Posts: Fear

Apricot Storm Sky

Both inner and outer storms burgeon violently in the Midwest. Our little family often snuggled on our front porch to watch roiling clouds and jagged-edged bolts of lightning. Booming thunder sent us giggling. Until their father left.

“We’re all right,” I whispered to my three—aged seven, four and a half, and two. “Mommy is here, and I always will be.”

The day I nearly reneged on my promise dawned soft, with few scuttling clouds. By afternoon—when I dropped them off with their sleeping bags at our neighbors’—those clouds had multiplied and were dressed in startling blue-black.

“Storm’s brewing, Mom,” my oldest warned as the kids pressed around me in a family hug.

“Yeah,” I smiled. “Listen for the thunder, but go right to bed when Mrs. Stevens says. Be good, loves. If I get this position in Kansas City, it’ll mean so much for us.” I blew kisses and climbed into the old, narrow-footed Volkswagen van we called “the bus.”

On Interstate 70, the sky to the west was why Technicolor had been invented, I was sure. But it was far too dark for a May afternoon. Oranges and mauves glared between dark purple cloud banks. Oaks and elms began a writhing dance. Swaying branches flailed, twisting green into silver. Debris swirled.

Raindrops splatted. A floodgate opened. My bus’s wipers worked full pitch, but I could barely see. As the rain abated slightly, an odd apricot color suffused the air around the few vehicles still driving in such weird weather. Then the wind picked up—literally.

I gasped as I felt the bus lift and turn in the air. Before I could exhale, the bus and I were set back down, heading toward the shoulder and a thirty-foot-deep ravine.

I strained into the brake pedal and wrenched at the steering wheel, fighting for control with everything in me. I was all my kids had—the one who blew their noses, kissed their skinned knees, and hugged away their disappointments and self-doubts. I couldn’t leave them.

But I knew, finally, I could not keep the bus from tumbling end over end any more than I could change the eerie apricot color of the air. “Please, Lord, take care of my kids.”

I did something that my own fighting nature never foresaw: I let go of the steering wheel and folded my hands in my lap.

MaryJane Nordgren, Forest Grove


Humble Fear

In 2023, news articles about “Blue Zones” listed places around the world where people enjoy long lives—a result, perhaps, of lifestyle choices like gardening, exercise, curiosity, diet, gatherings, spontaneity.

In 1513, Ponce de León searched for a fountain of youth in Florida. Imagine drinking a glass of water now and then to repair the damages of your indulgences!

In the 1960s, the goal of extending human life collided with our population numbers. Scientists used math and lots of paper (computers were not in wide use yet) to analyze various tipping points: the day when underground oil will be half gone, the day when atmospheric CO2 will exceed 350 parts per million, the day when pollutants foul the planet’s fresh water, the day when wildlife begins to suffer irreversible extinctions. They argued about which natural resource our humanity will run out of first, causing chaos and collapse. Newspapers inked sensational headlines about tedious projections and gave equal column space to conflicting headlines by corporate shills. 

In the 1970s, Oregon governor Tom McCall rallied public support for tens of policies to protect this state from the ravages of pollution, unfettered development, and unmanageable population growth. As a teenager, I trusted math and assumed other adults in power would, of course, choose policies to balance our population and planet’s resources. Remember the nursery rhyme about an old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do? Well, men in power have been living in that shoe.

Now in 2024, looking back, I see that no scientist guessed the crucial resource we would run out of first. I’m gobsmacked. It wasn’t oil, or coal, or oxygen, or fresh water. As we crowd together maddeningly, like so many children who don’t know what to do, we get angry, we get greedy, and we run out of kindness. 

Deplete that natural resource—run out of kindness—and our extinction is my humble fear.

Bruce Howard, Newport


Hearing Thunder

It’s like my dog hears thunder at least once daily.

When I first met him at the shelter he was anxious and curious, seemingly scared of the built-in bench along the perimeter of the room. He was afraid of the car, and it took three of us to get him in and on the way to his warm new home. The rest of his fears have not been remedied through exposure and positive conditioning, like the car has, but are mostly managed through coping strategies and avoidance. He is afraid of the sizzling sound of food sautéing on the stove and of the fan above the stove. He’s afraid of campfires and fires in the fireplace. For some inexplicable reason, he is afraid of the popping sound made by smacking your lips together. 

Like so many anxious and fearful dogs, he is also reactive. He’s never forgotten a corner of the neighborhood where he encountered another dog, and I have become highly aware of our surroundings. 

Sometimes, though, it’s more of an existential fear, something I recognize as being overwhelmed by everything and nothing in particular. When this existential fear strikes, I might find him hiding in the cat’s litter box, finding safety in containment, in the dark, in something close to earth. In these cases I tell him “It’s OK, bud,” “We’re in a safe place, baby,” “You’re such a good dog,” “You’re being silly,” “I love you so much.” I use my jolly voice and sing his songs to him and ask the cat to make him feel better too. 

