couldn’t use a debit card. Who will not go anywhere alone. Who’s anxiety-induced behaviors had been so enabled, and that were so intensified by the realization of her greatest fear – being alone – that she can’t imagine the world any other way.

She wanted to be a writer, too.

She submitted to two magazines. Two rejection letters was all it took. I tell myself she must not have wanted it very badly, that it is so easy to let life distract us from our dreams, to convince us that what we have is enough – and given that I was part of what had to be enough for her, I hope that she made peace with that decision.

I received my first rejection letter from a magazine that no longer exists. I can’t remember the name. It took me twenty years to try again.

I don’t want my children to wonder why I never did.

I hate making mistakes, particularly in front of people. I am afraid of losing, because I’m afraid that’s all anyone will see.

But I try anyway.

I am terrified of being lost. When I drive long distances, I obsessively check my directions, to the point where it distracts me from the road, because I fear missing my exit and the Big Bad Wolf that awaits me at the next one.

But I go anyway.

I don’t like confrontation. I fear being outgunned, outsmarted, out trash-talked.

But if you leave me no other choice, I will fight.

The world will always be there to tell you why you are going to fail.

You can’t listen.

Even when it’s your mother.

Even when it’s MY mother.

Don’t do anything daring.

Like what?

(Originally published July 2015 on Sisterwives Speak)

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15 Comments

  1. Well, your mother and her friends certainly picked one of the right places in the world to be daring, even it just the once, and Lo, it included the kindness of strangers. “Don’t do anything daring.”? It seems to me that just getting born human on this crazy planet is pretty daring to start with. So, yea, “Like what?” What to be afraid of? Not having tried is a damn good choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this post when I read it on sisterwives and I still love it! I’m attempting to be more daring — currently I’m in the process of fighting with myself over my desire to just pack up my car with camping gear and head north, alone, for the long weekend — stopping when I find a pretty place. My logical (scared) side keeps telling me that I could be raped/murdered by a serial killer or eaten by a bear, that it looks like there will be rain, that I’ll be lonely and bored, that I don’t really even want to go and I should stay home instead. My daring side is telling me that I can always stay at a hotel if it rains, that I’ve always wanted to see many of the places that are within driving distance, and that I can take a bunch of books so I’m not bored. I’m still not sure who is going to win.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The only one of those things that could not happen anywhere, I assume, is being eaten by a bear. I think you go, and take precautions. Maybe plan a little. Maybe know what nice camping areas are the direction you are going. I understand the wanderlust. 🙂 go for it!

      Like

  3. Oh wow, oh wow! I think I must have missed this before, or if not, then I don’t remember it very well, but what an incredible story and WHAT inspiration!

    It’s so easy to become discouraged when things don’t go our way (as I have been, just this week, with two rejections on the same day) but…you’re right. I need to pick myself up and try again. I need to be more daring.

    THANK YOU for this. And for YOUR daring, because that’s how we met, and I’m so SO glad that we did ❤

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, one was a BlogHer thing (and some absolutely OUTSTANDING (imho) writers were also rejected, so I figure I had no hope), and the other was a poetry competition I didn’t win. But. I can try again. Poetry is such a subjective thing, so I guess mine just didn’t hit the spot with the judges, but I know it hit the spot with some people who read it so…I *should* be less down on myself about these things…alas, I feel what I feel what I feel.

        I hope the conversation was a good one. I feel sad for your mom’s life now, and how fear-filled it seems to be.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Given the volume of submissions vs. winners for Blogher, some outstanding writers were bound to be passed over – but I know its hard not to take it to heart. I always do. You are a very talented poet, and yes – the judging is subjective. I hate to sound like one of *those* people, but you only lose if you dont try. Also, I am frequently nervous when ordering in the drivethru, no matter how cocky I sound in this post….;)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. True, true. See…perspective. Something I so often lack ‘in the moment’ or even afterwards!

        You’re absolutely right about trying. I WILL try again. I will 🙂 Thank you.

        And you…I’m so glad you keep trying, in spite of whatever might be making you anxious.

        Liked by 1 person

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