When I was nine I was afraid of ghosts. Monsters. E.T. I slept with my hands tucked firmly inside the edges of my mattress and with my closet door shut. I was afraid of the shadows cast by moonlight on my closet door: Mother Mary come to judge me in the night.
When I was twelve I learned to walk with my keys between my fingers. To move a little faster at night, even in my sleepy small-town neighborhood where parents parented other parents’ kids. To look over my shoulder.
When I was sixteen I was afraid of being uncool, of seeming uptight. I taught my friends stick shift, peeling up Route 7 after school. I learned to fool around in the back seat of his car, how not to say no. I learned which neighborhoods to avoid. Which stoplights to ignore.
When I was twenty I learned not to open my dorm room door in the middle of the night.
When I was twenty-four, I was afraid to hold your hand in public, even though we lived in Burlington, Vermont and not Laramie, Wyoming. I cried in my office and wondered what it was like, not to be scared.
When I was thirty-six, I was afraid they would come for our children. We signed paper after paper, tying administrative knots that were anything but Gordian. I was afraid to travel out of state.
When I was forty-three my mother said, I didn’t raise you to be afraid. I didn’t teach you this. I said, you didn’t have to.