I am not brave. I have never tried out for a sport, given a speech, watched a horror movie, or flown on a plane. I have three locks on every door of my house and triple check them before I go to sleep each night. I look both ways before I cross the street, and then sprint across the crosswalk as fast as my feet will fly. Yesterday my grandmother called. It took me 45 minutes to work up the willpower to call her back. In high school, my friends all asked girls to prom. I wanted to ask Lindsey Profett to go to the dance with me, but I took too long to figure out if we were actually friends or not and she was asked by the valedictorian instead. They’re married now. Maybe I would have married Lindsey if we had gone to prom. Or maybe she would have hated my guts and embarrassed me in front of the entire student body. Like I said, I’m not brave. I’m a coward.
My mother sent me to therapy for Christmas. She said that I was a baby in the body of a grown man. I told her I was careful. She said to talk to my therapist about that. My therapist is named Wendy. She has a gentle, round face and coffee brown eyes. She has never laughed at me for my fears. We spent a whole three sessions overcoming my fear of dogs. I still don’t like the sound of barking but now mother’s chihuahua doesn’t send me to tears. We recently worked on discovering my root fear.
I sat across from Wendy. She wore her stick straight hair in a twist at the base of her neck. She leaned across her desk and peered at me in a way that I knew meant she was growing tired of asking questions. “Danny, what do you think your root fear is? I have suggested failure, separation, and rejection. I want to hear your ideas.”
My ideas. I scrunched my nose and looked down at my hands clasped tightly in my lap. I was scared of a lot of things. I avoided putting myself in awkward and uncomfortable situations. I couldn’t answer the phone to save my life and I had a hard time even talking to people I didn’t know. So maybe rejection was my root fear? But I also could barely handle driving myself more than a mile at a time and I got panic attacks thinking about anything that involved leaving my home for more than an hour. I looked up and realized that Wendy’s eyes hadn’t left me the entire time. “Well,” I started, scooting my chair back, “Maybe my root fear is death?”
When I was six years old, I entered my kindergarten classroom with eager eyes, ready to learn. I was best friends with a girl named Willa. Our teacher was tall and loud but she let us have extra recess if we learned to spell our sight words. One afternoon Willa and I walked to a friend’s house after school. We never made it. As we crossed the street separating the neighborhood from the sidewalk, a large cat bounded in front of us. We stopped to admire the graceful creature, but the few seconds we stood there nearly cost us our lives. A red minivan sped towards us and I knew it wouldn’t stop in time. I pushed Willa in front of me and leapt away from the car. One broken femur and two scraped knees later, I was never the same again.
They called me a “boy hero” for saving Willa’s life that day. Frozen in fear, she never would have survived the encounter if I hadn’t been there. Mother called me her “brave little man.” Teacher called me an “angel in the flesh.” I just called myself lucky to be alive. They interviewed me for the local newspaper and the principal of my school shook my hand. Willa’s parents visited me one night and gave me a gift card to an expensive store. I never used it.
Wendy said my experience was an act of bravery. I told her it was just instinct. She said my encounter altered my mind and caused my root fear of death. I think I was born this way. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s such a bad thing to be scared. Wendy said that fear is not the problem. It’s my inability to overcome my fears that is the real dilemma. I like Wendy. She understands me, even if I think she’s wrong sometimes.
I never knew what happened to Willa after elementary school. We went our separate ways. I looked her up and she’s happily married with a job at a local aquarium. Fish are nice but I could never work at a place that houses stingrays and sharks. She has two children. The little girl is a carbon copy of Willa. The little boy’s name is Daniel. I wonder if she calls him Danny.
I told Wendy about Willa and Daniel. She said that we never know what sort of impact we have on people. I told her that if I could go back, I would have asked Lindsey Profett to the prom. She said that regret is a natural feeling, but I can learn from my experience. She asked me if I liked anyone. I didn’t answer. How do you tell your therapist that you think you’ve fallen for her?
Wendy canceled our appointment today. She apologized for the inconvenience but her father was sick and she needed to stay home with him. I told her it was ok. I’m feeling better now anyways. I only have one lock to triple check on my doors and I drove across town yesterday without having my usual panic attack. I think tomorrow I’ll call my grandmother. Maybe today, I’ll visit Wendy. I’ll bring her flowers.
Wendy said her favorite flowers are lilies in our last appointment so I drove all the way to the florist and bought her a bouquet of them. I wasn’t sure where she lived but the Internet never fails me. I was grateful that she only lived a half mile from the shop. I almost killed a stop sign and my heart hadn’t stopped pounding since.
She lived in a small house with a cobblestone driveway and a blue door. A faded doormat read “Home” with a paw print for the “O.” The doorbell made a quiet chiming sound. I thought I heard a dog bark and considered dropping the flowers and running for my life, but stopped myself. I wasn’t scared of dogs anymore, remember?
I heard someone on the other end fumble with the door knob and Wendy opened the door. Her hair hung past her shoulders today and she had dark circles underneath her eyes. Her eyes widened and she opened the door wider. “Danny, what a surprise. I didn’t know you had my address.”
“I didn’t. I had to search it up.”
For some reason, this news did not seem to please her. “Ok, well if you really need to visit me we can have our appointment inside. It’s unprofessional, but if something is wrong.” She trailed off at the sound of a cough somewhere within her home.
I shook my head. “I don’t want to bother you. I drove to the florist and got you some flowers.” I presented her with the bouquet and watched a smile appear on her face.
She took the flowers from my hand; our fingers brushed for just a moment. Her smile widened when she inhaled the perfumy scent of the bouquet. “Thank you Danny. This is just what I needed.”
I opened my mouth to say something, the one thing that had been on my mind since our first meeting. But I closed it suddenly when the all too familiar feeling of my pounding heart and constricting chest made it hard to think straight. It was too scary to share this with her, even if she was my therapist. Just as I turned to leave, I remembered what Wendy had said to me on our first meeting. “Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is overcoming that fear and taking action.”
“Wendy, I don’t think I’ll be needing your help anymore. I think I’ve figured myself out.” Her face fell, but I continued, “Instead, would you join me for dinner tomorrow night? I’ve recently overcome my fear of ovens and have become a pretty impressive cook.”
Not even my butterfly ridden stomach could stop my smile when she said yes.