by Nancy Martin
My worst fear (okay, maybe not my worst, worst, but next-to-worst) is driving off a bridge into a river. Naturally, I was riveted and horrified by last week's bridge collapse in Minnesota. And because I live in a city of three major rivers, not to mention countless tributaries, it's kinda hard for me to drive anywhere without my imagination taking an occasional plunge into nightmare country.
I was growing up in a rural part of the state when President Eisenhower decided we all needed an interstate highway to move bombs and troops that would keep us safe from the Cubans. I was a little girl when the bulldozers came to my town to start work on the very first section of a gigantic project that would eventually become Interstate 80. The initial plans, in fact, included bulldozing through our home--my parents' hilltop dream house. Only a huge lawsuit prevented its destruction, but I spent several of my formative years watching road construction just a couple of hundred yards from our front lawn.
The work included construction of twin bridges (two, because Fidel might be able to destroy one, but surely not both) that spanned the small creek (and the large valley it created) in our community. When the weather turned bitter cold, however, those bridges stood unfinished for a long winter. As a family, we took walks out to the end of the bridges and looked down at the water far, far below.
In my imagination, of course, I went tumbling off the end of the bridge. I dreamed about it endlessly. How many different ways might I slip off the edge? On a bike? A skateboard? A runaway pony? In my mother's station wagon? I'm sure my childish mind combined the fear of losing our house with the natural terror of falling from a great height. Almost nightly, I had the recurring nightmare of being driven (I was totally helpless from the get-go, see?) off the bridge, falling through space, crashing through the ice where the car would immediately sink, trapping me as the icy water gushed in. Even if I managed to escape the car, I'd be stuck under the ice.
Even as recently as two months ago, I have had that dream. Sometimes it comes with permutations that reflect whatever conflict going on in my life at the time. (When my children were babies, I was compelled to sacrifice myself, of course, to save them.)
I am drawn to all the news articles written about last week's disaster. It seems most people were saved because they were stuck in traffic. (If they'd been traveling fast, they might have been propelled into the river.) Or by shock absorbers and air bags. (I think various new car design technologies helped, but these two are mentioned first.) And, of course, the quick actions of good Samaritans at the scene.
Am I going to buy one of those gadgets that can break a car window from inside? You bet.
Naturally, the persistence of my dream meant I eventually had to write about such a catastrophe.
I put it off for a long time, but finally I wrote the scene. It's in the book that will be published next spring. My protagonist, Nora Blackbird, is trapped in a car as it plunges into a river, and she must fight her way out of certain death. I found myself shaking as I drafted those pages the first time. My heart pounded. I had to get up from my chair to walk around my office to calm down.
Funny thing. Since finishing the book, I've been considerably calmer about the bridge-car-drowning scenario. In fact, I really expected the dream to recur after the Minnesota disaster, but it hasn't come back. Yet. I wonder if writing about it has helped me tamp down my fears? Or put them to rest, perhaps? Or am I just taking a subconscious break for a bit? Time will tell.
My worst, worst, very worst fear, however, is something I dare not even speak. Or type. Because it's too horrible for me to get my brain around. I will only say it involves reptiles. I don't think I can inflict it upon Nora Blackbird. It's too awful.
My daughter is afraid of bears and spiders. She says she can trace her terror of spiders to the time she was brushing her teeth at our summer cottage, and a centipede crawled out of the drain. (The bear thing started--I think--when we took her to a zoo, and the Kodiak bears had a fight. At least, we told her that's what they were doing. If we'd told the truth, her fears would--well, let's not go there.) My sister is terrified of mice. I mean bizarrely terrified. Pigeons, too.
What's your worst fear? And have you written about it yet?