Growing Up Afraid

Mother told me to be something, so I’m afraid.— Matthew Good, from “Failing the Rorschach Test”

Unlike many of my friends that jumped from any rooftop, climbed any tree, and took up all of those “dangerous” activities like rollerblading and skateboarding, I hesitated, watching in envy, too afraid to take the risk. I remember being afraid of so many things, and no amount of   
could goad me into participating. I wanted to be accepted, yes, but my fear trumped my desire for companionship.

Perhaps this stemmed from my subconscious remembering when my two-year-old arm broke. Perhaps it grew from when I threw the firecracker punk instead of the ladyfinger, allowing that small red cylinder to explode between my fingers—luckily keeping said fingers intact. Or perhaps this formed from the animal attacks I’d been subject to, including a rather vicious bite on the ass from a strange mutt and being cornered by the angriest banty rooster known to man, with pecks like lightening strikes, coaxing blood blisters from my skin.

While pain is a rational fear, I have irrational ones, too. At age 10, midway through a solo vacation to my grandparent’s, I lay tucked away in bed and had the sudden, uncontrollable fear that I’d never see my parents again. What if a burglar smashed through the window and slashed my throat? What if my return flight crashed? What if… That sudden understanding of my mortality broke those final remnants of my sense of comfort.

I always figured that I’d grow out of such fears, such worries, such nonsense.

But in the past few months, I’ve taken to reading and—occasionally—revising some of my earliest works. I originally kept these old writings to witness my progress since those first spun sentences threaded my pages. Rather than seeing the improvement though, it amazed me: what I’ve lost in the process of my education.

My early works are fearless. I had no idea what the balls I was doing, making the writing rough and—in places—outright laughable at the ridiculousness of my attempted poetics. However, in the midst of those awkward phrases and bumbling sentences, a rawness lurks. I wrote about women that listened to dreaming mice and found more intimacy with switchblades than their boyfriends; I wrote about a delivery driver that accidently killed a man with his car, then intentionally strangles the dead man’s dog; I wrote about Mr. and Mrs. Claus and all the problems a centuries-old marriage might carry; I wrote masochistic couples that collapsed once love entered the picture; I wrote of women so afraid of being labeled that they’d rather pull their perfect pearly whites than to accept what everyone said; I even wrote about the death of God. I simply wrote, good or bad, stark or magical realism, violence or tenderness—and often, a blending of the above.

Now, there is a quiet calm that leaks through my words, toning down the once revered, over-the-top spectacles. Is this simply a repercussion of growing up, maturity budding within me—even if I can’t see it explicitly?

I love that my words have more shine, more glisten and flow, but something has been lost: my inner critic killing the ridiculousness before it ever breathes, keeping me on track for what is true and proper and socially acceptable, turning me into something that I never wanted to be: ordinary.

Though I don’t think that is quite right. I say this because of my recent discovery that I’m a phobic person, filled with irrational fears that I never acknowledged—nor did I ever realize the impact those fears had on my everyday life. But I can see now that my fear of success, of strangers, of failure, of death, of loss, of large groups, of disappointment, of rejection, of the Arapaima, these all stand in the way of who I want to be.
The Arapaima
Funny how we’re trained to believe that we can do or be anything and anyone we want to be, as long as we put our minds to it. But they never told us what to do when we’ve become what we never intended.