The Gift of Fear

Posted on November 10, 2010


Last week, my sister went for a hike up a mountain near Ojai, California.  She went by herself.

Mind you, this is a very independent, 33-year-old woman who lives by herself in a rough area of a major city.  She walks her dog there, goes out to eat and walks herself home, etc.  She’s traveled all over the world, including remote Central America and Africa.

My mother lost her mind, barraging me with IMs about how we could convince my sister to abstain from such incredibly dangerous activities in the future.

What can we do? she fretted. It’s just not safe! Anything could have happened, and no one would have known!

Mom, you used to let me ride my bike 6 miles through the woods to the next town when I was eleven.

That was different! There are predators out there, watching for women alone.  Ask one of the girls who’ve been snatched…oh, right, you can’t because they’re dead.


On Halloween, one of my co-workers chased a purse-snatcher down the wrong alley in Georgetown, where the snatcher’s friends were waiting, and got his face slashed with a knife in the ensuing melee.  He’s fine, but it was a dumb thing to do that could have been much worse.  After that angle had been thoroughly discussed, the women of my office moved on to the original crime, wherein a drunk young woman, walking with friends late at night but in a safe area, had her purse snatched.

I won’t let my daughter take a purse when she goes out, said one.

Even walking between here and Union Station at lunch (Ed. note: one perfectly fine block) I worry that I’m going to be mugged.

I can’t believe anyone goes into Rock Creek Park by themselves.  Look at what happened to Chandra Levy!  Why in the world would she have gone in there at such an odd time of day, and not told anyone where she was headed? (Ed. note: Rock Creek Park is a heavily traveled, yet heavily forested, park that winds throughout DC.  Levy allegedly went jogging there often, as do thousands and thousands of other DC residents.)

I submit that this line of thinking is patently ridiculous.  Those who fall victim to this mentality are victims of the 24-hour news cycle and exploitive journalism as practiced by the likes of that harridan Nancy Grace.

I have the gift of fear, in spades.  I’ve been terrified of being in my house alone, and terrified to walk the streets of my neighborhood.  But I had PTSD, because something horrible happened.  It was irrational, and I knew it, and took steps to get over it.

I don’t take foolish risks.  If it’s after midnight, or even before, I take a cab.  Especially if I’m by myself.  I don’t take candy from strangers.  If I’m traveling (I was in Central America and Africa too) I try to make sure someone knows my itinerary.  I don’t open my door to strangers; if I don’t know who’s at the door, I usually don’t even answer.  And honestly, having lived in the city for so long, I am spooked as hell now on quiet suburban streets, or driving down country roads at night.  The emptiness seems sinister; who would see if something went wrong?

But I still go, because I know I’m being silly.

I lived in DC on 9/11, and it scared the ever-loving shit out of me.  The aftermath was even worse, with all the speculation about new attacks.  What if something happens on Metro, and you’re trapped underground?  What if there’s a chemical attack in a mall?  What if there’s a dirty bomb downtown, and your house is stuck within the contaminated zone?  Should we all be carrying iodine pills, and $1,000 in cash, and have a car with a full tank of gas at all times and several exit routes memorized?

Well, no. You can’t live like that.  You have to take Metro to work, and buy jeans at Pentagon City.  So you go on about your business, and don’t think about all the catastrophic possibilities. (And then a year later, with 9/11 hysteria fading, there’s a spree of sniper attacks, and everyone loses their mind.  I’ve always said that it was a delayed reaction to 9/11, which was just too huge to process if you planned to keep living in a city that presumably had a big bullseye over it.)

I refuse to walk around with a constant mental soundtrack of possible disasters running in my head.  I’m not going out without my purse.  I frequently don’t even know where my car is parked.  If I had $1000 in cash on my person, I would have more shoes than Imelda Marcos.

And I wouldn’t hike up a mountain by myself, but only because I think walking uphill for fun is inconceivably wrong.  I would surely walk through Rock Creek Park, and my hypothetical future children will ride their bikes to the store for me to get milk as soon as they are able.

Do I need more fear, or is the rest of the world going crazy?


Posted in: Uncategorized