Of course he’s not all fear. He’s often like the trees were this autumn, bodies bursting with joy.

The thing is, I also hear thunder at least once daily. And I am OK, I am in a safe place, I am good, I am being silly, I am loved. And I don’t know for sure if my body ever displays that saturated and fierce joy of a dog or a tree, but I think it does too. 

Dani H., Portland


Blessed with Disability

Author Dan Brown shares that “we all fear what we do not understand.” I often consider that perhaps the things we don’t understand are the results of diverse lived experiences. However, the lack of knowledge to comprehend that which we are often afraid of can also be the result of the lizard brain telling us that there is safety in selective ignorance. Poet Thomas Gray shares that “Ignorance is bliss.” Yet selective ignorance can be harmful when it concerns our empathy toward others. No bliss accompanies it.  

My experiences as a person living with a disability through congenital amputation have revealed that there are people who choose apathy over empathy, and that scares me.

While some might view my career success as an overcoming of life’s challenges despite the disability, as if it’s a battle to win or something to be ashamed of, I know that it is because of those differences that I thrive. I have been blessed with a disability, because it has taught me how to navigate an ableist world. 

The medical model of disability views a disabled person as having a defect that must be cured by an able-bodied individual. The social model of disability states that a person is disabled by societal barriers and apathy toward meeting their specific needs. We witness this lack of empathy in policymaking, in instances where it concerns affordable access to medication and medical equipment such as prosthetics or other mobility devices. It’s also evident in educational institutions where student-centered learning is substituted by broad requirements to meet the expectations of the institution, regardless of a student’s individual lived experience, which also limits access for individuals with disabilities. That scares me. 

When empathy is chosen over apathy, we become predisposed to truth—that which can liberate us. When we seek knowledge of other people’s experiences, we also admit that we are all inherently flawed beings who deserve to be understood. Vulnerability in admitting one’s selective ignorance is oftentimes the only way to heal, grow, and discover that truth.

To me, there’s nothing more frightening than a person who exists in a sphere of apathy. When we open ourselves to knowing more about others, there’s nothing more freeing than feeling understood and loved. 

Ty Chiko, Portland



Every day something in me stirs as I walk along our neighborhood’s nicely paved sidewalks, beside the manicured lawns with accompanying families nearby. I grasp my children’s hands tightly, and we practice saying hello and good morning in as many languages as we know. I realize this is a convenient task I do to keep my mind busy; it soothes me in my discomfort. We make our way closer, and I physically prepare my body and heart to let go. It is not separation from my children that I dread so fearfully; it is the fact that I am highly aware that my Indigenous children aren’t safe in this place. 

In this place, they are othered, on the very land that was taken from their ancestors. Worse yet, they are harmed by the institution of what we in the United States call a place to learn.

I am not quite sure you understand. There is a longing I feel when my children are in this place. It comes from a deep place of fear, one that reverberates across multiple generations, yet feels so close to a pain that I have lived. 

All day, questions arise in my mind, and I wonder, Are they OK? Has something happened that caused them harm? I’m afraid for their hearts and their spirits, because I know. I was afraid in this place as a little girl too. As a child, you don’t understand why things are happening to you or why you feel so out of place. 

Oh, how I wish I could protect them from how they will be looked down on, how they will be labeled—when it is convenient for their teachers—as different or special in some kind of way. I also question, Have I done enough? To prepare them for the kind of microaggressive, offensive, or simply racist interactions they will be burdened by?

Their wholeness and identity will not be respected in this place; instead it will be diminished, stripped away piece by piece, and assimilated into a sociocultural norm that says You are not worthy

I am fearful, and I am fearless in this experience. I hold on, and I give in every time I send my children to school. And I wonder, When will my people be able to not be afraid? 

Valeria Atanacio, Keizer


Four Days Powered Down

It happens once or twice a year—a few hours, maybe a night—and we know the drill. It’s evening, so locate headlamps first, then the battery lanterns. Lug the big orange cooler of water to the kitchen counter. Set buckets and filled gallon jugs by the toilets. (A powerless well only sighs through the faucet.) Schlep wheelbarrows of firewood from the shed. Split kindling. Fail to stop hoping for quick relief. Put on fleece, sweater, down parka as needed, and a stocking cap—the human head squanders warmth. Once the fire’s going, slide the easy chairs close to the hearth and read by headlamp, sipping tea or whiskey or both, the black cat in one lap or the other. Eat leftovers heated on the Coleman stove, careful not to run it too long. Remark to each other how quickly dry Douglas fir crumbles to coals. Upgrade the bedding with a down comforter, and sleep. In the morning, scatter sunflower seed on the decks, which, like everything else, including the roads, are plated with two inches of ice. How long this time? Take solace in the bustling metropolis of birds you have founded—chickadees, nuthatches, finches, juncos, siskins, towhees, Steller’s jays—all pecking and hopping, jostling for more. Watch the black cat watching through the glass door, tail tip twitching. Enter the dim bathroom reflexively reaching for the light switch, feel foolish, then reach again as you leave. Paw through old newspapers for a crossword, not too easy or too hard. Knit or do quilting, if you’re the one who can. At third-day meals, make comments like “Mmm, the shredded wheat is especially tasty today” or “Peanut butter with your sardines?” Note the mild roof clatter as the tall Douglas firs drop thawing ice, small branches, and cones. Praise the trees for their upright virtue. Reread Whitman’s 1855 “Song of Myself.” Agree by the fireplace that canned chili with melted cheese and hot sauce makes a pretty good supper, and acknowledge a certain charm in all this, a hint of satisfaction, an old sufficiency in the silence of telephone, television, and internet. Even the pack rat in the wall has gone still. And so, next evening, be honestly baffled for an instant, uncomprehending that the lights have just flooded on, bathing the room in a rich glow that feels, with a very faint twinge of
disappointment, like the dawn of being.

