I took an English class, the last day was yesterday. One of the requirements was to write a short fiction piece. Here it is. And yes it is based on reality. Names have been changed.
As I get off the ferry my cell phone rings and it’s my friend Jerry; it is our plan to meet at the main entrance to the Ferry Building. He says that he will be there in just a few minutes. It has been a very long time since I have been to San Francisco, more than twenty years in fact. The first thing that I notice is the absence of the Embarcadero Freeway. In its place is a beautiful clean boulevard lined with trees, a sharp contrast to what it had been years before. Flags stand out straight from the pole in the crisp breeze, which also sends a few small white clouds scurrying across the sky behind the tall buildings across the Embarcadero.
Presently I see Jerry coming across the street carrying a small brown shopping bag; we embrace and chat a bit, then decide to walk down to Pier 39. Jerry stops from time to time to take pictures with a camera he is carrying in the shopping bag. By the time we arrive at the pier it is nearly 1 PM, so we decide to drop into the Hard Rock Cafe for a bite to eat. Over lunch, we talk about our memories of the city and how we remembered things being, although this is the first time we have ever been in San Francisco together. Lunch is good, the music brings back great memories and the company is fantastic. It is such a good feeling to be there and with such a good friend.
We leave the cafe and the day is just as beautiful as when we had gone in, but you know what? There are taxis everywhere! My palms begin to sweat, my heart races; I feel the adrenalin pumping through my veins. My eyes become very focused, seeing only taxis, and they are everywhere. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know that it is the post-traumatic stress disorder, but my main focus at the moment is finding a place of safety. It's like I keep expecting a taxi to come up on the sidewalk and run me down or something. Jerry asks me if I am ok and I mutter something about the taxis and getting out of here. With that, I just start jaywalking across the boulevard; Jerry follows.
We board a streetcar and head back down toward the Ferry Building and up Market Street; I start to relax a bit. Jerry needs no explanation of my behavior. Being the good friend that he is, he is already aware of my phobia of taxis and why they trigger the PTSD. As he sees me starting to relax, he reaches into the small brown shopping bag he has been carrying and shows me the gift he has purchased for a mutual friend. I tell Jerry that the gift is awesome and that I believe that our friend will really enjoy it. It warms my heart to see Jerry's thoughtfulness, and I wish that I could see our friend’s face when he is presented with this wonderful gift.
We get off the streetcar just a couple of blocks from Union Square and walk the short distance to the square, and from there we go to a building where Jerry used to live. There is a coffee shop on the ground floor. Jerry stops and talks to the shopkeeper, who goes and gets one of the tenants who lived there while Jerry did nearly forty years earlier. Everyone is talking and having a good time. I sit there and try to be part of what was happening, but I keep seeing all the taxis and the drivers. I wonder if the drivers are all pedophiles. On a logical level, I know the very idea that all taxi drivers are pedophiles is bunk, but I can't make my inner child, Little D, believe it.
To Little D, taxis are places where the cabbies do deplorable things to devastate the innocence of young children. Not only had Little D been victimized, his best friend Art and younger brother David had also fallen prey to the sadistic and lustful perversions of this taxi-driving madman, so the very sight of so many taxis fills his little heart with unspeakable terror. To this day, this terror still controls me, the adult, because I am that little boy. This phobia sends me into a panic, and some forty years later I am still the taxi guy’s victim.
I now know what I must do. I must fight my demons on their own turf or forever be their victim. I must ride in a taxi. I set my resolve; I will ride. Yet I doubt my ability to make it happen.
We leave the coffee shop and walk down toward the gate to China Town. It is some distance from the coffee shop and along the way I tell Jerry that I'm going to ride in a taxi someday. “It won't be today, but someday I will ride in a taxi.”
“No rush,” he says. “Just do it when you are ready and above all, keep Little D safe.” Jerry's understanding and compassion plant a seed of courage in my heart that I can even now feel starting to grow, and somehow, deep down inside, I know that I will ride today.
We walk on for a while in silence. “Have you ever ridden in a cab since then?,” Jerry asks.
“I've only ridden in one taxi in all my life. It was a Yellow Cab in Fortuna, California, during the sixties.”
“And you've never ridden in one since then?”
