January 9, 2007

Childhood Fears

Here's another piece I did for my writing group. The theme this month was "Childhood Fears." Enjoy!

I can name a handful of silly fears that plague me. Many of them stem from misunderstandings or a lack of trust or power. But retaining these fears ensures I keep many of society's best-loved childlike traits. Fear keeps us from becoming calloused and unfeeling in our maturity and instead makes us humble, vulnerable and needy. Despite my age, I have carefully preserved many of my young fears: mirrors in dark rooms, bugs crawling into my ears, sleeping with the closet door open. And not because I still believe these are imminent threats in my life, but because subconsciously I crave the vulnerability. To combat the inevitable jading process of time, I fight to keep something raw inside myself. Something that can be pierced at a moment's notice. I want to remember what it feels like to be 8 years old. It's why people watch scary movies. We love feeling exposed and weak - unknowing. Especially in a safe setting like a movie theater, it's validation that these feelings are worth experiencing.

Most of my childhood fears were never realized, but in looking back I see the fears I never knew I should have had. A trusted older friend who turned out to be a child molester. A religious leader who deceived our entire community. A parent who hovered between life and death for months. These real fears which could have inflicted the greatest emotional damage were carefully hidden from me until I was older. I was too busy sweating over bugs, dark closets and overcooked vegetables to notice the greater threats. And this is why childhood fears are so precious - they take us away from the more terrifying realities of life and present manageable, safe outlets to explore our vulnerability.

Only once in my childhood was I was faced with a fear larger than I could handle. I was babysitting my 1 year old sister and she wandered off while I was watching t.v. After half an hour, I realized she was gone and searched the house but couldn't find her. I panicked and called the police. They came with their dogs and searched the house and the yard. Then, they headed down to the pond on the edge of our property and the dogs began sniffing the shoreline. It hit me, they were looking for a drowned baby. My little sister had drowned. I ran screaming, blind with tears out into the street. I had let her die. This fear was different from anything I had ever felt before or since. Then a car pulled into the driveway. It was my older brother with the baby in the backseat. He had forgotten to mention to me that he'd taken her with him to town. But even today, almost 20 years later, I still remember what it feels like to have let your little sister drown. And I never want to experience this kind of fear again.

I still allow myself a stolen glance into the mirror at the end of the darkened hallway some nights to feel that tingle of dread rush up my spine. This is a fear that I can conquer. It is topical. It keeps my mind off real fears I have vowed to ignore. Adult fears that would cripple me if I let myself give in to them. How do you conquer a fear of a loved one dying? Global epidemics? Coming up short at Judgment Day? Donald Trump's comb-over? Give me a mirror in the dark any day. Why do you think I put one up at the end of my hall in the first place?

6 comments:

Mumsy Ed said...

The dying parent I get (c'etait moi!), but who is the child molester? You may answer in a private email if you must, but "Inquiring Minds Want to Know!" Did I miss something? Is there someone I need to reproduce in voodoo doll format? Or are you being merely literary. Oh, wait. I know who it was. Ewww.

acte gratuit said...

I still sleep with my closet door firmly CLOSED because of a nightmare I had. It was one of those half-conscious ones because I really was looking in the open closet. Anyway, I saw people in the clothes hanging from the hangers.
Creepy.
Whew. Good to vent that.
Great writing, btw.

Lindsay said...

When I was little, I had many irrational fears. For example, I was afraid of Santa Claus, earthquake and fire drills, and saying the Pledge of Allegience in kindergarten. Beat that! :)

Rachelle Black said...

AAAaaaaaggghhhh!!!!!!!!!
(that's me running down the hall screaming)
I was totally fine until you mentioned The Don and his hair.
I tried in vain to describe it to my 15 year old son (we have no TV) but found myself collapsing in shuddering fits every time.

Ah, the child molester.... unfortunately that was my life- so my fears took an entirely different turn..... after.

I do have to admit some friends convinced me to play "Bloody Mary" in the bathroom mirror one night and to this day I have to have the light on *before* I enter a bathroom LOL.
Slainte~
Rachelle

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