Sunday, March 18, 2012

If I had Any Sense I’d have Scriptophobia

I felt disappointed and adrift without a Scintilla prompt. It’s like crack for writers. Then I saw a twitter feed for a bonus prompt to write about the time you left home. My family moved a lot, so leaving home was not a new experience for me. I looked forward to new adventures, locations and people. I was a fairly easy going kid, and usually made friends quickly with each move.

One summer I flew to London, England to spend a few weeks in England and Kenya with a British family Caroline, a Brit, was in my class at school, and her mother, a college professor, was journeying to Kenya for some anthropological research. Caroline and her brother each invited a friend to go along for summer. Caroline chose me because I’d had overseas travel experience and we were good enough friends to spend long stretches of time together. We’d be staying three weeks in England before jetting off to Nairobi.

This trip occurred only a few months after my mother passed away, and I had not yet exhibited residual effects of this trauma. Within a week of her dying, my brother Paul and I moved across the country to live with our dad, who had just started a new job. My oldest brother stayed behind because he was in college. When kids at my new asked where my mother was, I lied and said my parents were divorced and she stayed on the west coast. I couldn’t say the words, “my mother died.” My brother appeared to adjust well to the move, attending school each day, making new friends. With Mom gone, I cooked diner each night and the rest of us shared in housekeeping. We all kept busy and never talked about my mother.

A few weeks before the England trip, Memorial Day weekend, my father and I went boating on Lake Erie with some friends. I’d enjoyed boating since I was a kid, but as soon as we pulled away from shore I experienced ineffable dread. I clung to the side of the sailboat and did not want to keep my father out of my sight.

A few weeks later I flew over to England with another friend (who was going on to Germany after the rest of us left for Africa.) The three of us bunked together in Caroline’s room, and there were others in the flat; but the first night, after the lights went out and we settled down to sleep, I was engulfed in deep sadness.

I stood at the window, rain pelting on the window, and felt tears on my own face. I had been away from home countless times: summer camp, and sleepovers. By the time I was thirteen I’d been around the world twice. But never this far from my now fractured family before.

I think this is the first time I realized the weight of the past few months. My mother was always eager to hear stories from my adventures. She would not be hearing about this trip.

Teenagers resemble adults physically, but they lack the skill and development to process life changing events without consequences. This trip ignited seeds for phobias I developed in the ensuing years. I didn’t seek therapy because, other than my new fears of flying, boating and riding in a car, I was highly functional. (When I got my driver’s license I was afraid to drive on freeways.) The things that scare normal people like public speaking, snakes and heights have never bothered me.

Oddly enough, I credit Cosmopolitan magazine with helping me a few years later manage my irrational behavior. I read an article about fears and phobias and using behavior modification to get over tem. It took me forever to get to school and work because I refused to drive the freeways, so as a way to cure myself of this, I got in the car and drove to Oregon from Ohio to see my brother. Those first few miles I screamed and cried. By the time I reached Dayton the rhythm of the road calmed me down, and spent the next five days driving alone to Portland, Oregon.

I still have lurches of fear when friends and family go on journeys, either flying or driving. But these days that concern is rational; the world has gotten scarier. And reasons to hate flying go beyond fear.

I don’t like this prompt. It’s hard to “go there.” And remember that freakishly phobic girl. I didn’t HAVE to write this, but real writing comes from those dark corners we don’t want to visit.

So here is your prompt: What are you afraid to revisit? Go back there. Write about it.

Happy Writing.


  1. Oh, man. You did it again. You are "going there" in a beautiful way. I'm learning things I didn't know about you even after...God, how long HAVE we been friends? (ej)

  2. Wow. Powerful. I wish I could write nonfiction!