Fly Away

flyFor this week’s Finish the Sentence Friday post, I’m supposed to talk about my greatest fear.

Well, that’s awkward. 

Guys, I’m a mess. I’m claustrophobic.  I’m afraid to drive after dark or go outside on windy days. Maple trees terrify me. Big dogs, little rodents, unidentifiable noises when I’m alone. Basements. Bridges over large bodies of water. Thunderstorms. Car washes.

But here’s the thing about fears:

We all have them.

If you want to tell me that you are fearless, that nothing frightens you, go ahead. I will look you in the eye and call you a liar. Then I will turn and run like hell, because I just happen to be really afraid of confrontations.

Fear makes people do stupid things. When I see a snake, fear makes me pee.

When my boss glides up silently behind me and starts talking just a few inches from my ear, fear makes me spin around and shout, “For the love of God, woman, would you PLEASE wear a bell or something?!”

There was a time in my life when I thought of myself as fearless. I went to scary movies and convinced a group of my friends to sneak into an empty “haunted” house in my neighborhood. I even spent a few nights in a local graveyard where it was rumored that Al Capone’s mistress was buried. Local legend said that Flora liked to rise from her grave and dance at midnight, but she never seemed to feel much like dancing on the nights I was there. I never saw anything but a few bats and some people who were as gullible as I was.

I was a bit of a risk-taker. I went to a college in another state where I knew no one; I tried parasailing and rock climbing. I went on blind dates and fix-ups, and I took chances that make me want to go back in time and slap my younger self.

But I wasn’t really fearless when it came right down to it. I had one big fear that I just couldn’t face.

As long as I talked about my book without ever writing it, I never had to face the fear that maybe I couldn’t write a book. If I never let anyone read my work, no one could tell me to give up because I lacked talent As long as I never actually finished writing anything, I never had to face the fear that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t really a writer. 

I spent years talking about writing, learning to write, planning to write. I was dedicated to my dream, or so I told myself. I can look back now and see that the only thing I was dedicated to was my fear of failure.

And then life dropped a tree on my head.

So, now I’m afraid of maple trees and thunderstorms and sometimes the color blue if it’s the exact shade of the tarp they threw over my face during the rescue. I can have a panic attack every time I see a treetop bending in the wind. I’m terrified every time my kids leave the house because I understand now that all it takes is one second, one instant, one fluke of nature to take a life. I’m a neurotic mess who is pretty much afraid of everything.

And you know what all that fear has taught me over the last five years?

Life is short. There are no guarantees. “See you tomorrow” isn’t always a promise; sometimes, it’s a lie. All it takes is one mistake, one accident, one horrifying diagnosis, and guess what? Maybe you don’t get that tomorrow.

Do you have a dream that you’ve been putting off? Well, what are you waiting for? Whether you dream of writing a book or learning to paint or driving cross-country in a Winnebago, stop putting it off.

Try it.

Take a risk.

Don’t let fear tell you to put it off until tomorrow, because you never know when tomorrow just might drop a maple tree on your head. 

 

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
― Erin Hanson

 

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “One of my biggest fears I ever had to face…”

Hosts are Kristi from http://www.findingninee.com  and Michelle Grewe of  http://crumpetsandbollocks.com/

The Window

One of the high points of this past week was discovering that one of my all-time favorite bloggers has come out of hiding and started blogging again! If you’re not familiar with 23thorns, please take a few minutes to go check out his most recent post. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s get on with things. Reading his post about irrational childhood fears made me start thinking about my own childhood and some of the strange things I was afraid of. And thinking about that reminded me of what was pretty much the only good line in the Three Investigators movie that came out a few years ago:

“Why aren’t you afraid of the things you’re supposed to be afraid of?”

