My Phobia


My Real Memoir

Last week I wrote about one of the darkest experiences of my life (it must have triggered some algorithm because WordPress cancelled all notifications). A train was involved. Then, a month later, a very different train encounter occurred.

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. But 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 because we hadn’t seen it until we were practically on top of it. Jeff’s mom waited and waited. No sign of a train. So she hurried across the tracks and pressed on. Minutes later, the same thing happened again. Again no train, and again she shot across the tracks. By five crossings later, we’d begun to believe there weren’t any trains.

And then we heard the whistle. No, not a whistle but 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 that I discovered I couldn’t move; panic 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.

The next day I pretended to laugh about it, but some part of my brain used the incident–coupled with the one a month before–to fixate 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. But it wasn’t enough. So I waited for the train to come. And 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. 

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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81 Responses to My Phobia

  1. A famous lady once said “Do it afraid”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Trev Jones says:

    Wow! No wonder you had a phobia after that, Mitch. It’s surprising how many adults do not understand how much a phobia can affect a young person. You’re right too, you have to face them, but it takes time and a little help sometimes from friends. I had a phobia of needles, but with Covid I had to face up to them and thankfully, they no longer bother me.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Abe Austin says:

    That’s incredible that you had the presence of mind to know how to work through your fear. I hope Jeff’s Mom was able to forgive herself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My sister and I, farm girls, walked to our piano lessons during the school day (1950s). We had to walked across Highway 6/White Pole Road (between Des Moines and Omaha), through both blocks of downtown Dexter, across the train tracks, and another couple of blocks to Mrs. Chapler’s stucco house (and her dog that liked to lick our legs under the grand piano, and her parakeet that plucked feathers from its chest). I was okay, but my little sister was phobic about what she would do if a train were coming. I think her school teacher even had to coach her through it a couple of time, but she made it, although maybe with a few shudders.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes. I agree. I recommend face it when you are reddy to face it with. Not push yourself to satisfy others. When we are reddy we will try to. Story is a very good, I get anxious while I was reeding, how is be in those situation❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Stepping outside the comfort zone. Claim the Golden Mean between foolhardiness and paralyzing fear. That’s how we grow up.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Good thing those angels were unaffected by the fog. Thank God you all survived.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. What a traumatic experience!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Dr. Ernie says:

    > If I don’t face my fears they will own me forever.

    Wow, that feels like a word in season for all of us.

    For those of us who know Christ, we need to confront our darkest fearers — war, plague, tyranny, death, persecution, etc — and declare that He is stronger than all of them. So we can respond with sacrificial compassion, rather than react out of the need to protect ourselves.

    Easier to say than do. But even saying it is hard enough, and desperately needed, so let’s start there.


    Liked by 4 people

  10. I’m glad the cure clicked. I have a healthy respect for things that can hurt me including flying but for life to go on with us in attendance, we need to feel the fear and do it anyway, very carefully. Someone was watching over you that day. Close calls wake that up in us.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. mitchteemley says:

    Yes, I definitely believe Someone was watching over us that day, Marlene.


  12. This post gave me a serious phobia of trains and then fixed it all within a few minutes! That’s what I call talent, my friend. Great story telling.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Wynne Leon says:

    Holy smokes – what a story, especially coupled with that last train story. It’s no wonder you developed a phobia but such a courageous job facing it.

    But more than that – you have such a gift of story-telling. And each story is its own courageous story that we all get to share and learn from. Thank you, Mitch!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. What an experienced well told.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh my, I’m so glad you were kept safe and can help yourself and others by sharing the experience. Thank you and God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Mitch – what a frightening experience. I was there! I am so glad you were courageous enough to overcome. Many people would let it live inside forever. Thank you for sharing ❤️.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Linda Lee Adams/Lady Quixote says:

    Reblogged this on A Blog About Healing From PTSD and commented:
    Mitch Teemley has written an amazing story about facing his fears.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. murisopsis says:

    I’ve faced my fair share and overcome many – but spiders are still a problem for me….

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Wow. It’s understandable, Mitch, that you became phobic about trains. Your story brought to mind an incident I think of whenever I must cross a double set of tracks.

