“WAKE UP!” my best friend screamed, startling me from a sound sleep. It was midnight, I was ten years old, and we’d just conked out after a giggly evening at her house.
“What is it?” I asked, immediately alert. It was impossible to be groggy through her ear-splitting shrieks.
“FIRE THERE’S A FIRE WAKE UP IT’S A FIRE”
Goodness, I thought. We’d better get out of here, then.
I’d been to her place before. It was a second-floor apartment in a very open, outdoorsy complex. Her bedroom wasn’t far from the front door. My overnight bag was near, but there wasn’t anything in it I’d regret losing. Anyway, all the fire safety classes at school had told us not to try to bring anything with us if we had to leave a burning building.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” my friend yelled.
“It’s not HERE,” she said, as if irritated by my obtuseness. “LOOK.”
She pointed at the window. Across the way, another building was in flames.
The emergency vehicles were already there, which was probably what woke her up. The place was pretty badly burnt, but at least the fire wasn’t going to spread. We certainly weren’t in any danger.
We watched solemnly. Nobody was shouting or crying, and there weren’t any ambulances, so we didn’t have to feel guilty about our fascination.
Later, when we were trying to fall back asleep, I asked the question that had been puzzling me since she’d hollered me awake. “If you knew our building wasn’t on fire, why were you shouting so much?”
She looked at me as if my hair had just turned green. “If our building had been on fire,” she said in a duh tone of voice, “I wouldn’t have been able to say a word. I would have been too busy screaming.”
I haven’t thought about this incident in years. But something that happened yesterday brought it to mind.
Not a fire, thankfully. Nothing dangerous at all. I’m pretty sure.
I certainly didn’t feel as if I were at risk. And that’s what got me thinking.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Yesterday morning, I went for a jog. I live in a city but my apartment is near a quiet residential area. If I’m out early enough, I can feel as if I have the whole world to myself.
I was out before six and the morning was so perfectly peaceful it felt like a prize I’d won without even having to buy a raffle ticket.
I’m a creature of habit and tend to run the same loop. As I was about to turn around and head home, I noticed some movement in the pretty, rustic-looking yard of a lovely house.
At first I thought: aw, cute dog. But this furry brown quadruped wasn’t shaped right for that. The proportionality of the legs was off. And those long tall pointy ears! Gawd, this little weirdo was flippin’ adorable! Maybe it was a deer?
Regrettably, we do not live in deer territory.
We do, however, get our share of coyotes.
This one looked as surprised to see me as I was to see it. I’m sure we were both thinking about the same thing, albeit in our different ways: should I be worried?
I felt calm, and curious, and frankly delighted.
I didn’t feel worried.
Problem is, I often don’t when I really should.
I wasn’t scared by that fire even when I thought it was in the same building I was.
I hadn’t been scared the year before the fire, when a school bully gave me a hard time. She’d menaced most of the girls in my class, and now it was my turn. She cornered me in the restroom, threatened me, and then dared me to fight her. I guess she figured she was safe against someone who spent as much time in the library as I did. She looked absolutely shocked when I shrugged and punched her. Then she started to cry.
For the record: I didn’t enjoy it, any more than I enjoyed thinking I was in a house fire. In both cases, I planned a route to the door and acted accordingly. I didn’t enjoy it. But I wasn’t scared.
I also wasn’t scared a few years later at a Greyhound bus station when a man pulled out a shotgun and started shouting. He was talked down and restrained a minute later. No one was hurt.
If my feelings could have been put into words, they would have been something like the worst will happen or it won’t.
I didn’t want the worst, but I wasn’t afraid of it.
I’m not afraid of snakes. Or bees. Or spiders. Or scorpions.
I’ve had surgery a few times, and I wasn’t afraid of that. I’m hoping to volunteer for surgery once the world opens up a little more. I’ve been wanting to donate a kidney anonymously for years now. It’s finally starting to look like a good time for it. I’m figuring out how to make sure this works for everyone involved: my family, my pets, the building I manage. I’m worried about my recovery period being difficult to manage logistically. But afraid? No.
I’m not afraid of flying in a plane – in fact, I love it, especially when I can have a window seat. But I haven’t been able to fly very often, even before the pandemic.
That’s partly because I’m broke. But part of the reason I don’t fly very often is: even when I can afford to, I think about going to the airport. I think about being at the airport. All those people. All those questions. Forms to fill out. Ambient noise to deal with. People talking to me and expecting – demanding – answers.
I love roller coasters. I’m terrified of cars.
I have run into the middle of the street to grab a runaway stroller, pushed it back to the sidewalk, shrugged off a parent’s thanks, and gotten back to my jog without thinking any more about it.
I have run back into my apartment because the mail carrier is between me and the building entrance and my social anxiety is running things today.
The best afternoon of my life was spent on the back of a galloping horse.
The worst afternoon of my life was spent driving somewhere I hadn’t been before. Doesn’t matter where. Doesn’t matter why. It was just an errand. To a place I’d never been before how am I supposed to get through this I can’t do new places why won’t people let me stay home.
I am utterly daunted by things most people don’t seem to think twice about.
I am unfazed, even delighted, by things that really should bother me.
I know this. I just don’t seem to be able to change it.
I’ve been asking around, and this seems to be an autism thing. We’re the ones who do just fine in genuine emergencies and then curl up into a ball because oh sorry there’s some paperwork to fill out now.
I’d written most of this post when I got a call from my spouse. He went in for an outpatient pain-treatment procedure this morning. He’d spoken to the staff several times and they assured him that he’d be fine to drive home after.
Plot twist: all the people he talked to were wrong and no he couldn’t take a ride-share home.
Here’s how THAT went, in case you’re wondering.
Me: wait okay wait okay wait
Me: you’re saying you need me to drive somewhere new today
Spouse: I’m really sorry.
Me: but I didn’t know I’d have to drive today
Me: I really need to know in advance if I’m going to have to drive somewhere
Me: we know this about me this is an established fact
Spouse. I know. I’m sorry.
Me: wait okay hang on okay wait I have to check something
Spouse: …um, okay…
Me (frantically running downstairs): why didn’t they tell you I needed to drive today
Spouse: It was a miscommunication between the doctor and the hospital staff.
Me: okay I’m looking at the car
Me: okay I’m in the car
Me: I turned the key a little but it isn’t really “on”
Me: the car I mean
Me: is that what it’s called when a car starts is it “on” I’m not good at cars
Spouse: I haven’t actually had the procedure yet…
Me: I know just let me do this
Spouse: That’s fine.
Me: so if I have between a quarter and a half of a tank of gas is that enough?
Me: There and back again?
Spouse: That’s right!
Me: ARE YOU SURE???
We sorted it out eventually. Suffice to say it was just as well for everyone involved that in the end I did not have to drive to a new place on a day that nobody told me I was going to have to drive today seriously neurotypicals I don’t know how you do this but I think you’re kind of weird.
I’m going to go for another morning jog tomorrow. Early. It’ll be beautiful and quiet and I’ll get to feel like the only person in the whole world.
Unless I’m lucky enough to see more coyotes, of course.
Maybe this time I’ll get to see a whole pack of them.
That would be so cool.