Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What are You Afraid of?

A recent incident of paranoia left me shaken. I was at the YMCA, doing my hours of Zumba, and I came across a person who looked remarkably like someone I knew--and mistrusted. Within moments I had constructed a scenario whereby this person and others had checked my kids out from the childcare area and taken them away. At the end of my exercise class, I would find my children gone, and I would never see them again.

Frightening stuff. Paranoid, yes, but frightening enough that I left the class and had a long discussion with the childcare staff about other people trying to check my kids out. I found out that my own husband would not be allowed to check them out without prior notification by me.

I felt relieved. I also felt stupid. And paranoid. But I just couldn't help it. I have one huge fear in my life, and that is losing my children.

When my oldest was an infant, I drove two hours a day with her to work, dropping her off in a daycare right across the street from where I taught (so that I could nurse her in between classes). I'd wake up from nightmares about trucks slamming into my car and killing her, and I drove stiff with tension, certain that if I lost my concentration for a second, my daughter would suffer for it.

Once I became pregnant with my second, the nightmares turned to drowning, where I would put my daughter in a floatation device, only to have someone steal it from her, and find her body drowned under the water. I cannot tell you how many times I woke up screaming from that one.

Now the nightmares mostly consist of losing my kids in public places, or having someone come into my house to take them. Each one makes it impossible to go back to sleep, for I know of nothing in the world so horrible as losing one of my kids.

I am not sure how to turn that fear into writing, but looking back at what I have written, much of my plays and novels deal with lesser fears, and fictionalizing them has helped me handle the fear more effectively. Fear provides a serious risk for the characters, one that readers will find compelling.

But are some fears too hard to face? I read a YA book about a month ago that shivered me to my bones, a book told from the POV of a girl who had been kidnapped, raped, and dominated by a man for nearly six years. It was too painful, too scary, and for the first time in my life I skipped to its end, just to make sure she got out of the situation. Had I not been a mother, I might have been able to read the book in its entirety. My children--and my greatest fear--made that impossible.

What minor fears work on you? What major fears are too much for you to handle? When do books go too far, or not far enough for you to care?


  1. Once you've lost one or two, it's not so bad. You sort of get used to it.

    And the trouble with teenagers is that they always manage to find their way home.

  2. I wonder what traumas might have sparked these fears. Maybe something when you were a child yourself.

  3. My fear is the same as yours... my kids mean everything to me, can't be too careful.

  4. I have lots of fears. The recent scare with Alex and tylenol overdose brought some to the fore.

    Many of mine make it to the page. Most, in fact, have been there, even the worst ones.