What Are You Willing to Risk?


A friend of mine turned 64 this week, said he played the Beatles “Birthday” song in celebration. Cranked it. Probably danced with his baby girl on his hip. He’s a new daddy. Yep, 64 with a six-month-old daughter, his first child. Life is full and good, albeit not exactly what he’d planned, heading into retirement. Oh well. All of this abundance started with him taking a chance. He risked rejection, humiliation, even heartache, just to speak to the cute salesclerk at the art supply store.

He also risked some cash on this particular writer. He was a major donor to my Kickstarter campaign to fund my Off the Leash road-trippin’, dog lovin’, book writin’ journey. He’s a patron of the arts and collector of things like paintings, old cars and rare guitars. Why not a book? I can only hope it’s a fair return on his investment.

It has been for me. Off the Leash continues to pay dividends in ways immeasurable –from Melba who wrote that she’d quoted my brother Don at her sister’s funeral, to my found brother Mike, who told me he’s gotten acquainted with his long lost sister through the pages of my book. I’d say the journey was worth the risk.

But I couldn’t take that trip today if my life depended on it. I’d be too scared. I still shudder at the fallout. I know full well the perils of what happens when the joy ride comes to an end. And I’ll tell you what, honey, reality bites.

Truthfully, he had very few teeth. The sheriff’s deputy had been circling like a vulture for days. The dogs went wild every time that skinny joker with hardly a tooth in his head would pull into my driveway. I was able to ascertain his state of oral health by hiding next to the window, tracking him with my bird watching binoculars. He would stand at the front door, knocking and waiting, knocking and waiting. Finally, he’d leave. Can’t serve a subpoena if nobody answers the door, right? Next time he caught me in the yard. Asked for me by my married name, long changed. I was able to honestly answer, “there’s nobody here by that name.” He left again, noticeably agitated. The third time, the sneaky son-of-a-bitch came to the carport, opened the screen and damn near broke the window pane in my French door. Scared the hell out of me. I went to the door, dogs going ballistic, yelled for him to get the &*$% off my property or I’d call the police! Well, I fought the law and the law won. Try as I might to dodge the process server using the “not my name” ploy, the cop who responded to my 9-1-1 call saw through that little scam as fast as one spin of the red light on top of the squad car. I almost landed in jail. The cagey, toothless little booger, with the cigarette clenched between his gums, had the gall to throw the subpoena at me. I was seething. Moral here: Capital One will send out the goons.

I thought this was the rock bottom of despair, the risk taking, gonna-be-famous-any-day writer clinging to a dream, reduced to a puddle of pathetic shame and servitude to the man, all out in front of the neighbors on a Sunday morning. But no, this pales in comparison to a broken heart. Shortly after I unloaded the gear from my road trip of a lifetime, still brimming with fellowship, enlightenment, the song of the highway embedded like tire tracks across my soul, I fell in love. Yeah, despite the bad timing, his life and mine, with me being broke as a joke and on a crash deadline to pound out a book, I allowed the lenient Jean voice to drown out my voice of reason and I went for it. I was all in. ‘Tis a lovely thing though, the descent of love, maybe that’s why they call it falling. Until two years later, semi-tragically, I find myself splayed on the floor, in the basement, with bare concrete exposed after the water restoration crew has ripped up the carpet after the pipes froze and burst after my pipes burst after he broke up with me on the eve of a 50-year record breaking cold. I do not recommend such egregious assaults on hearth and heart inside 24 hours.

Breaking up is hard to do. I don’t care if you’re in your 50s or your 20s. My son called last night to tell me about his first date with a gal he’s met in Wichita. New job, new life, new territory for a kid fresh from a split from his girlfriend of four years. We chatted about how good it feels to step out, to get out there, mix it up. I proceeded to tell him a story about a casual conversation in the park last week which ended with me chasing a man on a motorbike. It was a MisMatch.com date going nowhere at first, until the guy on the next park bench over, made a couple of funny observations, not about me, or my ill-fitting date, but the dude’s dog. Innocent enough. After I said goodbye to the guy I will never see again, I was leaving the park, with the deflated feeling of yet another date to no destiny. I thought, “why can’t I meet someone like that fellow on the bench with the book?” I scurried around the traffic circle to see if he was still there. He was gone. I felt a pang of lost opportunity. I was staring so intently at the bench some 50 yards away, I almost hit him! He was on a scooter right in front of me, about to scoot away! I caught up with him at the light and, well, uh, I followed him, like for a few blocks. By now I was telling myself I had completely lost my mind as I was wondering what I’d say if I did catch up with him. Would I holler out the window, “Hey dude! Wanna go out?” What kind of loser does this?  When a barricade for a street basketball tournament stopped him in his tracks, I ditched the car, hopped out and briskly walked (not stalked) up to him. I won’t tell you what I said, but I will tell you it took less than 60 seconds to get over feeling weird. The bemused yet inquisitive look in his shiny blue eyes told me it was all okay. Three dates later, we’ve amassed six hours of history. Who knows where this stalking might lead? One thing I do know, you gotta take that first step.

What would you be willing to risk?  

I was thinking about this at the Bread Co. the other day in downtown St. Louis, watching the lunch time teeming masses on the sidewalk. It occurred to me that not very many people would do what I did — walk away from a career, a home they’ve slaved to hold on to, their security, even their family. I left one kid shaking his head, with a dog at his feet, both bewildered. How many people do you know who would walk away from their life, just to feel alive ?

Thank God I don’t have to do THAT again! I almost lost my house. I damn near lost my car. I had to park around the corner for months dodging the repo man, until I could get caught up on payments. But I did. I’m solvent. Money in the bank. Roof over my head, pipes fixed, goons gone.

I risked everything I had, but I got what I needed. 
What do you need?

Step out. Call her up. Ask him out. Quit your job. Go back to school. Move to Iowa or Maui. Fall in love.

We learn in time that hearts mend, money materializes, new people come into our lives, sometimes tiny, sometimes fully grown, but to meet them, you’ve gotta be willing to engage in a little risky behavior.


About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Unprotected sex? I don’t know if THAT part is a good idea, but chasing men on mopeds sounds like great fun.

    I’m glad the repo people aren’t stalking you anymore, and the smoking deputy is not stalking you anymore and that YOU are the only one who’s doing the stalking.