Second Thought: Wednesday, April 10, 2003
Fear and War in Fort Worth

Even when the fighting’s far away, terror’s tendrils can reach out — if you let them.


Don and Jonna have gone to Iowa for a week, and I’m in charge of Abbey, a basset hound who asks only to be fed, let out, and comforted in case of storms.

Don and Jonna live at the end of my block. Abbey’s accustomed to a late-night pee, around 11 or so. And on the first night, when it comes time to attend to that, I can’t seem to leave my house. I’m afraid to walk one block alone in the dark. Now, my life has been exciting; I’m not some privileged dowager. There’s a functional vehicle in the driveway. But that’s not the point. What brings me up short is my fear.

I don’t know everyone on the block by name, but I can give you a two-sentence profile of each household. It’s not my neighbors that give me pause. They’re all solid, good people. Same for blocks around. So what am I afraid of?


Random violence.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Idiots cruising down the street looking to see what’ll happen next.

Well. It’s come to this. So I start trying to remember every time I’ve been in real danger or just fearful in my 30 years in Fort Worth. Subtract the first 20; I was married. (While that may be an illusory safety factor for some, it was real for me.)

That leaves:

— The hailstorm of Cinco de Mayo, 1995. A friend and I were in the car when it hit. My friend, who was driving, was calm and controlled, while I screamed. I was still in a state of shock later, when I finally saw the damage at my house. A neighbor showed up before too long, dressed in coveralls, armed with tools, tape, and plywood.

— The scary Halloween. The first Halloween in my new house came and went without trick-or-treaters. Until 9:30 or so, that is, when the doorbell rang. I should have realized it was too late for kids. Now I have a clear glass storm door, but then it was just the wooden exterior door. Which I opened, to see three teen-age boys in t-shirts and jeans. One had an empty plastic grocery bag. They just looked at me. There’d been a vanilla candle burning in a jack-o’-lantern; it had just gone out. The porch light wasn’t working.

I started talking. “Now you boys better be careful tonight. It’s dark out and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you. Watch out. Stay right there. I have some candy.” And I went to the kitchen to get a bag of caramels. I walked back to the door and poured all the caramels out of the bag they came in into the plastic bag in that boy’s hand. They still hadn’t said anything.

Finally one of them said, sort of wistfully: “It smells like pumpkin pie.” And all the tension around us just went away. If they’d been planning to do me wrong, it wasn’t going to happen now.

— Car dying, leaving me stranded, several times. Once on I-30 a woman doubled back, took me to a nearby service station, and waited while I called to make arrangements for further rescue. But once it happened at 2 a.m. at the corner of Oakland and East Lancaster. I was driving a flashy car that my mechanic had let me borrow while he worked on mine. Immediately accosted by, again, young men. (But I don’t mean to profile. There may be roving gangs of old ladies up to no good.) They were shouting, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I started talking as I got out of the car and walked decisively away from it. “No, man, it’s cool. Don’t worry. No problem. I live just over there and I’ll go call my mechanic. He’ll come get it. Thanks, though.” And I was out of there. The next day I got a cell phone.

And I’d run out of examples. That was it.

Not so bad. I went over them again.

Natural disasters happen. Even the best planning won’t protect you.

People watched out for me. All I lost was property, comfort, and sleep. And the image of my bed, littered with ice and shattered glass, is absolutely poetic in memory.

When there weren’t people to help me, things just worked out. All the caution and rehearsal in the world can’t prepare you for times like those. You just have to improvise with what you have on hand. What was there to be afraid of?

It’s the war, I thought. It’s the war and the terrorists and the psychic residue of Sept. 11. But I don’t live in Basra. I live in Fort Worth, Texas. And Abbey needs to pee. I put on my jacket and running shoes and walk down the street.

Margaret Allyson is a freelance writer and editor and also works as a proofreader for Fort Worth Weekly.

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