You see, I had these four aunts that I’ve mentioned a few times here in my blog. They had some pretty strange ideas of what was and was not appropriate for children. They thought nothing of waking my sisters and me in the middle of the night to take us out to the pier so we could watch the Coast Guard bring in a dead body. They also told us awful stories about ghosts that they swore they had actually seen; I don’t remember much about those stories, other than the fact that one ghost had an “Uncle Sam beard” and glowing eyes.

In short, I was never scared of ghosts or dead bodies. I had no fear of monsters or ghoulies or any of the things children with normal relatives are afraid of.

I was afraid of a window in the aunts’ basement. Terrified.

When we stayed with our aunts at their house in town, we all slept in the guest room in their basement. It was actually a very nice little guest room in a finished basement that included a formal sitting room with a fireplace. In retrospect, I’d have to say that their basement was nicer than the upstairs portion of any house I’ve ever lived in since.

Nothing scary about their basement.

Except for that window.

The guest room was in the farthest corner of the basement, and one had to cross the laundry room to get there. The bedroom was simply furnished, with a big double bed against the outside wall and a rollaway bed folded up beside it. When we were little, Aunt Marian would sleep down there with us, and we developed a complicated system to determine who got to sleep where. Marian slept in the middle of the big bed. The child who slept on Marian’s right was on “the new side” while the child on her left was on “the old side” and the child who got the rollaway was “out.”

My problems started on the nights when it was my turn to be on “the old side” because that’s where the window was.

My aunts had made the unusual decorating choice of hanging a full-length curtain covering the whole wall. Side-to-side, top-to-bottom, the entire wall was covered by curtains. There was nothing scary about the curtains themselves.

To my way of thinking, however, curtains covered windows. There was simply no other reason for a curtain to exist. It didn’t matter how many times my aunts tried to convince me that the only window on that wall was a tiny casement window near the ceiling; I remained firmly convinced that the whole surface behind that giant curtain was made of glass.

Still not so scary, you say? Oh, I beg to differ. (Or as Aunt Marian used to say: “I beg to diffy.” But that’s a subject for another day.)

Think about what would be on the other side of a window that made up an entire wall. A basement wall. I imagined worms and moles and underground beasties that would have no problem breaking the glass and snatching a sleeping child who was dumb enough to fall asleep when it was her turn to be on “the old side.”

Later, when we were big enough to sleep alone downstairs, we added a whole new level of terror to the basement bedroom. It was an older house, and there was no light switch at the bottom of the stairs. That meant turning off the light at the top of the stairs and making our way down the steps, across the laundry room, and into the bedroom in the dark.

In the basement.

A dark basement.

With a big, scary window.

I am the youngest, and probably still the most gullible of the three of us. I think it goes without saying that I was usually the loser at any kind of rock-paper-scissors or what-number-am-I-thinking or even eenie-meenie-miney-mo challenge to see who was going to be left alone at the top of the stairs to turn off the light after the other two made it safely into the bedroom.

It was me. It was always me. My big sisters would holler up at me when they had made it to the bedroom, and then it was my turn.

Let me just say for the record that we are not stupid women. None of us. So it escapes me now why it never occurred to any of us to just turn on the bedroom light for the poor, unfortunate sap stuck at the top of the stairs.

Which, in case you missed it, was me.

I would flip the switch and let out a bellow and take off, screaming all the way down the stairs and across the laundry room. As soon as my toes hit the threshold of the bedroom, I would launch myself through the air in the general direction of the bed — because apparently I assumed the basement creatures couldn’t get me if I never touched the carpeting.

Since my sisters were usually in the bed by that point, and because I’ve always better at launching than landing, my landings usually resulted in a bit of bruising and a lot of swearing. Which then led to one of the aunts flicking on the light and hollering down at us to settle down and watch our language.

Really, I swear we are not dumb people in my family. I promise.

We just do really dumb things.

For example, my oldest sister came home from college one weekend and rearranged the furniture in that basement bedroom. My aunts never rearranged furniture. Ever. Nothing ever changed in their home. Ever.

