My Phobia


Part Two: Into the Fog

It was my buddy Jeff’s birthday. His mom decided to drive five of us to a Disney double-bill ten miles away across an unlit stretch called Dairy Valley.

The pizza was great (all pizza is great when you’re eleven) and so were the movies. The trip home was not. It was the foggiest night I’d ever seen, or rather not seen.

What Dairy Valley lacked in lighting it made up in railroad tracks. Milk train tracks crossed the road every half mile.

The first time a blinking R/R light went off, we jumped in our seats. Jeff’s mom waited and waited. No sign of a train. She hurried across the tracks and pressed on into the void.

Minutes later, the same thing happened again. Again no train, and again she shot across the tracks.

Five crossings later, we’d begun to wonder if there even were such things as trains.

And then we heard the whistle. No, not a whistle—a harsh, angry blaring that grew louder by the second. Unsure what to do, Jeff’s mom stopped and sat there. Should she stay put? Throw the car in reverse? The blaring grew deafening. We started screaming.

Jeff’s mom threw the car into gear and lurched forward. As she did, the car began to shake violently, and a blurred wall of metal appeared behind us. Only then did we realize…

We’d been sitting on the tracks.

The realization that we’d come within a breath of being crushed hit us like, well, a train. After the raging behemoth passed, Jeff’s mom got out and checked the back of the car. The bumper was still hot. We couldn’t have been more than an inch away.

It was then I realized that I couldn’t move; the shock had drained all of the strength from my legs.

We drove home in silence. Jeff’s mom was in a state of shock—she’d nearly killed herself and five kids.

I laughed about it the next day, but some part of my brain used this incident–coupled with the one a month before–to imprint on the idea of death-by-train.

I soon began calculating which family trips required crossing railroad tracks. When they did, I would beg my parents to let me stay home. When they refused, I would sit crying and shaking in the back seat as we neared each fateful crossing. My dad would point in both directions and say, “Look, no trains!” It didn’t matter.

Phobias are not on speaking terms with logic.

My train phobia lasted almost two years. And then one day we visited Knott’s Berry Farm, a theme park near where I lived. I’d always loved its nineteenth century locomotive. But everything was different now.

For the first half of the day, I avoided the R/R crossing. But then something clicked: If I don’t face my fears they will own me forever.

So I made myself walk across the tracks, fighting tears and jitters all the way. Then I did it again. And again. And again. But it wasn’t enough.

So I waited for the train to come. When it did, I forced myself to face the beast. Then I did it again. And again.

By the end of the day, park employees were dragging me (laughing hysterically) away from the tracks. I went on very few rides that day. And yet I’d taken the ride of my life. Because…

Facing your fears is the ultimate thrill. 

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Memoir, Story Power and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to My Phobia

  1. Pingback: My Phobia | Mitch Teemley

  2. Great story, Mitch. Did your parents put you in counseling after you played chicken with the train? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. @vapor_sage says:

    I love trains, Knotts was the first place where I placed a coin on the track to be squashed by the train’s wheels. Thanks, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great story and so true, face your fears and they melt away.

    Liked by 1 person


    So sorry you experienced this as a child but sharing this brought so much to light about the need to face our most frightening “poltergeists”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. powerful imagery. i am jittering with you… i’ve had my “rear bumper” singed once in my life–not by a train but by a vehicle at a speed just as fierce… the sensation in the memory of it never quite goes away… i look back at the close encounter with death and realize the sovereignty and grace of God in my life–it simply was not time…i did not acknowledge such a thing at the time–which made the aftermath of fear much worse–but now I know why He saved me… ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! Can’t say that I blame you for fearing trains after your experiences. Glad you faced your fear! Truly inspiring. I suspect we all have a few fears that we need to face the way you faced yours. Thanks for this great post, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So true Mitch. If we don’t face our fears they own us forever. Great wisdom there!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Gary Sweeten says:

    In my world, your experience would be considered a shock or trauma that leaves people with Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) that replay the original shock over and over in a reshocking cycle of deeper impact. You treated yourself by systematically reducing the ANTs and allowing yourself to renew your mind by facing the threat over and over, reducing the sensitivity of your brain/body to the fearful stimulation. You tell the story so well that I suggest you make a film about people with PTSD who can get better. It is a very clear story of self help/self healing that we who counsel can applaud.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. brunniegetchell says:

    Great story about looking fear in the face and flipping it off. A bit dangerous but a good example of exposure therapy. I’ll think of you the next time i stop for a train 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nancy Ruegg says:

    You had a lot of courage for a little kid, Mitch–even if the Knott’s Berry Farm train WAS slow. Kudos, these decades later, for what you did back then!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: My Early Brushes with Mortality | Mitch Teemley

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