    My grandmother was hit by a train when crossing a double set of tracks. No fog, it was clear daylight but there was a train on both tracks unbeknownst to the driver and passengers of the car. The first train blocked their view of the second train coming in the opposite direction. There were no cross arm signals at that time. When the first train had passed they began to cross and the second one hit them pushing them about a half-mile down the tracks before it stopped. Fortunately, all in the vehicle survived. From my recollection, my grandmother had a long hospital stint. I remember not being able to visit her because she was in the hospital ICU and they wouldn’t let children in.

    What a wonderful conclusion. It’s astounding that you were able to face your fears head-on at such a tender age.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. What an experience! I can relate to that mom … Wow …
    I still think about a near-death experience from when I had just gotten my driver’s license. I was like you – my sister told me to laugh it off, some idiot called me “brave,” but ultimately I think of every day I’ve lived since then as a bonus – maybe even the mercy of God that I’m not in hell, since I’m not sure I was truly saved back then.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Mischenko says:

    What a traumatic experience, Mitch. I agree people need to face their fears, but it can be such a challenge to apply it. I’m glad you were able to overcome. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Mitch, we, your WP readers, are eternally grateful that you survived your harrowing road trip to become the peerless (fearless?) blogger you are. I can totally relate to your panic, for nearly 50 years ago, bad weather nearly did me in, too. I owe my very life to a (from above) subliminal, drivers-ed lesson, which afforded this then 19-year-old the last minute know-how to, in real time, correct my nearly fatal error(s); to avoid skidding across that icy overpass into a head-on with a take no prisoners semi. My almost last day on Earth, did include profound aftereffects. To this very day, I’m a much improved driver with a far greater appreciation of this gift of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. capost2k says:

    My fear is of deep water, even though I know how to swim. No memory or apparent reason, but any time I get up to my chest in a pool I used to start to feel panic and move to shallower depths. Finally, the Lord dealt with me about my fear and on the next trip to the pool I went to the one meter board (the lowest one). I saw kids laughing at me as I trembled to the end of the board, but then jumped off to my death! In a very real way, I did die to myself as I died to my fear as I swam away from the board back into the shallows.
    I still have a fear of deep water, but I have swum in the Atlantic Ocean where you could not see the shore; I almost drowned in a cove in Greece as I got turned around in the water; fortunately another tourist on our boat knew enough to NOT ignore my cry for help and came to float me back to the boat. But I will keep swimming in the Olympic pool at the university… and die a little more each time I do.
    ❤️&🙏, c.a.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. pkadams says:

    Phobias are real .😞 I’m so sorry about your friend and his dog . And thankful that your friends mom pulled forward in the nick of time!🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Webb Blogs says:

    Wow what a story Mitch

    Liked by 1 person

  26. “But then something clicked: If I don’t face my fears they will own me forever.” That’s pretty insightful for a teenager!

    If I think back, there was at least one moment when I was around 12 where I also had a moment of clarity and immediately made a change for the better. It’s good to remember this. My kids are now in their early teens and I still think of them as my little kiddos. But there’s insight and depth and understanding beneath all the eye-rolling. LOL. They’ll find their way. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Badfinger (Max) says:

    Yea that would scare anyone… Heights are my phobia…even on ladders.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. K.L. Hale says:

    Mitch, thank you for sharing this and inspiring us to “face our fears”. A fellow softball player, in 1989, decided to take her own life on R.R. tracks. For a long time I hated trains. The thought of being hit by a train made my stomach flip–and become sick. I worked at two schools in a 15 year period in which I had to cross the tracks to get to work. In small town, USA, my boys and I crossed the tracks too many times to count. I had my wedding at a park pavilion…by the tracks (is that why it didn’t last ? ;-). The kids went running after it when it went by and I screamed like a maniac for them to come back to me and not be close to the tracks. I’m one mile from the train tracks now and can hear the Branson Scenic Railway. When I lived at the campground, you guessed it, I could hear the Silver Dollar City train blow it’s horns all season. I took the train from Fairbanks to Denali, Alexandria to Cairo, and Durango to Silverton a few times. I guess you could say I got over my fears, Mitch. 🤍

