Fearless

March 3, 2010
She had an odd expression on her face, one I hadn’t seen before. She wore a calm mask, but her eyes were worried, sad. My brother and I didn’t question it; all we knew was that we got to get out of school early. Both of my pilot parents were out flying trips at the time and our au-pair, Karina, was staying with us. When she got off the phone that night, she informed us that our parents would be home a few days later than expected. She was tense but tried to pretend otherwise. She wouldn’t let us watch the TV or listen to the radio, but it wasn’t until later that week when our dad came home that we found out what had really happened. He told us gently, not trying to scare us too much, but there is no easy way to describe the events of September 11th, 2001 to kids who are only seven and eight years old. I heard the words he was saying, but I couldn’t quite understand the enormity of it all. I pictured myself in a big red target, the one all the terrorists were aiming for.
My interpretation wasn’t far off, considering we lived just outside of Washington, DC.

A police officer stood alertly on the baseball field, one hand hovering near his gun, ready to draw it in a moment’s notice. He told us that my brother’s baseball game was cancelled and that we were to return home immediately. There was a sniper on the loose. I inched closer to my parents and glanced off into the woods behind the field, imagining someone hiding there watching, waiting. Every day more people around our area were shot. The variety of different victims indicated that the culprit had no motive, other than to kill. While putting gas in the car, my parents made me lie down across the back seat, so that if a sniper were near, he wouldn’t be able to shoot me.

My school was in lockdown for a month straight; parents had to show ID to be allowed in the building. My friends and I played and had fun as if nothing was wrong. It was only at night that I couldn’t control the fear that prowled in the back of my head. At night, fear consumed my mind because I wasn’t awake to block it out. In my dreams I was running from masked men with guns. I was in a plane falling in a death-spiral towards the ground. I was frantically trying to disarm a bomb that was about to explode and kill my whole school. Every time I tried to scream, my throat closed up. Every time I tried to call 911 my fingers fumbled and hit the wrong digits. Fear devoured my mind.
I grew up in a world fraught with danger, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized how hazardous the world really is. Every day, every second, there is risk. I have lived in fear, and I have lived in denial, but now I choose a third option, a combination of the two. Fear spreads icy through my veins at almost every murder, kidnapping or act of terrorism that appears on the news. It threatens to take control of my mind, a big black cloud that will eliminate all senses except terror, but I can’t let it. It has become second nature to me now to shut fear out almost altogether. I don’t let it get to me. In fact, some of the sports I do cause me to live in danger.
Almost every piece of equipment comes with a warning label, each very similar to the next. I don’t need to read the warnings to know that pole vault and gymnastics are dangerous, but that doesn’t stop me. I live for the danger, for the rush of flying through the air, trying to stay aware of my body so that I know exactly where I am in space, heart pounding, breathless, weightless. My feet find the floor and stick the landing; my body sinks into the safety of the mat while the bar lies above me, untouched. I lose my sense of gravity and plummet, still twisting, to the ground and fall unexpectedly onto my head; my pole misses the box and I move backwards involuntarily and crash to my back on the runway. Nothing can stop me from hurting myself while trying these things, but nothing can stop me from trying them. The rush of adrenaline, power and exhilaration cannot be ignored or avoided; I crave it, I need it. I push aside skeptical thoughts and dive into life head-first, fearless.





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