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Nothing to be Afraid Of
By Heather Quinn


I only half remember the day you took us to ride bikes on some dirt hills next to a park in our neighborhood. I have the home video, shot on VHS, and it’s better than my memory. In the video, you want us to go down the tallest, steepest hill, but we all hesitate.

“I can't believe you guys are such chickens,” you yell. “Go down that hill!”

You don't sound angry. Just weary and disappointed, which felt worse. You film us going down smaller slopes, impatience and boredom evident through the camera eye, scanning side to side, barely following, exploring the landscape and the tract housing beyond the rugged natural area at the edge of our suburb.

Then I call to you. I'm at the bottom of a taller hill, not the tall one you want but steeper and higher than what we had been doing. “Go ahead!” you say. The camera looks off toward the landscape again, away from me, and when you point it back, I'm at the top.

I position my wheel to the edge then back away. I get off the bike and then on again several times, pace around the edge, as if to find the ideal spot to launch down. I'm stalling because I'm afraid. 

“Put your brakes on! You don't have to do it at top speed!”

I stall some more, adjust my position on the bike, check my brakes.

“How come you're such chickens?”

Finally, I go down. To my disappointment, now, watching it so many years later, I hear no words of excitement from the cameraman. No pride from a father watching his daughter overcome a fear of heights. Instead you pan across the landscape some more, train it on my brother and sister, experiment with placing your sunglasses in front of the lens.

The scene cuts and now you're filming on top of the hill, right next to me. I hesitate some more. 

“Come on, you guys act like it's a mountain or something!” 

From the top, it does look steep, and tall.

“I'm going to go down here!” I shout to my brother and sister.

“Don't worry, it won't hurt,” you say. “It won't. I swear. I promise.”

I shout to my brother and sister again. 

“I'm watching,” you say. “They can watch it on the movie. Don't wait for them. You can be the first one to be brave.”

And that's what does it. I ride down. The camera follows me, and then I ride back to you.

“There's too much butterflies in my stomach,” I say.

“Well, how did it feel?” you ask.

“Scary.”

“Fast, huh?”

“Yeah, and scary.”

“You gonna do it again?”

“Okay.”

So much importance placed on being brave. I say “scary,” you say “fast.” And fun is implied, too. Scary isn't good enough. Fear isn't a good enough reason to stop.

I remember your anger after I woke up screaming from a nightmare. I was seven, had just experienced my first California earthquake, and had been having nightmares about it for days. You got me paper and crayons.

“Draw a picture of what you think is going to happen,” you command.

It’s winter, so I draw a picture of the Christmas tree, wavy lines to indicate that the star at the top is swaying. 

My real fear is undrawable, unspeakable: the ground not a solid thing, solidity not to be counted on, earth that can move and writhe and open up to swallow me, and you, and all of us. That is my dream, my fear. 

I don't tell you that. I just show you the swaying star. It seems feeble, and pathetic, my fear. You clearly think so.

“See, there’s nothing to be afraid of."
Heather Quinn is a graduate of Portland State's MFA in creative nonfiction. They have been published in The Rumpus, Under the Gum Tree, The Riveter, Cutbank, Vela, and others. They currently live in Minneapolis with their husband and two daughters.