girlhood fears

Yesterday on Storycorps a woman asked her father to tell her the scariest moment when he was a boy. His story is pretty amazing, definitely worth a listen. And it made me think of my scariest moments of girlhood.

1. I was 6 and had just gotten my first real, big girl bicycle without training wheels, without any little kid stuff. I'd been watching the boys in the neighborhood pop wheelies up on curbs. My three year old brother was on the back of my back and I decided to try and ride up on the curb. My front wheel turned and hit the mailbox the bike was out of my control. My brother fell off the back, landing squarely on his head in the street. There was more blood than I had ever seen and he wasn't really crying. I thought I'd killed him. (It sounds funny now, but I really thought he might be dead.) I didn't know what to do so I ran inside screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, I think I just killed Matthew!" By the time we got back outside, he was crying so I knew he wasn't dead. But for a long, long time, I was terrified something would happen to him.

2. At 8, I was a pretty strong swimmer for my age. My mother had been a swimmer in college. I remember the trophies filling up the bookcases before she packed them away in storage. The woman on the top of the trophies was gold, slender, her smooth body bent over in a diving position. I imagined that's the way my mother must have looked on a diving board. I took to the water instantly. I'd never been afraid of getting my face wet or going under water. During swim lessons, I never understood why the other children cried and splashed around so much. What was there to be afraid of? So by 8 I was in advanced swimming and diving classes. This gave me a sense of confidence about water. My family spent summers at St. George Island, Florida. I spent a great deal of that time swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. One particularly windy day, I was swimming when the tides turned. The undertow got stronger and stronger and kept pulling me further and further away. The sky was turning darker and I could see my mother, a small striped dot on shore waving frantically. The more I tried to swim toward her, the further I seemed to get pulled in. The waves seemed bigger and bigger, crashing over me one right after another. I choked on the salty water as it covered me. I panicked, which made it worse.

I felt arms pulling me up. I coughed and cried. I did not know the man whose arms seemed so strong and safe. I remember him telling me to hold on tight as he swam me to shore. My mother ran out into the gulf to meet me. She did not yell at me instead she called me "a brave girl." I did not feel brave. I felt terrified. I cried into my mother's neck and would not let go.

Slowly, I began to understand what all the kids in my swim class had been afraid of, something they could not see or even feel but that they knew was dangerous. I became aware of harm.

What are your scariest moments from childhood?