Monday, November 28, 2005


In Which I Admit to a Slight Aversion...

Still thinking about a small part of my Thanksgiving saga of 30 or so years ago, a part I hadn't thought about in years and years.

As many writers--both best-sellers and amateur diarists--have discovered for themselves, writing has a remarkable way of opening memory. The more you write, the more you remember, the longer the story, the sharper the details. What started out as a brief anecdote hinging upon a few specific instances--your mom getting hurt and your father coming home and thawing out your Thanksgiving turkey in the dishwasher, for example--has now taken on the properties of a road map, continually unfolding both in size and detail until it no longer fits in some glove compartment in your mind but has expanded to engulf a table.

I've been writing enough about my life that I pretty much expect to remember more as I write. This isn't to say I take the experience for granted. Indeed, I'm always astonished by what I remember, and the details. I've mean, I've always had a pretty good memory, but sometimes, writing has a way of transcending memory, of taking you back to the event.

(For example, right now, thinking back on my recent entry, I just this second remembered something else. It just came to me in a burst. That Thanksgiving day we got to visit my mom in the hospital, I remember that she shared her hospital room with another woman, a home ec teacher. When she heard my father's tale of defrosting the bird in the dishwasher, she laughed so hard she tore her stitches. Her name was Mrs. Cunningham and she was there recovering from gall bladder surgery.

That wasn't the small part I was thinking of, though. That was just a big fat digression.)

No, what I was thinking about was that moment at the age of 8 when I psyched myself up to walk a mile in the dark to get help from our nearest neighbor. I said that over time I looked back on that moment with something like satisfaction and pride in myself. But in the moment, I felt something I had never felt before. Something stronger than fear (which was pretty strong at that point).

Courage? Uh, no.

To be honest, I've never ever considered myself a terribly brave or courageous fellow. I grew up scared of the dark--even after my trip to the neighbor's to get help--scared of bullies; of my father when he was drunk; of killer bees, large dogs, snakes, and rodents of every stripe (in 5th grade, we had a class hamster named Mr. Purple and when it was revealed that I alone in the class had refrained from reaching into Mr. Purple's cage to pick him up or stroke him, one of the meaner boys grabbed me and forced my hand into Mr. Purple's cage. A second later, Mr. Purple, his little buck teeth flashing wildly, chomped onto my finger, sending me into a dancing, shrieking frenzy across the classroom for long seconds before, with one mighty flick, I sent Mr. Purple flying across the room, where he scuttled off under a radiator, taking parts of my cuticle with him). And of course, I was always afraid of death in a variety of ways. I remember in particular spending a long time worrying about drowning (in particular, falling through a frozen pond and being trapped under the ice), about being buried alive, and about falling to my death.

Over time, most of these fears have dwindled, one by one, but not through acts of courage. Never through acts of courage. Usually through motivational self-loathing. Persuasion would be a better word for it. When I was 8, I ran that mile in the dark because I talked myself into it, and indeed talked to myself the entire way through the trek, like a little crazy person escaped from an asylum. A year or so later, when my brother and his pals built a huge igloo and enticed me to crawl through the tiny hole into the dark space beyond, again, I talked myself through it--right up until the moment I ran out of oxygen because my brother and his pals had jumped on the igloo and collapsed a hundred or so pounds of ice and snow on top of me (two of my greatest fears--being trapped under ice and being buried alive--together!).

And of course, getting older and developing a sense of responsibility and priorities has helped.

Some of my old neighbors--the very ones who watched me tear up my front yard with the power of an all-wheel drive Subaru--still recall being at a block party with me when Thomas was just a little guy, not even able to walk. I was standing with a gaggle of Yummy Mummies, all of us chatting and doing that unconscious rolling back and forth of our assorted strollers to keep our assorted little ones in a drowsing state. Suddenly, this enormous hornet buzzed in the midst of us and everyone instinctively backed away or waved their hands. In the back of my mind, of course, a tiny little voice shrieked Killer bees! Then as the hornet neared one of the YMs, she ducked and yelped and waved her hand, which blew the hornet straight into my stroller, right onto Thomas' forehead.

A beat later--and I mean so fast it's a wonder the friction didn't set my shirt ablaze--I reached in, snatched the hornet off Thomas and crushed it between my thumb and forefinger. The offending insect wasn't on Thomas long enough to sting him, and astoundingly, I had grabbed it just right so it didn't sting me either. I can tell you this because it wasn't the least bit brave or heroic on my part. It was instinct. Not courage, just reflex. And luck.

