Fear

by Jane Miller

Fear comes like the fog – “on little cat feet.” I had thought I was only afraid of dentists, but now I am faced with stomach-gripping anxiety and heart-skipping panic.

I’m afraid …

… we’re going up to the boat in less than two weeks.

… sometimes I almost remember the fall and the impact that took my right eye and crushed my face.

… the medical bills I’ve racked up over two countries seem insurmountable.

… I don’t have a job and given my list of physical injuries and diseases, I am not likely to find one.

… we’re planning on Alaska this summer – three months on the boat, sailing the Inside Passage.

… sometimes I still don’t know if I wouldn’t place second in Erik’s heart to the question of “Jane or the boat?”

Yep. Fear about a lot.

And then, the preternaturally cheerful part of my soul begins to break through the gloom, sunshine burning off the fog of a chill morning. Even though I do not have answers or a plan for almost anything, I am pretty sure it will all work out.

One. Learning to sail has been on my list for as long as I can remember. My Irish ancestors were ship captains and engineers who came over in the 1860s. My great-grandfather captained a clipper ship, the General Knox, out of Thomaston, Maine, down around the Cape, up to San Francisco, and back and forth to England.

My first time on the boat was magical. Our teacher said I was a natural, but that was before my fear about heeling and capsizing came to the fore. I have learned and continue to learn, though, about sailboat dynamics, lines and rigging, standing and balancing, navigation and currents.

In my heart I knew I was ready for sailing, but that was before the fall.

Two. The “fall.” So many people want to know if I remember it, and until recently the answer has been that I remember the fall (sort of) but not the impact. But just last night before sleep crept over the snow to my pillow, I remembered: my foot not quite making the landing, the sense of falling, my face as it hit the unforgiving fiberglass and mahogany.

I don’t know if it’s real, though. I don’t remember hitting the deck or being wedged between the seat and the binnacle. The only thing I remember for certain is being lifted, set down so gently, a towel pressed into my hands.

I don’t want to remember the rest. That bit of amnesia is what’s enabling me to even think about setting foot on the boat.

Three. I received excellent medical care in Canada and Oregon. Dr. James Taylor (yes, that’s his name) in Victoria, BC, tried hard to save my eye but knew it was a long shot all the way. The care I received at OHSU has been phenomenal. But the specialized surgeries, with appointments and follow-ups, tests and medications, along with the prosthesis, are beyond expensive. And in America, no job means no affordable healthcare.

So I’m buying insurance for the year at a price that will wipe out every cent I have saved. That leaves my household bills, car payment, insurance …

It’s no one’s burden but my own, but sometimes I wish the government would be able to provide help quickly and compassionately to people who can’t work anymore, instead of relying on the Social Security Administration to force people to apply and reapply, hire a lawyer, wait, and then – maybe – be granted disability.

Four. Alaska. Life on the boat, in port, costs almost the same as life in Sisters. It’s still just the two of us, we buy groceries, do laundry, work on maintenance … The list is pretty long, but when we are in Sisters we do the same thing.

Sailing to Alaska is different. With no real crew, it’d be just us. The boat was designed to be sailed by two people, but I’m pretty sure what they had in mind was NOT me. It’s going to be last summer’s trip to Desolation Sound multiplied by 12. On that trip, the fan belt broke and clogged the turbocharger, we broke a line clutch, and we jury-rigged a way to shift gears using two strings. I almost left completely in a fit of pique, and then we motored a marathon 22 hours over two days breathing diesel fumes from the poorly-running engine to reach Anacortes in time for me to go back to work.

It was also beautiful beyond words, more fun than I imagined it could be, and exciting and rewarding as I gained new skills and grew more comfortable on the water. We can do this! It just might take some additional help.

Five. Erik and I had a discussion one night earlier this week or last, once we reached the warmth and security of the treehouse. Concerns had been brewing, some new, some not, about my dedication to strength training, my fear of capsizing, his desire to keep the sailboat because of the time and money committed, about his need to spend his time doing, not lounging.

He was wrong about some, maybe right about a couple. When I am pushed to do something, I won’t. Simple. Stubborn. Irish. And sometimes childish. All the literature on Parkinson’s Disease lists the need for fitness, but I never suggested we Barco-lounge for hours watching football, although I do love the game.

However, I understand his concerns. I need to be stronger than I was and definitely than I am after five weeks of operations and recoveries from the injuries of my fall. When the boat heels, I range from mildly discomfited to panicked. I’m improving, but I don’t hide it well. I cannot spend my days on the boat scared we’ll capsize, which is virtually impossible in the kind of sailboat we have.

But as we talked just a couple of days ago, we want to be together, on the water, or in Sisters, or traveling. And that’s what matters.

I am still afraid. I will be until I step across the water from dock to boat. But I decided when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and I tell myself again and again … I am not going to be defined by my adversities. I am going anyway.

Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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