So it was completely logical for me to assume during my next stay with the aunts that the bedroom was arranged exactly the same as it had always been. Furniture simply did not move at my aunts’ house. Ever.

Even though I was in high school and staying at their house without my sisters on that particular weekend, I still followed the same bedtime routine I had always followed: turn off the light at the top of the stairs, sprint down them and across the laundry room, and go airborne into the nice, big bed that had always been there.

And which was now not there.

As I recall, I did a magnificent Berber face-plant and went into a long, slow skid toward the curtained wall. At that moment, I didn’t care about the rug burns on my face. All I could think of was Don’t break the window!

So, here I am, nearly fifty years old, and I have a lot of fears in my life. I’m afraid of my children being hurt, I’m afraid of thunderstorms, and I have a weird love-hate attitude toward maple trees. I still hate basements and would rather go up in a tornado than take shelter in a Michigan half-cellar. But nothing in life will ever terrify me as much as the window in my aunts’ basement.

What about you? What were you most afraid of as a child?

 

Ice, Ice Baby

One of the most challenging aspects of adapting to life with my new physical limitations has been learning to deal with fear.  Of course, I’ve got the kinds of fear that are to be expected after the type of accident I went through; nobody can blame me for freaking out during thunderstorms or losing control in confined spaces.  People understand when I tell them about the big fears.  It’s the little fears that make folks think I’ve lost my mind.

When the doctor took off that brace, he warned me about all of the activities I would have to avoid for the rest of my life. Horseback riding? Well, the horses of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief on that one. Speedboats? Not a problem, except when the Big Guy got carried away with the fishing boat.  Sledding, bumper cars, carnival rides?  Slight tremor there; I always liked that sort of thing.  Diving? Okay, I’m going to miss that one.

Then came the kicker.  “You’re going to have to be really careful about falling,” he told me.

Oh, Lord.  My then-husband dropped his face in his hands and groaned.

Here’s the problem:  I’m a klutz.  Always have been, always will be.  I have not ounce of physical grace or coordination.  You’ve heard the saying about people having “two left feet”?  Well, I’ve got three of them.  I’m forever stepping into holes or rolling an ankle, stumbling over nonexistent things, tumbling down hills.

I’ve lost count of the times I would fall into holes or down hills while walking with my husband, only to catch up to him as he stood there with a mystified look on his face, muttering “ . . . the hell did she go?”

So my heart sank when the doctor told me to be careful about falling.  Because of the location and sheer amount of damage done to my neck, I have to avoid anything that might have any kind of impact on my spine.  A simple slip on the ice or on stairs, for example, with a hard landing on my derriere, could do irreparable harm.

My first big fall happened about six months later.  I was rushing out the back door for something or other, tripped over the dog, and launched myself face-first into a snowbank.  I lay there on my belly for the longest time doing a mental inventory.

Can I move? Check.

Does my neck hurt? Nope.

Am I dead? Don’t think so.

Then why the hell am I laying in the snow? Umm. . . Dunno.

I got up rather sheepishly and headed back inside, feeling a thousand pounds lighter at the realization that a fall wasn’t going to kill me.  I lost a lot of my fear that day, but I still catch myself walking like I’m constantly on ice.  I stare at the ground and take tiny steps, avoid uneven ground, clutch at handrails as though my life depends upon it.

I move like an old lady.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made a vow to myself that at least once a week, I am going to do something that scares me.  Something that may seem small to others but represents a huge step for me, like posting a selfie online, or asking a very handsome man to meet me for a drink.  The selfie went well, Mr. Handsome said no, and I survived both.  (For the record, Mr. Handsome was very kind about it, so my feelings weren’t hurt at all.)

So last week, I faced my fear of walking on dangerous surfaces.  I walked to and from work every day.  Granted, it’s only about two blocks, and I should be embarrassed about all the times I was lazy enough to drive that far, but we’re not going to talk about that.  Not right now, anyway.  No, I walked on the slippery ice and uneven ground, through deep snow and bumpy driveways, and it didn’t hurt.  I skidded and stumbled a few times, but no biggie.

