Reflections in Fear
Death Came With the Sun at its Back
The days begin to lengthen as the world thaws. But not here. Here, the ice has just arrived, and with it the sense of cold that only used to come deep in the night. Not the cold of frigid air, but the cold of emptiness.
I remember last week, a woman fell asleep at the wheel and came barreling toward me on the sidewalk. Her children asleep in the back. A tired little family, resting together in a 2 ton, metal bullet. I remember that I ran to the left, behind a row a trees as I waited for the SUV to slow and finally stop. A tree now bears a splintered wound on its side where the trunk was blown apart by the sleeping woman. A sign that said simply "35 mph" now lay bent in the dirt. It was still warm that day. The sun was warm, and I was walking alone to clear my mind while dressed in a tank top. I thought Winter would never come.
Every night since then, I've thought of her. How she cried and held her two frightened children to her breast, cowering on the sidewalk. I called for an ambulance to come and make sure they were all okay. I said to the emergency operator, "They seem fine, just really shaken up. The boy is holding his lip, so he may have been hurt. But not badly. Someone should check them out and make sure." She gave me a hug to thank me for being there for her. She clutched me tightly, shaking and thanking me for being there. For helping them and letting her use my phone while hers was trapped in the smoking, broken would - be coffin. She hated herself for what she had done. She said she couldn't believe that she had put me in danger. But I hadn't felt any fear. I just got out of the way.
After I filed my statement, I told her I would say hi if she was still there when I came back down the road. I walked down to the store a few blocks away, just as I had been planning to before the four of us were faced with death. I got something to drink, and a pack of cigarettes with a handful of change. She was still there when I returned a short while later, and she was talking on the phone. The two children were jumping over her purse and running in circles. I waved, and continued on. Unscathed, untouched, and unbothered. But when I got home my legs were shaking.
So I remembered another time. When I was standing with my best friend, on the yard arm of a great sailing ship. We noticed that the water was coming closer, while the other side of the yard was rising up. The yard hadn't been secured when we went aloft, and with our weight all on one side, we were plummeting toward the sea, unfastened to anything to keep the hunk of wood that we were bent over in its place. We calmly yelled to deck, trying to alert the crew that the yard needed to be fixed. With a jerk, the end of the yard that I was on reached its furthest angle, and my weight was thrown down and out to the side away from the boat. I held fast and I braced myself, feeling tension in my right ankle as it caught my momentum. No one on deck responded. We yelled down to deck again, trying to get someone to pull us back upright. Several moments passed before the captain left the con and ran to the foredeck, and pulled the sheets in until we were back to a normal position. We finished furling the sail and moved back onto the platform.
The danger had passed, but I couldn't climb the shrowds back down to deck. I hadn't felt afraid at all, but my legs were shaking uncontrollably. I had to wait until my body would listen to me again.
Out Come the Wolves
Another instance comes to mind when I think of fear.
A few years ago, I decided to go on a winter survival expedition with a couple of friends. We went out into the Olympic mountains in February, with the intention of setting up a camp, cooking our packed in food, and staying in the snow for the weekend.
We set up camp, built a fire, and cooked some food. Then, we decided to head off together to find more evergreen boughs to reinforce and insulate our shelter. We still had a couple of hours before sundown.
We had set up camp a short walk from a lake. Mostly because the spot wasn't far from where our little truck got stuck in the snow, and because it was a short walk to water and to the main road. I got a feeling of unease while we were out gathering boughs. I had no legitimate reason for this uneasiness, but I did describe it to my friends. We decided to hurry up with our gathering mission and return to our camp. Dusk was just starting to fall when we returned, and we were setting up our bedding in the shelter. We heard a very strange sound echo through the trees. At first, it sounded like an owl.
We talked a bit and decided that it must have been an owl. Nothing else in the Olympic mountains makes such a deep sound. But then it happened again. And again. This time, from the other side of us. It was wolves. We heard the deep, hollow sounding woofs and howls coming from every direction. We were surrounded. They must have been near the water source and smelled the meat that we had cooked over the fire. We gathered our gear and stood with our backs to each other, a firearm in each of our hands. We moved out of the trees and onto the road in formation, and made our way down the road to the truck we had left stuck in the snow. We kept hearing the howls, and aside from a glance up a hill near the camp, we hadn't seen them. Their howls let us know that they were following us down the road. One friend dug snow out from in front of the truck, while the other drove, and I stood in the bed, holding an AR-15 and a flashlight, making sure that the wolves who only seemed emboldened by our warning shots, didn't try to close in.
We finally got out of the deep snow and were able to make it down the road and out of danger, but I was freezing. It wasn't until we were moving at reasonable speed and out of danger that my legs began to shake uncontrollably.
I've remembered her tear-washed face every night now. I remember how I was concerned for her, and glad that she was okay. I remember her scolding herself over and over about how she had nearly killed me. And truly, when I think about it, she had. I was only about 15 feet in front of her when I ran out of the way. Why hadn't I been afraid at the time? My body was.
When that yard arm loosened, and threw me out toward the San Francisco Bay, I was in real danger. I was wearing a safety harness which would have caught me, but you don't think of such things in the time. You treat the situation like you would if you weren't strapped in. If I hadn't held so tightly and caught myself in that moment of clarity, I would have fallen. I could have been seriously hurt. Why wasn't I afraid then? My body was.
I know that it's probably a good thing. To be able to think clearly in the face of danger, but it does feel strange to me. I wonder how I learned this. Has danger just been so common throughout my life that it has become second nature to act appropriately? Probably.
It's cold now. The ice threatens every step I take. So I like to wrap up in warm furs and blankets, and rest in the dark. When I do, I can't help but think of that cold and dry feeling that I've felt so many times. Maybe I should have cried.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Yamuna Hrodvitnir