    Liked by 2 people

  29. successbmine says:

    What a scary ordeal! Fear can be extremely difficult to deal with and to overcome, but when we do overcome there is such freedom. I still, at nearly 77, do not do well with heights. Even the balcony at church does me in. I feel as though I will topple right over the railing while my stomach sits in my throat. I cannot seem to overcome it. I used to be afraid to fly, but then a friend of mine and I decided to go on vacation to Bermuda and, of course, we had to fly. But that ended well as I discovered that I loved to fly, and especially to sit in a window seat. So we never know until we try something we fear whether it is really as bad as we imagine. Our imagination can surely create chaos for us if we let our thoughts run to the negative. I’m so glad you ‘missed the train’ that day. But that miss was just a little too close for comfort. God bless you Mitch and thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. leendadll says:

    It only took a nightmare to give me a train/track phobia that lasted years. You situation would have left me needing to be tranquilized!!

    I go white knuckle in tulle fog. Once hit it in Irvine. Scared to death, I made a uturn and drove all the way back to Rancho SM.

    Back in the 90s, I hit it when getting off from Knotts at midnight. I crossed Beach Blvd before I knew I was at an intersection. Thank gawd there was no traffic!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Powerful story!

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  32. seaangel4444 says:

    I can only imagine what your experience was like, Mitch. I applaud you immensely for doing what it took to get through (and past) this terrifying experience. One of my favorite books is “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” by Susan Jeffers. It sounds like that is what you did. Thank you so much for sharing this incredible story, Mitch! Cher xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Dawn Marie says:

    I think the root of my fears is claustrophobia. Deep water (as CA mentions) triggers it, as do heights (I feel suffocated by the fear.) Working on both these past ten years. Finally learning to swim in my 40’s helped tremendously with the water thing to the point that I have become a kayak enthusiast. Climbing Camelback mountain in AZ was my private Dairy Valley train-track exercise. Mountain climbing & kayaking has dealt with the fears of water & heights; however, that claustrophobic feeling continues to be the big bugger. Hugs to you for reminding us – we all have something to work on!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Nancy Ruegg says:

    “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway”–John Wayne. Kudos to that young Mitch who saddled up!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. I’m glad you lived to tell the story!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Susie says:

    You’re lucky you got over yours so soon. My grandmother was mean. When I was about 2 for some reason my Mother left her to babysit me. She wanted me to nap so she took me in moms room and told me if I didn’t sleep “the foxes would get me”. So of course I didn’t sleep. Mom had curtains with brown orange and green leaves on them and in the dark they became Fox tails. For years I was terrified of even the word fox. It wasn’t til I was in college at Ohio university taking a psychology class that I got over it in a blink. I was reading a story very similar to mine and it just hit me. I love foxes . No fear. But that old woman sure put a damper on about 16 years of my life .

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Love this and the whole Real Memoir series.

    Regarding [WordPress cancelled all notifications] in the preamble, I have observed something like that.  After several days when I did not receive e-mail notifications, I found that an unwanted check box is sometimes checked, for no apparent reason.

    Visit [] (also reachable from an icon near the upper right corner of your WP dashboard and a series of clicks) and observe the checkbox for the setting at the bottom of the page:

    [Block all email updates from blogs you’re following on]

    Of course the box should not be checked except in rather unlikely circumstances.  But it sometimes IS checked by some SW poltergeist rather than by U or me!

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Flashes me back to a story by one of my nephews. He had borrowed his dad’s car when he was 17. As he started crossing some train tracks, the car stalled. He tried pushing the car himself, but he wasn’t strong enough. He was in a very rural area (before the cell phone age). He walked a few miles to his home and expressed the news to his folks. Upon returning to those tracks, all that was left was an explosion of car parts strewn about. Nothing about the incident even made the news. The car was history. His dad was mad. But at least he survived. Interesting story of yours, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

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  40. We cannot control everything. Phobias may last. Sad memories leap from the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Beverley says:

    Wow! What a memory! I am so glad that you are alive to tell the story and many people will be helped by it. God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

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