As a girl, when I would get scared, and I mean really, truly terrified, an equally frightening response occurred. Rather than be able to scream, cry out, or even run away, I would become paralyzed--literally rooted to the spot--and unable to make a sound. In my mind, I would be trying desperately to run or shout or do something, but it was no use: my body would simply stand there, stiff and immobile. The most I was ever able to manage was a steady stream of tears until someone, usually my mother, would notice and grab me, breaking the spell.
As you can imagine, this was pretty Inconvenient. I couldn't scream or try to surface when my dad accidentally knocked me off the fishing pier at my grandparents' cabin when I was a kid. I couldn't run when the wild firework came right at me. And the evening some weirdo pulled up on our street and called me over ostensibly to ask for directions but decided to show off his Attributes instead--I think I was fifteen--I just stood there. Crying. I have no idea how that all resolved itself to this day. I do know that, from then on that summer, my brother and all of his friends escorted me to my girlfriend's house half a block away whenever I walked over. And back. The Knights of East 38th Street.
That Fear Paralysis eventually resolved itself, I guess, because since then, I have run away from bad-tempered geese at the duck pond (with children in tow) and more than one ugly snake at the lake. Having children to protect probably inadvertently cured me, taking me outside myself, like those stories you read about mothers lifting cars off their babies.
Now my fears are less concrete and less definable. I have an almost irrational fear of Being Sick. A conversation like this in our house is not unheard of:
Rick: (sneezes or coughs) Ugh.
Nance: (sits up, alert) What was that? Are you sick? Are people at your work sick?
Rick: No. And No. It was nothing.
Nance: (severely) Are you sure? You better not be sick.
Rick: (calm, but knowing it is hopeless) Nance. I am not sick. All I did was cough/sneeze. It might just be allergies or sinus.
Nance: (resolutely) Rick, I am not getting sick. I mean it. I am megadosing Vitamin C, just to be safe. Stay over there. Don't touch anything.
Nance: I mean it. I'll unload the dishwasher. Do not touch anything. If I get sick, you're in big trouble.
Also, since I have retired and no longer bring in The Huge Teacher Bucks (ha!), I have periods of Obsessive Concern that we may, one day, be poor. Rick has offered approximately eleventy billion times to Show Me The Money (i.e., our Financials) so that I will not be so overwrought. We have visited with our Long-Suffering Financial Advisor (and wonderful former student, so he knows me), who has patted my hand and dabbed my tears and recommended a therapist. (Okay, not that last thing. He actually recommended that Rick take me On Vacation and that I Drink More.) Everything is Really Okay. But sometimes I cannot help myself, and I start getting afraid of money all over again. This all stems from being poor at the start of our marriage. As in rolling change for expenses, plus eating meals and doing laundry at The Parents twice a week.
Finally, I'm afraid Something Really Bad Will Happen. I'm not too sure exactly what this means. After all, lots of Really Bad Somethings have already happened in our lives, and we've made it through all of them pretty much okay. And Really Bad Somethings happen--inevitably--in the course of people's lives all the time. That's Life. It's lumpy and full of Unexpected Somethings.
Most people who know me are surprised that I have any fears at all; they think I am bold and brave and stride purposefully through the world with determination and limitless confidence. To a large extent, that is true. But everyone, I think, has Fears. Everyone has those small, nagging tugs that shadow their joys and deepen their sorrows; those sudden and rare down-hard clenches that make your breath ragged and your stomach lurch and your heart almost batter your ribs. "Fear," said Frank Herbert, "is the little-death."
"What are you afraid of?" a psychology professor once asked me. "I mean it. What are you most afraid of in your life? That you'll die, right? Now, whenever you're really afraid of something, ask yourself, 'What are the odds that this will kill me?' If the odds are less than even, then do that thing. You'll be glad you did." I think of that more often than Dr. McKinley probably ever imagined.
I am not Ashamed of my Fears. Why would I be? Everyone is Afraid Of Something. The shame would come from Not Doing Something About Them. I like to think that, by acknowledging them, I face my Fears and Do Something About Them every day. And I push them away, little by little, every chance I get. I've vanquished other Fears before. I think I can smack these down, too. To paraphrase another author, "Fear is a story we tell ourselves, and so I tell myself a different story." In My Story, I want to be the Hero.