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Maybe I Was The One Who Was Scared

by Meredith Gordon

My neighbor stood at her mailbox, neck hinged, grey hair a curtain over her cheeks. She looked shorter somehow, younger, though she was sicker than she was yesterday, and older, of course. She looked up, looked at me—I had the dog on the leash, and I raised my hand to wave—but she saw past me or maybe through me, or just over my shoulder, like how the dying stare into space, seeing another world. I didn’t want to call out lest I frighten her. Maybe I was the one who was scared.


She turned back to the mailbox and pushed hair behind her ears, and I imagined her, no, saw her as she must have been as a teenager six decades earlier. She wore black leggings and sneakers, big thick soles, maybe memory foam, a sweatshirt. Something made her smile. Perhaps it was a letter, some good news. She took the mail and closed the box and looked up at the piercing blue sky. I wondered what she was thinking. Maybe that today was a good day.


When I found that lizard on the sidewalk that was dying and I was too scared to touch it, and again I had the dog on the leash, she said she’d tend to it. That I should understand we have owls and hawks and coyotes and rabbits and mice that scavenge on the hill across the street. I am not naïve, I said; I hear their cries at night, the squeals, howls.

That hill, French Hill, is deceptively steep, and vast, crisscrossed by trails and bordered by development. French Hill, its ecosystem, grows and dies and is reborn every year. In autumn, it is dry like bone, gold as straw. Spring delivers new life, a blanket of green that stretches overhead within weeks, giant thickets, and brush. The City of Irvine brings scores of goats, hundreds maybe, to eat through the overgrowth, mow through the vegetation, so the cycle can begin again. The baahs and bleats frighten the dog and we always turn the corner before she can see them, because seeing them is what scares her.


My neighbor said that nature is beautiful, but it is cruel. I watch her walk away, up her path. Suddenly, I want her to see me, to know I see her.


Meredith Gordon is the creator of The Shame Recovery Project, work devoted to healing the unwarranted shame of sexual and other traumas, and founder of The Writer’s [Inner] Journey, an award-winning site about the intersection of writing, creativity and depth. She is co-author of All the Love: Healing Your Heart and Finding Meaning After Pregnancy Loss. Her writing delves into universal themes through very personal storytelling.

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