A Different Kind of Fear

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“I wouldn’t use this door because it’s dark and someone could easily attack you.”

My long lost cousin’s wife is showing me the private entrance to the furnished basement apartment in their mansion I’m moving into. She suggested I move in the day we met (I can be so charming), after her husband randomly discovered he had a relative on his mother’s side living in the same city. Their 13-year-old daughter, an only child, squealed and nodded with enthusiasm. “You’re family,” the wife said, “and this is what family does.”

‘No,’ I’d thought. ‘Not my family.’

It took me two months to move in, after agonizing and discussing it in therapy, with my sponsor, with friends, going to their mansion in the Palisades for dinner, meeting her for coffee, and wondering if the risk of being welcomed, then rejected and abandoned, by more family was worth it.

In the end, I chose the risk. I can’t give up on love and the possibility of good things. If I do, I might as well give up.

But as she pointed to the dark stairway that led to the pool around back, the steep set of cement steps shadowed by trees that could hide lurking strangers, I shivered inside.

‘I’m not afraid of a stranger attacking me,’ I wanted to say. ‘I’m afraid of you caring about me.’

But I didn’t. I nodded dutifully and arranged a slight look of concern, even though I’d grown up fighting on the streets of Brooklyn, and studied boxing and still have a mean right hook, and I sometimes wonder with secret longing what it would be like to be forced to take out my anger on an attacker. I wonder if I would kill him.

But for her, this woman, this new ‘family’, I will fawn, I will fret, I will worry.

‘When? When will you hurt me?’

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