It was during one of our long walks through a cemetery that I found the grave of a girl named Amelia. Her tombstone stood at the edge of the cemetery, apart from any of the others, as if purposely hanging back. She had died in her 30s, and the lettering of her tenure here on earth was worn by 70 years of rain. "Perhaps," I whispered to myself, "she does have a story. Maybe one so incredible that no one would ever be able to capture it on a simple tombstone. Perhaps she stands out of the way because no one ever came near enough to understanding her. "Perhaps" I said a little louder, "she was a traveling tightrope artist with tattoos that told stories and a throat that spit fire. Perhaps she retired after she fell from the high wire, only to retire here and live quietly. Perhaps she died from a lonely heart, her name on the lips of a dozen men who never had the courage to speak to her. Perhaps she was attacked by vampire cougar who still roams these parts after being improperly beheaded."
Lisa came to stand behind me. "More likely she was just some girl who died of dysentery," she said. My sister had played too much Oregon Trail as a child.
"Possibly," I replied. "But I prefer my story."
And then I took a deep breath and walked purposefully into the story of my own life—finishing school, growing up, having my daughter. Even though—more than 20 years later—I still struggle with anxiety. I still deal with the fear, and it still limits me. But when I feel like I can't possibly survive one more day in the real world, I think back to Amelia. I think of all the things that Amelia might never have had the chance to do, and of all of the amazing, ridiculous things she accomplished in my imagination. I think of the fact that I still haven't seen the view from the top of the tightrope and that I never will if I don't push myself to fight my anxiety and confront the terrifying task of living.
Then I grit my teeth and make myself do the very things that scare me so much. I force myself to talk to the bafflingly perfect-looking moms at my daughter's school (almost all implausibly named Heather or Tiffany) whose shoes cost more than my car. When I walk past tattoo parlors, I no longer say, "Oh, hell no!" Now I say, "Maybe." Or "Soon."
Some people think it's strange to have a hero who is just a gravestone in a cemetery, but even today, believe it or not, Amelia is more responsible for getting me out of the house than my husband. She taught me that we all have stories in our lives worth passing down, stories that may or may not involve surviving brutal vampire-cougar attacks but that can make a lonely child—or adult—feel so much less alone.