(Although the Yummy Mummies were supremely impressed, and between you and me I allowed myself a brief period of preening that lasted no longer than an hour. Or two.)

But some fears are still harder to overcome than others. When our garage was invaded by a possum (which looks pretty rodent-like to me, although a reliable source informs me they are marsupials) a few weeks back, sure yeah, okay, I admit I was a bit squeamish about trying to catch it, harboring this ridiculous child-like fear that somehow the thing would jump on me. And, of course, when I tried to catch it with a butterfly net, and that's exactly what happened, well, that didn't help.

And then there's the thing I've been avoiding writing about for the past thousand or so words because it's a stupid fear and I feel stupid talking about it.

But which I'm going to tell you about anyway.

Even though it's stupid.

Maybe this is a good time to continue this til tomorrow...

No, no! All right. Here it is:

I'm somewhat--just the merest little smidgey-smidge--nervous about heights.

There, I said it. I'm height-averse.

To be clear: I'm not one of those people who leaves fingernail impressions on airline arm-rests. I love flying. I enjoy climbing mountains and taking in scenic overlooks and all that stuff.

What I'm NOT so good at is what I like to call poorly supported elevation. Swinging by a rope, standing on a ladder or scaffold, dangling from a tree branch. If I'm on these things at heights greater than, say, the roof of my car, then my aversion kicks in. Shakes, sweats, vertigo, mild dizzyness. It's as though I have elevation-induced malaria.

Which I mention at this juncture not just because my Thanksgiving day post reminded me that, even at 8 I had the ability to talk myself through an unreasoning fear, but because this Thanksgiving, nearly 29 years to the day later, I had to do it all over again...

From one fellow sufferer to another: The sure-fire cure? Bungee jumping and sky diving. After you've survived those experiences, you find that falling ain't that bad after all ...

... as long as the bungee and parachute hold. :P
MM, I am gratified that there's someone out there as scared of all these things (especially the bees and other sting-endowed insects, granted to me when a wasp stung my ear and gave me the gift of Tourette's for 15 minutes) and who still can talk about it.

Me? I decided to get over my fear of heights by working in roofing...
It hasn't really worked. It's not so much the fall that scares me as it is the sudden stop at the bottom.
i have also always been terrified of heights, so several years ago in an attempt to conquer this phobia, I got a job waiting tables at the revolving restaurant on top of my hometown's Tower building. I think the one here in Texas is actually taller than the space needle, but i'm not sure. Anyway, there's a glass elevator that carts you to the top. My second day there...the elevator gets stuck about three fourths of the way to the top...for about half an hour. My fear of heights, needless to say, was in no way alieviated. I quit the job and continue to exist with my fear...on the ground.
I never thought I could come to hate dots of ellipsis quite so much, but I have. Thank you for assisting to develop that hatred, MM.
Good one, MM - that one was all about the lead-up to the ellipses...
I have a height thing, too, except for me it's being high up while still attached to the ground in some way. I love flying in airplanes, and feel perfectly safe in them, but I can't take roller coasters, and glass elevators scare the hell out of me. I'll do it (sometimes), but my entire body will be tense, and I'll shake and cling to something, and I'll probably end up closing my eyes a lot, too.

My other great fear is cockroaches.
I am of severe fear of heights. But I am always the one that climb up to do things.

Its a requirement of sort and I don't let that fear grip me.

Given a choice I would rather not traverse those "non-safety" inclines.
9 years at UPS - climbing up metal grating, traversing moving conveyors 30 feet in the air with cement floors (to break jams), kinda helped with my fear of heights.

Now, what did you get yourself into on Thanksgiving?
evil evil! "In Which The Evil Clilffhanger Strikes Again" is what you should hav named this one!!!

Looking forward to your follow-up on this MM. Reading your blog makes my day complete...or really, it starts my day, since it's only 9:30 in the morning....
Hey MM, I know how you feel. I am TERRIFIED of heights, and I'm also extremely claustrophobic. I don't know how I manage to ride the subway every day. Looking forward to the next half..... :)
Man! More ...? Well, thanks for the fun. Looking forward to more tomorrow.

As for fear of heights, I say I have a healthy respect for them. But do get a touch of vertigo at baseball stadiums.
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