When I was in first grade, I had a stomachache before school every morning. After days and days of this, maybe even weeks, my mother took me to the doctor. Did I have an allergy? Some sort of infection?
It’s anxiety, the doctor told her.
He might have used different words, but they all in the end resembled nerves and worry. I was a shy child, often choosing to hang around the teacher at recess, but I don’t know now exactly what troubled me, why leaving for school occasioned such stress. It could have been that most girls wanted to play games involving chasing boys, which held no interest for me. It could have been that one boy in particular sometimes picked on me during recess. It could have been that I wanted to stay at home ensconced in a world of Barbies and paper dolls, that it was easier to play with my sister in our shared room of green shag carpet and matching twin beds, or to play hide and seek with our German Shepherd than to try and navigate this new world of playgrounds and friends.
Life felt safer if I stayed.
* * * * *
A few nights ago, I awoke at 2 am to my own churning thoughts about the stories I had been reading for school, their titles and plot lines tangling into a knotted mess in my head. My MFA program gears back up again soon, and though I have been enrolled for one year in creative nonfiction, this semester I am supposed to be starting fiction. I’m nervous: I’ve never been a fiction writer. Which means beginning all over again.
I could feel my stomach tumble in the night.
* * * * *
When I was in my mid-20s, I decided to up and leave Ohio and go to Mexico to teach English for one semester. I didn’t tell my boyfriend until I’d actually bought the plane ticket that I was not just leaving our city but also leaving the country. I felt like I had been waiting around for him to see a solid future with us. I chose Mexico because I wanted to see a solid future with me.
Looking back, I can see how hard that must have been for him, to have a girlfriend say out of nowhere, “I’m leaving.” But that’s what I did, one December evening when he’d come over in the cold. If we’d been outside, the words would have puffed like smoke into the air and wafted away. But instead we sat inside, on my futon bed, side by side, and the words clunked around like stones with nowhere to go.
I was anxious, back then, of what would happen to me and to us when I went. But I was more worried about what would happen if I stayed.
* * * * *
Learning fiction isn’t as big as Mexico, but it’s out of my element, and I’m concerned I won’t know the language.
It’d be easier to stay here and keep writing the things I love and know how to write.
But here’s the thing: I’m leaving.