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The Trouble With Fear

by Teresa Price

I've known for a long time that I do not experience fear often, if at all. For most of my life, I've known, and others have accused, that I often seem to "jump in" or "go ahead," when most will not.

My father was not a fearful man, either. He was a man of do. Whatever, whenever, however, he accomplished. I never saw him hesitate, drift, pause, or delay. His only moments of stall were directed by and about my mother, and were linked to their twined hearts. His only moments of weakness were mirrored in a bottle. In the bottle, I saw his fear. But that is another story, another reflection.

My father grew and left poverty early. Later, I saw pride in the faces of the lives he somehow saved and supported. In crisis, I saw relief when he would arrive. I wonder now at the weight of life and others he carried until his final breath. I wonder at the weight. I wonder at the moment I realized he carried the world, his world, until the end.

The last week of his life, when my father had not left his reclining chair for weeks except to walk down the hall, he observed me struggling with something in the yard. I was trying to remove a large fallen post by rolling it out of the way with the help of my children. Living next door, I had moved there to help care for him during his last year of life.

As the children and I were struggling with the log, I heard my mother scream his name. I heard her sob. I looked toward his house, and I saw him dragging down the back porch steps, carrying his oxygen in tow. I saw him drag across a yard grown too high. I saw him pause and step, pause and step, pause and step. I saw my mother fall upon the ground, crying. I saw my father climb his tractor grasping, heaving, to the seat. Somehow, I do not know even now, somehow he climbed to the seat.

The next thing I know, he was atop the tractor and at my side. "Get the chain" he directed in a harsh whisper, and wrap it 'round the log." I looked at him hard. His breath had been long since gone. It was the first sentence he'd uttered in some time. My father stared back at me through rheumy eyes. "Get the damn chain, Scup."

I wrapped the chain around the log as I seen him do in the past. My father glanced back and waved a slight hand motioning me to climb up near him. He was spent. He motioned to the gear. I knew to share the seat and move the machine to low. Together we pulled the log to the edge of the field. Together we drove the tractor back to its keeping spot.

Together we climbed down, and somehow together we mangled our way back to the house. Together we later soothed his wife, my mother. It was my father's last act of physical movement. I've thought since that he wanted his last breath to be outside that day, for in a life, the last hour was only a few breaths beyond that final experience. I hope he somehow clung knowing that.

I wrote once that when he died, I lost my anchor, that "sandbags slid back to the sea." But today I know that my father is with me always, and that the lessons he gave me in life have anchored me to time and place, time and time again. The lesson my father gave me that day, one of several final lessons, has been invaluable. In doubt, move. In loss, move. In a lack of hope, move. In fear, move.

There have been moments since where I would have lost myself completely had I not climbed beside him on the tractor during his last hours. I've followed his lead most of my life, and it has been a good and steady lead. I have him with me in crisis, and I keep his spirit with me always. I have his example as a guide. It comes down to this: I was not afraid then, and I am not afraid now.

Teresa Price lives, writes, and teaches English in the foothills of North Carolina. She is a published poet and former feature writer for "The Mountain Breeze, News of the Greater Lake Lure Area." This piece, "The Trouble With Fear," was first published in response to an "open call" on the topic of fear in her blog, "Scupper's Blog," on Open Salon in March, 2010.