Monday, July 15, 2013

On Fear...

There have been two times in my life where I feared for my life more than a fleeting instance. The most profound occurred in the dark in the lonesome wild near Old Man Lake, with nothing but a fraction of a millimeter of nylon and an arm's reach separating myself and a grizzly bear. I can still recall my desperate wish to shut off my throbbing heart, and my conviction that its loud beating was certain to attract unwanted attention as I lay there otherwise paralyzed. That primal fear is a story for another day.

The second occurred long ago, during my freshman year of college. I was driving my beater old Cutlass Supreme back from East Lansing to my parents' home in rural northern Michigan on a twilit Friday evening. I think it was in the fall. Somewhere north of Bay City, I noticed a big pickup truck following me very closely. I ignored him at first, thinking he would soon pass me by at some outrageous speed. But he did not such thing. He stayed right on my tail, even after I deliberately slowed down. It was then I caught a glimpse of the driver, a scary looking man probably around thirty, who was clearly pissed. At me. Heaven knows why.

Perhaps I had committed some real or imagined driving faux pas. Perhaps he was drunk. Perhaps he was just in a pissed about this or that, and in the mood to mess with someone. All I knew is that he was tail-gaiting me very tightly, upset about something, and not going away.

So I got off at the next exit, outside Pinconning, and headed towards the town I knew was a few miles to the east. I was hoping he wouldn't follow, but of course the truck followed me. Then he started to pass me, pulled up along side, ranted something I could not remotely hear, and then fell back again to continue his tailgating. This continued until we reached town, where I tried to quickly turn off on a little side street. He was able to follow me though. We zig-zagged through the streets until we popped out on Pinconning's main street. It was getting dark, and for some reason that I can't recall, I decided that I wanted to go anywhere that was brightly lit. There was a McDonald's just down the road, so I slipped into their parking lot at the last second. The driver stopped at the drive's edge, blew his horn, shook his fist, and finally drove off.

As soon as he was gone, I fled somewhere else. I don't remember where anymore, just some other bright parking lot. I do remember, though, the fear. I was scared, more than I ever had been scared before, and would be again until the night on Old Man Lake. I was angry, too - a deep, dark undercurrent lay hid below the fear, waiting to explode. Looking back now with a couple more decade's worth of wisdom, I dread to think what would have happened if my car had stopped (thank you, my ancient Cutlass, for not conking out that night!), or I had had an accident in my panic, or the truck had boxed me in somewhere. Would I have fought? Fled? How? Argued? Could I have, or anyone have, kept their cool in such a situation? Doubtful. Nothing good would have come of such a situation, for either me or the ranting driver of the truck.

So the next time someone tells you that a kid walking down the street, minding his own business and eating his Skittles, wouldn't have been mortally afraid when a big, obviously angry guy in an SUV started hounding them before getting out of the SUV chasing the kid around in the dark, or if that someone tells you that the kid had no right to be in fear for their life or defend himself, or even be a bit irrational and angry, you can tell that someone that they absolutely, unequivocally full of it. Such a person has either never known real fear, or is being willfully dishonest.