John Daniel, Elmira



Years ago, my father mentioned he had been shot during the Korean conflict. I had never heard this story before, but he was a quiet man, reluctant to speak about the war years. I asked my mother for confirmation, and she shook her head: “That didn’t happen.”

His symptoms got clearer over the years, and by the time he was living in memory care, the story had changed several times—he had been shot in Korea and had to hide in a rice paddy for two days; he was shot and had to crawl to Japan; he was shot and killed. I would gently say that must have been terrifying for him. He agreed.

It was terrifying for me too, because Alzheimer’s disease has a genetic component. As my father’s brain quieted, mine went into overdrive.

Each day is now an exercise in self-doubt. Is this normal forgetting? What’s her name? Where are my keys? Have you seen my phone? You know, that one movie… ?

Each day is now an exercise in self-discipline. Zinc shows promise; so does exercise, chia seeds on blueberries on yogurt, weight lifting and cardio—and wait—dance prevents cognitive decline? I can try dance. Keeping a list of recommendations to prevent dementia is stressful. But stress is bad for our brains too, so don’t overthink. 

Don’t lie in bed at night and play out the day your father finally didn’t recognize you. While walking, as recommended by doctors, try not to dwell on the monthly cost of assisted living. For Pete’s sake, put down that glass of wine!

My father said he was shot at church along with his neighbor who visited him on Fridays.

The CDC said hearing loss contributes to dementia. I scheduled an appointment with the audiologist.

My husband and I discussed why assisted suicide wasn’t an option and wondered why the imminent death of the mind wasn’t the basis for the law.

Someone said that dementia is the ultimate zen—living in the moment, every moment—and not something to be feared. 

My father lived the last years of his life reliving and then embellishing the worst time of his life rather than being able to gently let go. 

 And the idea of being stuck, permanently and alone, in the worst place in my own mind, scares the hell out of me.

Eileen Nittler, Eugene


The Stick Figure 

It was like a stick figure. Its limbs were slender cylinders, strangely jointed, and it clattered when it moved. Wait, that’s not true. The slender cylinders of the creature in my kitchen didn’t actually make a sound, because this was not an aural hallucination. It was visual.

It crept and lurked in shadows and at the edges of vision, as such creatures do. For a while it clung to the white trim of the refrigerator, four feet off the ground. The laws of gravity did not seem to apply.

There are ways of coaxing the unreal (at least, what we hope is unreal) into our world—the solid, official world with its soothing consensus reality. Meditation does it for some people. Drugs for others. Shamanic ritual, Tantric breathing, death of a loved one, séance. Children twirling around and around until they collapse and the sky spins.

But some people are naturally porous, permeable. For us the unreal shows up of its own accord. There are adjectives for this: psychotic, delusional, paranoid, manic. Also, depending upon era and belief system: mystical, visionary, blessed, possessed, demonic, psychic, beloved of God.

I’ve lived with manic-depressive illness since my early teens, after a dramatic car accident. The formal diagnosis of Bipolar I arrived in my early twenties. Relative stability and the medications to fortify it came later still.

During the pandemic I began to unravel. In some ways I handled it well, asking for help, adding antipsychotics to my usual medications. Our son stayed home from school for a year and a half; we had a wonderful time reading, taking walks, immersing ourselves in nature, playing music. Somehow I mostly kept it together for his sake. Other ways? Not so great. I kept writing; the resulting published pieces took five to ten times longer than normal to produce and honestly weren’t that great. While hypomanic, I did something weird and bad, for which a dear childhood friend dumped me. No apologies, then or after, would change her mind.

When the clattering creature showed up, I was in full-on “mixed state,” a strong, dark, dreadful condition. I understood that the creature wasn’t real, per se. What was it then? My skin crawled when I read an interview online. In it, a bipolar person described her hallucinations of a “stick figure” on horseback. Maybe my creature wasn’t real, but neither was it alone.

Tiffany Lee Brown, Sisters


Oregon Humanities Magazine, Fear


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