Have Fear, but Don’t Be Afraid.

Blogging is narcissistic, but it can also be reassuring.

I stand up tall in this city. Homo erectus. And I take long purposeful strides, as though my posture poses some kind of threat, and my gait reveals a confidence that will protect me.

I never say, “I am afraid,” simply because in Spanish, it is not said that way. In Spanish, one would say, “I have fear,” and I like this better. Afraid is an adjective that describes you, but I will not be described in such a way. I will not be defined by my fear. Fear is something I have, something I possess, and therefore something I control and can get rid of when I please.

When my doorman asks me, “Pero no tienes miedo caminando por estas partes sola en la noche?” (But aren’t you afraid walking around here alone at night?) I tell him no. No, I do not have fear. I threw it out in the trash can on the corner on my way home. But this is only half true. There is some residue of fear still clinging to me as I make my way home at night.

With every story about another mugging by the beach, another gun-point robbery, another home being broken into, I admit I am starting to tense up. Starting to suspect random people on the street of wanting to harm me. And I increase my pace. I hold my shoulders back. I hold my keys, silver sextuplets, in my fist like some kind of make-believe switch-blade. I imagine them making a swish sound as I reposition one between my knuckles, just in case. I shoot my fiercest look at the men who make kissing sounds at me and don’t bother to make room as I try to pass, leaving me no choice but to walk between them on the narrow sidewalk. I hold my breath and push past them.

I never used to be like this. My sister can vouch. For years we shared pink bunk beds in a room with ribbons painted on the walls in probably one of the safest neighborhoods in the U.S. Our home even had an alarm system. But still, my sister was nervous. “What was that sound?” she would ask. “Did you hear that? Should we wake up Mom and Dad?” To which I would invariably respond that it was nothing, and that I wanted to sleep, and no, we shouldn’t wake up anybody.

Our grown-up selves are pretty much the same. She worries and I always assume that everything is fine, even sometimes in circumstances in which all evidence indicates otherwise. And I’ve been known to do things, careless things, like accept rides from strangers when lost, (and I get lost quite often) or fall asleep and forget to lock my door. But I’m different now. And I’ve never been this way. And I don’t like it. I’ve contracted fear like some third-world disease. It has infected me, and I don’t know how to cure it.

My friend says it’s good. He says I should have this experience, I should know what it’s like. And somehow this reassures me when I walk alone at night. Like it will be OK because this is an experience that I am meant to have, it is something I will look back on, so it’s clear I will come out of it OK.

But I still feel anxious sometimes, and this angers me as I run laps around the stadium in the center of the city after dark. I am angry that I am in possession of fear, yet unable to give it up, like something sticky and annoying that you can’t wash off your skin. I am angry at the man who calls out to me, “Amiga, cuantas vueltas?” (How many laps?) when I pass him for the third or fourth time around the bend of the stadium. It’s a harmless question, but I don’t want strange men to talk to me, and I hope he will be gone by my next lap.

When the man in the purple shirt locks eyes with me and leans in close to my face as I jog by, I jump and increase my pace even more. I feel my heart speed up. Maybe he is just doing that creepy thing some men here do, invade your personal space in some sick attempt at flattery, or maybe he has other intentions. And now I am angry at him. It’s my run. I deserve to run in this city just as much as the two men I see lumbering along in (hideous) green track suits. It’s my run!

I want peace of mind but feel nervous as I pass the parked car stuffed with men who watch me jog by for the fifth or sixth time. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” I whisper in English. Five. Five of them just sitting there. What are they doing? Are they teamed up somehow with the man in the purple shirt?

I see more purple, this time on the back of a young boy, and I eye him suspiciously. I decide it’s a bad time for an aversion to purple as my roommate has just painted her walls lilac. It’s a bad time for all of this. I’ve come this far. Almost 10 months in this gloomy city, and now, two months left, and so much fear.

But it is my fear, just like it is my run. I control it. It’s mine. In an almost literal way, it strengthens me. I run harder. I stand taller. I play, “The Age of Worry” by John Mayer on repeat in my mind and shout internally, “Rage in the age of worry!” I have fear, but I won’t let it define me. I will not be afraid.