I made it over the big hurdle.  It’s the little ones that always seem to get me.

I got up early Saturday morning to make my trademark peanut butter no-bakes for a fundraiser that afternoon.  Of course, I was out of milk, so I bustled outside to shovel out my car, which I hadn’t had to bother with since I’d been walking to and from work.

I had a flat tire.

A quick text message to the ex and an even quicker prayer of thanks that I can still call on him for help, but there was still the matter of the milk for the cookies.  Well, I thought, I’d walked back and forth from the school for five days; why not a quick jaunt to the store?   Temps had climbed from sub-zero to mid-40’s, so it would be safer than it had been all week.

Or so one would assume.

I hit that patch of ice on the way home while stepping around a nasty-looking, slushy drain.  It must have been the only piece of ice that was still fully frozen.  I didn’t even have time to holler; feet went up and butt came down and I hit hard, right on the tailbone.  I felt that impact all the way up into my skull.  Exactly the kind of fall the doctor had warned me about.

Let me tell you, I sat in the middle of that road for a long time.   It hurt, but I was so surprised that I really couldn’t tell how much it hurt.  I just sat there doing the same mental inventory I had done before.

Can I move? Check.

Does my neck hurt? Well, yeah.

Am I dead? Don’t think so.

Hot damn.

I finally crawled over to the curb and hauled my slushy self upright so I could walk home.  I made my cookies, called in a few apologies to the people who were expecting me to work the fundraiser, and sat down to wait for the pain to kick in.  Which it did.

So today has been a slow day involving lots of ibuprofen and hot tea.  I ache in ways I can’t even describe; everything from the waist up is on fire.  But . . .

I fell.

I fell in the worst way possible.

And I’m still here.

Those little fears?  Getting smaller every day.

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Obviously I’ve never been afraid to accessorize.

In The Woods

I don’t talk about my husband in my blog very often, other than the occasional mention of him as just a part of a story or commentary.  He is a very private individual who is uncomfortable with some of the things that I talk about here, so I respect his wishes and try not to shine the spotlight on him.  Besides, most of the times that I really want to talk about him are times when I really shouldn’t say the things I am thinking.  Especially not in writing.

However, we had an experience yesterday that I really feel the need to share because it shows a side of the man that people don’t usually see.

It started with a Trail Cam. This is a motion-activated camera that he got for Christmas a few years ago, ostensibly for use in identifying the best hunting spots on our forty wooded acres.  In theory, he is supposed to hang it in different places on our property for several days at a time so that he can get pictures of deer traffic, day or night.

I say “in theory” because he has used it for so much more.  He set it up to find out what kind of animal was messing with our bird feeders (raccoons) and put it near the mailbox to see who was disturbing our mail.  He has also had far too much fun hiding it in random spots around the house and then showing me pictures of myself in all kinds of unflattering nose-picking or butt-scratching shots.

Yeah, think about that for a moment.  Think about the things you do when you’re alone in your house, and let your mind wander about what kinds of pictures a hidden Trail Cam might get of you.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Creepy, right?

Yesterday, he sent me an interesting email from work.  Apparently, he took the camera’s memory card into work with him and was looking at the pictures on his lunch hour, and he found some pictures that he thought I should see.

I brought my trail cam card to work to look at pictures. There are some crazy things that go on in our woods at night.

Picture one made me go, “well, all right.”  Nice to know there’s at least one nice-looking buck out there.

PICT0132

Then I looked at picture two.

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You know those little tiny hairs on the back of the neck?  Mine stood straight on end. Goosebumps started popping up all over the place.

Then I looked at picture three and immediately felt a very strong urge to pee my pants.

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That poor baby! Was my first thought.  Was she still out there?  There had been a news story the previous night about a missing two year-old child in Grand Rapids; I wondered if she had somehow been transported to our area.

