Friday, November 1, 2013

Death By Narrative: Or, Your Face Will Look Like That Bird's By the Time You Finish This Post


I have a great many varied and exciting fears; we've discussed that sort of thing before.

I am basically a person made entirely OF fears, a rich tapestry of worry and nail-biting.

Planes are, of course, among my largest fears; when Rachel Held Evans wrote a blog post on a truly harrowing plane ride she was recently on (one scary enough for her that it took her several weeks to be able to write about it), commenters all crowded in to tell their scary, crazy, or weird airplane stories, myself included.

One thing I mentioned in my comment is that while I have your standard anxieties - bridges, heights, planes, thunderstorms, all very normal (well, relatively speaking) things to be afraid of... I have kind of a weird one, too.

I fear Death by Narrative.

Let me explain, as I did in Rachel's post, by using an example.

Several years ago, my niece was born in mid-November, when my sister and brother-in-law were living in Minnesota. I lived in Southern Illinois at the time, four hours from the vast majority of my family and a whopping twelve hours away from Christina (and, by association, from my brand new niece).

I was working retail at the time, but managed to essentially emotionally blackmail my manager into letting me go home for Christmas (I was doing almost her entire load of daily, weekly, and monthly paperwork. I told her I wouldn't keep doing her job if I didn't get to see my niece. I made sad faces. It worked.) The tradeoff was that I could not leave until after the mall closed on Christmas Eve.

So I, who do not like to drive in the dark, packed up my things and finally left town around 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. There was snow on the sides of the road, in the fields, but the roads and sky were clear. I drove far too fast on highways and interstates that consisted almost entirely of me and what seemed like the same three semi-trucks the whole way. Otherwise it was empty, and clear, and cold.

The longer I drove, the more worried I became. I could see the newspaper headline in my mind:

"College Student Killed in Fiery Crash on Christmas Eve: "She Never Even Met Her Niece," Sister Cries."

It began to weigh on me more and more.

The headline was too perfect. It was too spot-on. It was exactly the sort of tragedy people pick up a newspaper to read about. I became more and more convinced that it was almost certain to happen. The roads were so empty it might take a couple of hours for anyone to notice.

I could go flying into a telephone pole next to a cornfield and would have to hope a semi-truck came by and noticed the flaming wreckage.

This was almost definitely going to happen, and I was powerless to stop the Narrative.

Obviously I made it home safely (and I made a four hour drive in three hours and fifteen minutes!), I met and was able to hold my baby niece for the first time.


(This is Christmas morning. Note my awesome penguin Christmas pajamas. 2007-me is so super cool.)

But Death by Narrative is something that lurks constantly in the back of my mind, like Narrative is a capricious god; Fate moving the bit players in the play.

It's like I think God is Arthur Miller.

Another example:

When Jason and I got married, we had our actual wedding and one reception in Illinois. Most of his family was able to make the trip, but we knew it was a little much to ask everyone to drop their lives and drive ten hours to Illinois, so a separate reception and visit to South Carolina just afterward was planned. We loaded up Jason's family, friends, me, my maid of honor and her 1-year-old son, and made the drive.

I could picture that headline, too - Couple Run Off Road Day After Their Wedding, Taking Family and Maid of Honor With Them. The perfect, terribly movie-like timing of it all made me nervous.

Obviously, we made it there in one piece, with literally no problems whatsoever.

Didn't stop the worry from being just as bad on the way back, though.

So, it's things like that; vacations or weddings or anything where travel is involved, both for me and my loved ones, brings that idea to mind. It's probably just an effect of reading too many books and watching too many movies, where things happen in terribly cinematic fashion and for reasons which advance the plot. In real life, of course, you make the plot yourself or somethings things just happen.

I know that, I do.

And yet...

I will next board a plane on Christmas Eve, once again heading back by myself to see my family (Jason and I have got to work figuring out how to both be allowed to celebrate holidays at the same time, let me tell you internet). This time it will be me and my old nemesis, an airplane.

And I guarantee I will spend that whole flight thinking about whether or not today is the day the Narrative gets me.

... okay, it won't be the whole flight.

I'll spend like a third of the flight scrutinizing a series of increasingly more meaningless fashion magazines.  But the rest of the flight I will worry about Narrative.

And before you wonder at what kind of strange creature I must be, keep in mind that there were other people on Rachel's post that are also scared of Death by Narrative, that for the first time I found other people with this same fear.

So at least we can all go be crazy together.

If I ever meet them I'll offer to buy them a drink, except that we would probably all be too nervous to be in the same room.


  1. I actually don't think this phobia is all that uncommon! Well, either that or it's not uncommon amongst the kind of people who write/read blogs? The happier I've been in life, the more aware I've been that my situation might begin to resemble the Tragedy Cliff that you approach with the third act of a movie. When Matt and I first got together, I remember one night he held my hands and said something like "This will sound ridiculous, but this love is so extraordinary, I feel like one of us is going to die. Because that's what happens in fiction when people find something this beautiful."

    I hear new moms talk about this feeling a LOT. I figure because opening the channel of love from the maternal chamber of your heart feels so epic, the only thing we've been acculturated to compare it to is like, Greek Tragedy.

    1. Hahaha Jason and I have had a very similar conversation! Although ours was mostly about how we are so damn cute that thi skind of awesome probably can't maintain itself forever... sooner or later one of us is going to become awful and cranky.

      There were a lot of people ont he post who said similar things, actually, that they had always thought they were the only one going through the headlines in their head while driving or traveling or doing something special, thinkin go the spectacular ways it could go wrong.

      It's really affirming to realize other people do it too. Like, I legit feel better hearing all this.

      I think it's probably just being part of a generation raised on media the way we were - our references are all movies and books and music, forms of drama where something always goes wrong. So that's how we see the world, through those glasses. We're people who are always a little worried that the Narrator is about to start up with, "In a world where..."


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