By Alison Vincitore
Today The Three Magazine is excited to feature the third part in an essay series by guest contributor Alison.
To read Part 1, click here.
For Part 2, click here.
Over the past few years I’ve tried to be less influenced by fear, to do things that scare me. And in a sneaky way to avoid facing stressful, high-stakes social situations, I’ve instead tried a few physically challenging and traditionally scary situations—like trying to drive a moped even though I probably can’t ride a bike.
I had been waiting for a friend to go with me and help me figure out how to drive the moped, but decided I was sick of waiting around for other people to give me permission to do what I wanted. So I walked to about three different Revel scooters in the five block radius surrounding Brooklyn’s most upsetting looking hospital (which I’m convinced is about 95% parking garages) until I finally found one on a quiet street, fully operational, with a helmet inside.
I carefully watched the intro video, which shows you how to start the moped, kick off, and turn the throttle in a way that won’t cause you to flip over entirely. My heart pounded and I began to sweat—both because I was terrified and because it was about 90 degrees. But hey, this was the first step to changing my life. Goodbye, fear! Goodbye, being too anxious to do the things I want to do!
But here’s the thing: the intro video doesn’t tell you how to stop. Nevermind that I could hardly balance or drive in a straight line, I didn’t even know there were handle brakes. I thought letting go of the throttle would be enough.
Is it broken? I thought. Whatever, I’ll figure it out as I go.
For some truly confounding reason, I decided to turn onto Broadway: a two-way avenue. One of the busiest roads in the area.
I wobbled through, and began hurtling out of control, probably pathetically slowly, towards a parked minivan.
By some sort of miracle, there were no cars coming in either direction. I will survive! If I don’t crash into this parked car.
I managed to swerve and turn onto the side street, which was one of those blocks that you have no reason to be on unless you work in construction. Just a giant empty shell of a building. Now, it seems to be an incredibly low-rated parking garage. How fun!
But I parked the moped right outside that shell and jumped off. I still have no clue how I managed to stop it. I quickly came up with a cover story. I meant to drive here. I started in Queens. I for sure know how to drive a moped. As a chronic rule-follower, I realized I hadn’t parked the scooter correctly (which would be perpendicular to the curb) and hopped on to walk it into place. As I write this, I’m remembering I may have had to pay for this as a separate trip. Anyway, as I moved it I very eloquently hit every single button that makes noise and my cover story was almost blown when some guy, who I assume works in construction, shouted “Do you know how to work that thing?!”
I stayed cool, and stuck to my story, “Yeah, I just keep hitting the buttons!”
Then I got in a Lyft driven by the most patronizing person I’ve ever met and angrily Googled “revel broken brakes”. By the time I got to where I needed to go, I was 30 minutes late, covered in nervous and heat-related sweat, and had spent way more money than I needed to.
A great delight in my life is thinking about the security footage from the Food Bazaar parking lot that surely exists, in which I whiz by, totally incompetent and out of control. In fact, if you’re reading this and work at the Food Bazaar on Broadway and Manhattan Avenue and you can access parking lot security footage from a few summers ago, please contact me immediately.
On another attempt at conquering fear, I signed up to go ziplining in a former slate mine, because I’d always wanted to try ziplining and why not do it in a cavern if you have the option. Again, the company didn’t give me the full story because it turned out to mostly be an elaborate obstacle course based on scaling walls and stepping on tiny metal pegs plus a few little zip lines with essentially no supervision from the instructors.
During the training, I almost backed out. They said we could get a refund if we changed our minds. But I pushed on. Even when the instructors said, “We won’t be with you, but will be watching on CCTV so just wave if you need help,” giving no indication of how they’d physically get to us, I pushed on. After all, this was the first step to changing my life. Goodbye, fear!
It did truly feel like I was conquering my fears as I held tightly to the walls and balanced on chains. But then, I made a mistake with the carabiners. Slowly going into a full panic as I was stuck between points with the carabiners’ locking mechanism totally messed up, I offered the couple waiting behind that they could try to go around me—something I don’t think would have been logistically or physically possible. In my memory, the only thing I could do to fix the locking mechanism was to momentarily take both carabiners off the wire and hold on for dear life with one hand in the hopes I wouldn’t fall 750 feet or however far to my death. I have to imagine that there was a net or something just out of our sight. And of course I was concerned about how much I was bothering or inconveniencing the couple behind me, but they ended up being incredibly annoying so, you know.
Overall, it was a truly scary yet emotionally rewarding experience. I felt like I had taken on some of my fears. My nearly-near-death experience was absolutely worth the sense of growth and accomplishment.
But I wasn’t done with my DIY Fear Factor attempts yet.
If you’ve read the previous parts of the series (or the title), you may guess where this is going: Adult Gymnastics. I did gymnastics as a little kid and I was not good at it. I was never one of those tiny girls on the playground swinging with ease on the monkey bars, climbing all over, flipping and swinging around and over the equipment. I wasn’t super flexible or athletic, but I love the Olympics and gymnastics is always the most fun to watch.
One day, I finally decided to act on my goal of doing a handstand. I did some research and found exactly one adult gymnastics class that said it was good for beginners. As I’m sure you can imagine based on the recurring themes of this essay series, it was not.