Then I looked at the date and time on the pictures:  August 22, 4:02 a.m.

My goose bumps gave birth to goose bumps.  My lungs went on strike and utterly refused to take in one more breath.  My eyes started watering.  My teeth chattered.

There is absolutely no way a little girl like that was roaming free in our woods at four in the morning two months ago.  We live in the middle of nowhere and there are coyotes and other wild animals out there that would not have left her unharmed.

Our nearest neighbor is close to a half-mile away.  They are weekend neighbors from Chicago, what the locals refer to as FIPs, and most FIPs are generally too busy looking down their noses at the locals to actually mingle with us.  It is highly doubtful that people of their elevated social status and self-importance would ever allow a child to wander in our dirty woods, day or night.

That left one other option, and my mind absolutely refused to wrap itself around it.

You see, we have a ghost in our house.  This house belonged to her aunt and uncle, and she spent a great deal of time here when she was growing up. Her brief and troubled life was torn apart by drug use and bad relationships, and local rumor says that she had four children taken away from her by Protective Services shortly before she died of an overdose.

I have seen the ghost several times, usually during my pregnancies or when one of my kids has been sick.  She stands over my husband’s side of the bed and gives me a sad smile before she vanishes.  Sometimes, she randomly turns on lights or the TV or some other such mischief.  She never does any harm.  She is just very, very sad and I think she stays at our house because she was happy here during her lifetime.

Looking at the pictures of that tiny girl in our woods, I just knew it was a childhood incarnation of our ghost.  Or perhaps it was one of her children that is no longer among the living, doomed to forever search our woods at night, looking for her mommy.

I was terrified.  Mind-numbing, pants-pissing, teeth-chattering terrified.  There it was, visual confirmation that we have more than one ghost.  After all, the times when I have seen the ghost in our bedroom have been times when I was just waking up, just coming out of a deep sleep; there is always a tiny possibility that those sightings are just very realistic dreams.  But an actual digital photograph of a ghostly little girl was just too much to comprehend.

I sent the pictures to my big sister and to one of my best friends.  And I started feeling less fear and more sadness for that poor baby.  That poor, tiny, lost soul, wandering our woods. I found myself wiping away a few tears as I thought about her.

Hubby and I continued to exchange emails as the day went on.  We exchanged theories about her identity and tried to find ways to explain who she could be and how she could have ended up in the woods, but we always came back to the fact that she just couldn’t have been a real flesh-and-blood little girl.

Near the end of the work day, I asked

You think the FIPs and their kids wander the woods at night, or do you really think it’s a ghost?

His answer?

I think those were tampered with pictures and I am messing with you.  LOL.

I don’t usually like being scared.  I have enough fear in my life, fear of really, really stupid things.  I hate slasher flicks and gore.  Even though the movies are about fictional people, I end up feeling so sad about the lives ending so suddenly at the hands of Freddy or Jason or whoever.

But I have a secret:  I love a good supernatural scare.    I adore movies that make me jump and scream.  I don’t want to watch “The Conjuring” or “Amityville Horror”, but sit down at a Ouija Board with me and just watch me shiver.  I’m talking about that delicious kind of shiver that starts at my gray roots and picks up speed on its way to my toes, only to meet itself coming back up.

I love the kind of scare that can truly be described as the “heebie-jeebies” because I am unable to utter anything other than noises that sound like “heebie” and “jeebie”.

You know, the kind of noises I made yesterday while looking at those pictures and pissing myself.

The best/worst part of this is knowing that my husband got me.  He pranked me good, and I fell for it.  Beneath the flannel and Carrharts, buried deeply under the aw-shucks country boy exterior and let’s-take-care-of-business attitude toward work, there lurks the heart of the world’s best prankster.

He reigns undefeated.

I want revenge.  I want to get back at him.  But really, let’s be honest here. I can’t top this one.  He wins.

Again.

Damn it.

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