By the time you read this, it’ll be pretty close to October, or as some people call it, spooky season. Fear and anxiety are part of my day-to-day life, so I tend to say “no thank you” to recreational fear. Those fears gave way to anxiety around air travel and driving in adulthood.
As an adult I sought therapy and medication, and saw some of my anxieties and fears subside. I can now get allergy shots, acupuncture, and lab work done almost casually.
I can—usually—ride in a car without clutching at the window and pressing on the imaginary brake while muttering “Oy” like the old Jewish lady I am becoming.
But driving a car still holds a certain amount of tension for me. Not the day-to-day of my blessedly brief commute, but anything out of the ordinary. I was reminded just how far I have to go in August, when a series of unusual circumstances pushed me to my limit.
I realized there was a chance we might make it on the boat—what then?
Because of some recall or other, Bill’s truck was at the dealership on the mainland, and he had a loaner truck, a similar but not identical Tacoma. When his truck was finally ready to return, he was faced with the daunting task of getting the loaner off the island at the high point of late summer. He wound up at the back of the line, and was told the truck likely wouldn’t make it off the island.
He got stuck over on Vinalhaven on the day in question, and asked me to call for a ferry line number for the next day, and to move the truck up after the boat went. I was home, on call for ambulance duty, but otherwise unoccupied, and agreed. I figured it would at least get off on the last boat.
Backing my own compact SUV into a ferry line is challenging enough for me, let alone an unfamiliar borrowed truck, but I got it in without too much trouble. A few minutes later, the line attendant told me we could move up.
Now I was faced with the task of backing into a parking spot a second time, with a much larger audience and more obstacles. I tentatively pulled forward, then started backing up, realized I wasn’t going to make it, pulled forward again, started backing up again, and overheard an impatient remark from someone.
My hackles and my cortisol both went up. Most of my fear of driving is really a fear of public opinion—the knowledge that someone is saying something snarky about me from another vehicle. I made it into the spot, muttering under my breath. I realized there was a chance we might make it on the boat—what then? Bill was still on Vinalhaven, and I was on call. I started to panic.
Cars loaded and nobody came to the car window to tell me we were getting on, so I started to move the truck up, figuring we were safe. The line attendant stopped me—there was room for us on the boat. But what to do? I couldn’t leave the island since I was on call, if we didn’t put the truck on we would lose our spot in line, and we had an equally bad line number for tomorrow’s boat.
“You have to make a decision now,” the line attendant said. “Everyone’s waiting.”
Panic mode fully engaged, I pulled the truck onto the ramp. I knew I had to park the truck, find someone to take it off the boat, and then exit the boat quickly. The parking attendant glared as he circled his arms this way and that.
I jumped out of the truck, only to jump back in when I was told I’d have to pull forward. I found the first person I could, who luckily agreed to take the truck off in Rockland, and rushed off the boat, nearly losing my EMS radio in the process. Bill had no idea the truck was headed to Rockland, and he was still on Vinalhaven.
I sent a few frantic texts. My phone rang and it was Bill. I made it a sentence or two into an explanation and broke out in heaving sobs, finally allowing myself to surrender to the panic attack that had been building. The line attendant and a friend appeared, comforting me.
I was mortified, but also unsurprised. As much progress as I’ve made, the ferry line in August proved to be my tipping point. And although I know I’m an extreme case, I’d wager I’m not the only one.
Courtney Naliboff teaches, plays music, and writes on North Haven.