I kept putting the class off. For months, I would pick a day to go, then have a reason not to. Some of them were actually good reasons. Finally, I decided one night that I’d go the next afternoon. I planned it out, got up, got ready, and the minute I left I realized the class started thirty minutes earlier than I thought and I was going to be late. But I had to go, because I could tell if I didn’t go that day, I never would.
I got there right at the end of stretches, and just as they were starting some handstand warm-ups. Now keep in mind, being able to do a handstand was my goal, not something I was planning on warming up with. Handstands may seem innocent enough, but it’s not exactly easy to kick up, go completely upside down, and trust that you’ll catch yourself and be strong enough to hold yourself up. Not when you and your body are a bit skeptical of each other.
As I struggled, childrens’ rock climbing and gymnastics day camps were going on around me. Those tweens sticking back handsprings on balance beams were judging me, I just know it. I tried to ignore them. I’m not here to compare myself to children, I reminded myself. I’m an adult learning a new skill, and that’s admirable. Sort of a mom-on-a-competition-show-trying-to-show-her-kids-they-can-do-anything-they-set-their-minds-to-who-gets-eliminated-first type of approach.
Problem is, that thought morphed into something like, I’m here to compare myself to the other adults, who are twice my age.
Once again, almost everyone in the class except me had clearly been coming for quite some time. Regardless, I had faith in the class description’s claim that we would section off into advanced and beginner levels. I believed it when it said you could have never heard about gymnastics before and you could still participate.
Clearly, I never learn my lesson because again, I wasn’t helped by instructors. The woman next to me gave me some pointers, which was very nice of her, but I never made it past the first step of just kicking one leg up and picking the other just barely off the ground.
Then, I got sort of upset that I couldn’t remember how to do a roundoff because that was one of my specialties as a kid, but I was able to do a backwards roll down a cheese mat and that was another skill I was good at when I was eight, so that was nice.
Turns out, gymnastics feels very different in your twenties than it does when you’re eight. Somersaults have, I would guess, about 10 times the g-force. My hip hurt from lunging (badly) and kicking off (badly) into (bad) handstands and (bad) cartwheels, which I was not expecting (the hip pain, not the quality). I was failing miserably, but only got one or two pointers from the teachers and only if I directly asked.
But there I was, lining up to try a roundoff one last time, mustering up all my courage, visualizing myself absolutely nailing it, when a goddamn white man stepped directly in front of me. This time was honestly worse than in that yoga class from the last installment, because not only were there two of them this time, but they had been standing in a spot that would have been perfectly fine to discuss roundoffs. But for some reason, the student walked into my lane, pulled the instructor over, and they stood about two feet in front of me. What is that? Why? If you are a white man and you are reading this, I beg you to look around. More likely than not, you are in somebody’s way.
I should warn you, in the same vein as the way the first half of this wasn’t about adult gymnastics at all, I didn’t actually cry while I was in the class. But I did come close. It may make the title a bit misleading, but I’m very proud of how I held it together. And I did cry later. We’ll get there eventually.
We finally split off into beginners and advanced. “If you have your front handspring, come with me. Everyone else, you’re doing handstands to flat-back into the pit!” My immediate reaction was panic as I wondered where people who can’t do a handstand should go.
I stood there, watching two cycles of the line kick up into handstands and fall gracefully on their back into the foam pit, my fury and anxiety growing as my eyes welled with tears. But I kept myself from crying, said “screw this”, and got in line.
“Go ahead”, said the instructor, and I frantically kicked up.
Sounds noble, right?
Well, the first issue I faced was that I don’t have the body/spatial/depth awareness to understand where I needed to stand or put my hands so that I would be in the right spot.
Here’s the next issue: I CAN’T DO A HANDSTAND. He didn’t even have time to grab my legs before my arms panicked, gave out, and walked me headfirst into the pit.
“What happened?! I saw you do a bunch of handstands earlier!”
“That wasn’t me. I didn’t do any.”
“You didn’t do any?! You’re brave then.”
I brushed off the somewhat backhanded compliment and asked, “So what can I do if I can’t do a handstand?”
“Uh, you could practice against a wall.”
We both looked around us. There was no wall in sight. Equipment and people covered every surface. He sheepishly gestured to a column wrapped in cords and wires and surrounded by mats, seemingly gave up, and went back to spotting people. I just stood there until another instructor—who had the biggest case of demanding cheerleading coach energy I’ve personally come across and spent most of the time complaining about how he hated teaching the adult classes—came by and told me to practice kicking up while putting my hands on a mat instead of the floor.
I did. For at least thirty minutes. I didn’t get any better. Then class ended. It was $32. I texted a few people about how ridiculous it was and then spent too much on a salad.
At first, I thought it was funny and was just proud that I went. I didn’t cry or have a breakdown, which is unfortunately an accomplishment for me at this point. But later that night, I watched a YouTube video that happened to involve some gymnastics and I suddenly broke into tears, overwhelmed with anxiety and embarrassment. And that was without even letting myself feel judged by the ten-year-olds doing advanced skills twenty feet away while I couldn’t even support the weight of my body with my arms.
Unfortunately, I think that may have been it for my Olympic dreams. Although there’s always curling.
I guess the moral of the story is if you have a fear you want to conquer, don’t.
Cover photo by Isabella Mendes from Pexels.