AFRAID

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Sean Dietrich

By SEAN DIETRICH

Nighttime. I’m driving a two-lane highway. I like two-lanes. I like old fence posts. Old barns. I like all sorts of things. I like driving. It puts me at ease.

You have no reason to care about this, but I used to worry a lot. I still do, but I worried more back when I was a kid. After my father passed, I was afraid of everything.

Confession. As a boy, sometimes I’d lie in bed and feel so scared I couldn’t catch my breath. I don’t know what I was afraid of exactly. I suppose nobody tells you grief feels just like fear.

So I was afraid. Plain and simple. Afraid

of almost everything. Afraid my family would die. Car accidents were another particular fear. I was afraid of vacant houses, doctors, hurricanes, tsunamis, realtors, two-percent milk, etc.

Of course, it wasn’t like this before my father pulled his own plug. Once upon a time, I played baseball, ate ice cream, and fished in creeks, carefree.

Fear has a way of taking over. At night, I’d wonder if death was going to swallow me whole. Irrational, I know. But young boys aren’t rational.

But getting back to night driving. When I was fourteen, I’ll never forget when my friend and I snuck out of Saturday night prayer meeting. We were there with his grandmother. She was a sweet, white-haired woman who memorized Bible verses and smoked Winstons like a tugboat.

I remember when my pal leaned against his grandmother’s car and jingled her keys which he’d taken from her purse.

“Wanna go for a drive?” he said.

“Right now?” I said.

“Why not?”

“Um, it’s prayer meeting?”

His smile was a wild one.

I didn’t want to. I was—you can probably guess—too afraid. I was afraid we’d wreck. Afraid we’d wake up in county lock-up with orange jumpsuits and a roommate named Bad Bart McThroatslicer.

But my friend wasn’t like me. He wasn’t afraid. Something about this was refreshing. He begged me to get in the car. It was terrifying, but I did.

We rode his grandmother’s vehicle down gravel roads at slow speeds. We saw deer cross the highway. We avoided kamikaze possums. We didn’t pass a single car, only empty farmland. And this experience did something to me. It calmed me somehow. Neither of us said much. We only took in the country miles.

Finally, he parked near a creek. He pitched me the keys.

“Your turn to drive,” he said.

“Me?” I said.

“Yes, you.”

“No way.”

“Suit yourself,” he said. “But I ain’t driving us back. We’ll be in a heap of trouble if you don’t drive us home.” Then he winked. “Quit being afraid.”

“I don’t know how.”

“You’re stronger than you think you are.”

He jumped out of the car and sat on the edge of the creek, legs dangling. And I cussed myself. Why couldn’t I be fearless? Why wasn’t I made that way?

My breathing got fast. Sweat accumulated on my forehead. I took the keys and started the car. He jumped in. And thus, I drove us home with both of my trembling hands on the wheel.

And while I know this wasn’t the world’s greatest story, that night I did actually feel something. I wish I could tell you that I felt less afraid, but that wasn’t it. I felt strong. And I have learned that sometimes, feeling strong can make fear easier to bear.

Right now, I’m passing farmland. The stars are putting on a great show. It all reminds me that the fella writing you right now is stronger than he knows. And the same goes for you.

So I don’t know where you are tonight, or who you are, or what kind of private hell you’re going through. But some fella you’ve never even met is thinking about you.

And you’re stronger than you think you are.

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