“Nope. Taxi drivers are perverts.” I knew that it wasn't true, but when you hurt a child in a particular place, in the child's mind those places are evil and so are all the people who inhabit them. And even though a taxicab is a mobile place, it is a place to be avoided; I would much rather die than ever have those shameful things happen to me again. So why put myself through it? At this point, I really feel no need to torture myself, yet I realize that the only way to the other side of this phobia is straight through the middle of it.
We finally arrive at the gate to China Town. And Jerry can't even take a picture of it because the memory chip in his camera is full to the max and he can't figure out how to delete the photos he doesn't want. “I have a Ph.D.,” he says, “and I can't even figure out what button to push on this freakin' camera.” I try to figure it out and have no more luck than Jerry, but I only have an Associate’s Degree, so what does one expect! But wait, there is a camera shop just inside the gate. We are in luck. We agree to go in and ask for help as long as I promise not to mention the fact that Jerry is a Doctor of Philosophy. I promise and in we go.
Inside the shop, Jerry does a great job of playing the fool and the Chinese shopkeeper does just about as good a job at playing dumb and trying to sell Jerry a new camera or at least a new memory chip. But Jerry, in his great wisdom, sees through the shopkeeper’s cunning ploys, and at long last, after much laughter and explanations of the obvious, we finally leave and Jerry now has a new skill as well as the ability to take more pictures without buying any new equipment or exposing his lofty stature in the world of academia.
And I leave the shop with a new-found courage, because while Jerry is learning how to operate his camera, I'm reassuring Little D that he will be safe and that nothing bad will happen to him.
Outside, Jerry takes pictures of the gate and I sneak over to the curb and touch a taxi parked there, and wonder of wonders, it doesn't open a mouth filled with shark teeth and bite my arm off. It's just a car.
“I'm ready to ride in a taxi,” I say to Jerry.
“Are you sure?,” he asks.
I lie and say, “Yes.” I tell myself that the cab is the only way to get to Ghirardelli Square by the prearranged time to meet my wife.
Jerry hails a cab and I ask, “What do I do?” As it pulls to the curb in the same place where the one with no shark teeth had been, Jerry says, “It's your job to get into the cab and I'll take care of all the rest.” The taxi is yellow and says “Yellow Cab” right on the side of it in great big bold letters. My heart pounds, I want like everything to run, but my feet are stuck. Jerry opens the front door. I see my hand on the back door handle; the door opens and I get in; the door shuts. I feel all swallowed up like Jonah in the belly of the whale.
I see Jerry in the front seat talking to the taxi guy. It hurts like hell to see my friend so close to him. I hope like everything that he will be ok. But Jerry is a big man, even bigger than the taxi guy, so I think he will be safe. Now I have to keep me safe. I feel myself starting to leave. “Come back,” I say, “Come back. You have to stay here, you can't go, I need you!” The taxi guy turns his head and gazes at me through plastic framed glasses - he wants me. I put my hands up over my head to protect myself. The driver looks back at the street; the glasses disappear. I find it hard to breathe. I see the tops of the buildings, I see the sky. “Come back, come back, you can't go out there. Hang on, you can do this!” My heart screams, my lips make no sound. My eyes cry, my arms and hands are protecting my head.
We go up, we go down; we stop, we go; we turn left then right, up and down, but I don't see any of it. My private parts ache. I want out, but the taxi guy keeps driving. “We will get there soon,” I tell myself, “and when we do, Jerry will hold my hand and I'll look up into his eyes. Jerry will keep me safe.”
But then I remember something very important. I'm just as tall as Jerry! I'm NOT little! I can take care of myself!
My heart rate slows as color comes back into my white knuckles. We stop and get out. Jerry and I give each other a high 5 and I dance a little gig on the sidewalk. I look across the street and here comes Sarah. She walks up to where we are and Jerry asks her to guess what I had just done. I don't really give her a chance to guess, I just tell her that I rode in a taxi. She gets really excited and gives me a hug and a kiss. Then she reaches into a shopping bag and pulls out a teddy bear she had stuffed for me at Pier 39. I hug it close and cry a tear or two with each eye.
And just like magic, all the taxicabs in San Francisco disappear. We are in the city for another 3 hours and I don't see a single taxi! Sarah, Jerry and I walk about 20 blocks and there is not another taxi to be seen anywhere. It's like all the taxis in California have fallen off the face of the earth.
If a man would get his life on track, he must first go back to the place where it was derailed.