For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid.
Not of anything in particular. Actually, that’s not true. I’m afraid of many particular things. In fact a list of the things I’m afraid of include (but is not limited to):
Thunderstorms, The Dark, Hang-up Calls, Parking Garages, The bulls that lived behind the rickety fence in my grandparents’ backyard, Flying, Toys coming alive at night, People in cartoon costumes, Sleeping with the windows open, Balloons, Snakes, Robbers, Firecrackers, Basements, and Sharks.
It’s amazing I’ve survived this long.
In sixth grade, I once answered the phone to a man who asked to speak to my father. I accidently told him my dad “wasn’t home” instead of my usual safety line of, “He’s in the shower.” The man hung up without saying goodbye and I spent the rest of the day staring out the window, grasping a steak knife, convinced he was coming for me.
This kind of imaginative fear was manageable when I lived in a safe, remote community but now I’m in Los Angeles – a city in which police sirens are as common as crickets in North Dakota.
To deal with this change I took precautions. While I lived alone, I made my apartment as safe as possible. I lived on the second floor and had only one, dead bolted, entrance. It felt safe, impenetrable, and cozy.
But now I live in a house – a house with multiple entrances and ground floor windows. Most people’s dream is my living nightmare.
When we first moved, in my husband, Jason, installed motion lights and screwed in door chains but nothing helped. I would lie in bed at night and listen for every unusual sound, sure something was out there.
Of course, nothing ever was – until a few months ago.
Jason went out of town for work and I tried to self-medicate with a few glasses of cabernet and re-runs of ‘The Office.’ I’d finally fallen asleep in a red wine haze only to be awoken three hours later by a noise.
A very loud scraping noise.
My dog, Linus, heard it too and we both sat up, our ears perked. Something or someone was definitely on our back porch.
I knew this was my time to be brave. To enact the plan I had gone over with myself countless times. Escape Route Number 7: Intruder On The Back Porch.
Move. I told myself. Get up and move.
Instead, I sat frozen. Blood pounded in my ears and I heard the noise again.
I yanked on the light by my bed and the noise stopped. My fear spiked. Without taking my eyes off our bedroom door I grasped for my phone. Who lived close? Who should I call?
I stumbled through my contacts until I found Jason’s friend Frank. He and his wife lived right down the street. Ignoring the fact that it was 3am I dialed.
It rang. And rang. (The sound outside started up again.) And rang.
My heart leapt into my throat.
“Frank. It’s Jessica. I think someone is trying to break in.”
He was awake immediately. Instructing me to stay where I was. To not move. To stay on the phone with him. He was in his car. He was two minutes away. He was at my door.
I was so afraid I almost couldn’t get out of bed to let him in. Eventually, I stumbled through the dark house and flung open the door to my hero: Frank, in his pajamas, with a bat.
I hugged him and he moved me aside. “Hug me later. I need to be prepared.”
He stalked through the house, bat raised, and pulled open the door to our porch. A chair had been moved but other than that there was no sign of an intruder. After canvasing our backyard he announced that I was safe.
I was too shaken to stay the night in my own home so I rode back with Frank. His wife, Nancy, was waiting up for me with a hug and a marathon of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
I fell asleep that night in their guest bedroom thinking about fear. How was it that a scaredy-cat like me had come to live in Los Angeles?
That was fear too. Because there is something else of which I’m afraid – more than sharks or balloons or snakes.
It’s never having tried.
That’s the good kind of fear, the kind that pushes me and keeps me going.
For all the other kinds, I have Frank. (And a new alarm system.)
The next day I returned home and after a little of my own detective work, and a much less terrifying daylight encounter, I figured out who my midnight stalker had been.
You know what I’m not afraid of?
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.