Thursday, May 7, 2009

Highway patrolman

I was a block away from work when I stumbled upon the face-off. A man waving two butcher knives above his head seemed unfazed by the fifteen policemen with pistols poised in his direction. He stomped toward the cops until one doused him with pepper spray. Without a flinch, the man switched course, almost reaching 11th Ave before he paused to study a horse drawn carriage en route to Central Park. I really thought they were going to shoot him. I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m wearing this stupid hat right now. It’s an affront to this man’s dignity to die in front of a girl dressed like goth Princess Toadstool. A face-off on today of all days. I never wear hats.

But they didn’t shoot him. They tazed him bro, and he fell with a thud like someone dropped a bag of sand. Later I heard he was a resident of the halfway house nearby and had stopped taking his meds. It scares me that the only thing keeping some of us from slipping from the ledge of sanity can be some pill as big as a fingernail.
I’ve narrowed down my most looming fears to two: getting fat and going crazy. The first is residual from early life chubbiness. I’m pretty sure that after enough decades I’ll pee that fear right out of my system. But sometimes I think that if I had to bet on one person I know to bring a gun to work, I put my money on me. (Please don't turn me in to the feds, I'm using hyperbole to make a point.) I come from a long line of crazies who were stricken out of nowhere and for no good reason. Like when you go to bed feeling fine and wake up ready to puke your guts out. I worry that will happen to me. I worry about it often. I think I read “Lisa Bright and Dark” too early in life.

I remember going on a whitewater rafting trip as a child. After dragging the boat onto the sandy bank for lunch, our guides rounded up a group for river diving. At 8, with my swollen stomach and purple bathing suit, I peered over the edge of the rocks we'd climbed, thirty feet above the inky river, listening to a young husband try and coax his wife into jumping. “Look, that little girl isn’t scared to do it,” the man explained and nudged his chin in my direction.

In the end, the wife couldn’t be convinced. But with the river guides cheering behind me, I stepped off the ledge, listened to the world around me rush, then crack then get very quiet. I held my breath as long as I could underwater, wanting privacy to savor the satisfaction of my own courage.

Fear of craziness only makes me crazier still. Better to be brave, since I know I can be.

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