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I Cannot Explain My Fear

By A. Papatya Bucak

Fear of bears, fear of ladders, fear of freezing. Once, in the Sonoran Desert, I woke with ice on my sleeping bag. Fear of a cancerous thyroid; fear of eating poisonous fish from Japan; fear of sharks, overly large seals and sea lice, too. Fear that my glasses are radioactive because the first time I had a nuclear scan the technician didn’t tell me to remove them, but the second time he did. Fear of swimming to the bottom of the pool because people get suctioned to the filter and drown. Once, in Key West, Alex challenged me: who-can-hold- their-breath-the-longest-underwater? I waited a few seconds, bobbed to the surface and watched him hold his breath so long I nearly pulled him out by his floating hair. When he finally drifted up, he said, “Wow, I almost blacked out.” Things like that confirm my own good sense and my fear.

Fear of fire, fear of lightning, fear of fire caused by lightning, fear of falling trees, and of those people who drive their cars into houses or gas stations because they confuse the brake with the gas. Once on Central Park West a man reached for my wrist as he said, “Can I ask you something?” but I didn’t let him. Fear of unasked questions that will never be answered. Fear of Rumpty-Dudget a character in a book, "Rumpty Dudget’s Tower," that I have never read, but whose worn blue spine I can sense on the bookshelf in my parents’ living room at all times, even now. Fear of women in high heels; fear of Mrs. Stein, my second grade teacher; fear of other people’s carelessness. Fear of small but deceptively sharp knives, like the Swiss Army knife that cut my brother’s finger so deep only one of my mother’s maxi-pads, with wings, could hold the blood. Fear of sirens, though only when I am driving and cannot tell where they are coming from; fear of North Korea; fear of visiting Turkey, where I was born, and not being allowed to leave. Fear that there is something really really wrong. Fear that there is nothing that can fix it.

Early every morning, the guy across my parents’ street, Tony, who has always been an old man living alone, moves his neighbors’ newspapers from their driveways to their mailboxes. Tony scared me once years ago when I was learning to ride a bike and he arose behind me and shouted, “Look at you!”

Once I was afraid of Stephen King, but then I met him at a party, and he wasn’t as scary as Joyce Carol Oates or even Cynthia Ozick.

Once, in fifth grade I grabbed a handful of frog eggs because Brian McGeary dared me to. I don’t remember what they felt like; they didn’t bother me at all. Later, much later, Brian McGeary died on his motorcycle. Long before that, before we graduated sixth grade even, he carved a girl’s name, Cathy—with a C—into his arm.

People sometimes boast of solitary journeys: months in a tent alone. I am not afraid of being alone. I am afraid of months in a tent with another person.

Elvis was afraid of women with big feet.

Sometimes on planes, especially small ones, I put on a mean face so people will think, that’s one tough cookie.

My dog Darby is afraid of men, loud noises, lightning, and shapes she cannot make out in the distance. I am afraid that I have trained her to fear.

Once I saw a coyote standing on the stump of a tree in a farmer’s field. Once I saw three bald eagles at once. Once I saw a snake with the leg of a frog sticking out of its mouth.

Words don’t scare me.

I am quiet, but that is not the same as afraid.


A. Papatya Bucak is an assistant professor for the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University and has published stories, essays, and poems in a variety of literary magazines, including Glimmer Train, Swivel and The Fairy Tale Review.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore