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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Your fear scares me

Thoughts on fear of fellow citizens and its effects
Do watchful neighbors help or harm? Photo by Lokesh_Dhakar, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I am driving down an unfamiliar road, five miles under the speed limit. I peer through the dusty windshield looking for any identifying features for the new house listed for delivery on my route. 

I am trying to dedicate attention to where I am supposed to go, but I am distracted by the ever-present, growing fear that I am making myself look suspicious. My work van does not have distinct markings on the side and I am driving slowly, looking at every house. 

Will someone think I am a so-called porch pirate looking for unattended packages by front doors, or that I am scanning for a house to target for a future break-in? If they do decide I am up to no good, where will that assumption lead them? 

In the forefront of my mind are news stories I have been trying to push to the back of my thoughts ever since I first heard about them. 

But I can’t stop thinking about these stories: Ralph Yarl, shot twice through the door of a house at the wrong address, a house he mistakenly went to when trying to pick up his younger siblings. 

Or, in the same week as his shooting this past April, the story of two cheerleaders in Texas, shot while getting into the wrong car. 

The story I remember most often is that of Kaylin Gillis, killed after being shot while turning around in a driveway after going to the wrong address. 

Too many times, I have accidentally switched two numbers in an address while out on deliveries, almost pulling into the wrong driveway before catching my mistake. 

I know, or at least I hope, I am unlikely to be mistaken for an intruder. I remind myself that I look unthreatening, a woman barely reaching 5 feet 2 inches, while I search for the home of a new customer. 

But everyone is suspicious. Nextdoor app and neighborhood watch groups provide people with the legitimate service of keeping up with and looking out for their peers, but they also serve as a source of kindling to turn unfounded fears into a raging bonfire

Violent crime rates are not rising, but judging by the activity and sharing of supposed threats on neighborhood apps and Facebook groups, it would be understandable if you assumed the opposite. 

As I drive down streets I’ve never seen before, I try to look inconspicuous. But I fear the harder I try, the more I look like I am, in fact, a source of trouble. 

I’ve had some strange encounters before, with people who probably thought they were being helpful and looking out for the safety of their friends and neighbors. 

Once, I pulled up to a home probably 10 to 15 miles from the main thoroughfare. I’d bumped my way down gravel and dirt roads, smiling and waving to passing residents.

“I am not a threat,” I hoped my smile said. “I am making eye contact and acknowledging you. I am supposed to be here too. Everything is fine.” 

I’d been to this far-flung home before, so I knew where I was going and drove with confidence. I pulled up to the driveway and opened the door of the van, revealing the stack of boxes to deliver. 

As I returned to the van, an unfamiliar vehicle pulled up and stopped at an angle, blocking me in. 

I stood still, unsure of what was about to happen on this street with spotty cell phone reception, miles from town. The occupants in the other vehicle began a string of questions in a hostile tone, glaring at me. “Who are you? Why are you here? Do you know the people who live here? What are their names?” 

I answered as best I could, “I’m Heather. I make deliveries. I don’t personally know these folks, but I’ve delivered to their home multiple times. I know their last name, it’s on the packages.” 

They were easy questions and answers, but I still felt my throat seize with nerves. I couldn’t let that show, I didn’t want to look suspicious. 

The people who stopped me were neighbors. They relaxed as I explained why I was there. 

“We were worried when we saw an unfamiliar car,” they said. “We look out for each other here.” 

I was worried too, when an unfamiliar vehicle blocked my only exit while I was alone and unable to call for help. I needed someone to look out for me too. 

I drove away with my legs feeling shaky from leftover adrenaline and my mind racing with worst-case scenario “what-ifs.” 

Another time, a man pulled up in a suburban residential neighborhood with similar questions. I explained I was a delivery driver. I took the box to the door and I left. 

The whole time, he stayed in his car right next to my van and watched my every move. In any other circumstance, the behavior would be labeled predatory or creepy. But because he was afraid I was a potential criminal, he was just being a good citizen. 

It worries me that one day, someone might not stop to ask questions first. Someone may, influenced by fear-mongering media and misleading statistics, think that I am the living embodiment of violence and crime and take action. 

I try not to think about it too much. I love my job for the most part; there is a joy in seeing places and neighborhoods I’ve never visited and the majority of the people I encounter are kind and gracious. 

I just didn’t realize when I took the job, one of the unwritten responsibilities would be the management of other people’s fears. I thought we, as Americans, appreciated the idea of freedom from fear, but it feels like instead we are being encouraged to fear one another at every turn. 

So I try to be normal, relaxed and as unassuming as possible as I drive, looking for a new home on my route. 

The details say the owners haven’t put the house numbers up yet and the home is by an empty lot, which should be easy identifying features. But in a neighborhood where addresses are obscured by overgrown brush and vacant lots full of tall, dry grass are commonplace, I still have to turn around and double back before I find the right place. 

I get out of the van, just in time to see a man step out of the backyard. I quickly ask, “I’m here for a delivery, is this the right address?” 

It is. 

All is well, at least this time. 

I hope it will always go this way, but I still get anxious. When I’m driving through a new neighborhood, do the residents standing inside their homes or yards also hear their heartbeat in their ears and feel their stomach drop when they see me pull into their driveway? 

Do they know I’m just as afraid of them as they are of me? 

Heather Taylor can be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Heather Taylor
Heather Taylor, Copy Editor
Heather Taylor is a journalism major at Chico State. This is her third semester with The Orion. She has worked as a reporter and copy editor. Outside of school, Taylor enjoys reading, collecting vinyl records, hiking and kayaking, making crochet projects and spending time with her pets. 

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