The New Fear

On a warm, bright summer evening, as my age was approaching double digits, I walked with my big sister. We had just finished dinner and were now on our way down the street to a friend’s house. The proudly edged and mowed grass stood guard on the edges of the sidewalk as we strode down the street and around the corner. The same grass eventually gave soft landing to our feet as we arrived at our friend’s house.

I had been past this house many times, but never tried to cross the border from sidewalk to yard. The first step on the well kept grass made me uneasy, a guilt reaction, as my father always told me, “Don’t walk on other people’s grass.”

We made our way around the house and into the foreign backyard. Our friends called to us from the source of the shadow we found ourselves under. I looked towards the blocked sun and saw my friends in their tall treehouse. They invited us up, but I had reservations–I hated heights. Still do. The height isn’t scary; it’s the thought of falling.

With every step up the tree the knot in my stomach tightened, writhed, and formed another loop. Once inside, I made my way to the corner, away from the door. The recently blanketing light had become sparse through the tree’s rough arms. Slivers of stale, dying light reached for me through the hanging dust particles. The surrounding arms hastily slapped at the advancing light, but the light continued to reach towards me with purpose, until the defeated sun gloomily drowned below the distant horizon.

As darkness grew, the big kids began telling scary stories. Warmth died with the sun. In the corner, cold and bearing a stomach of broken glass, I listened to the story about a woman who died, had coins put over her eyes, and, at her burial, had the coins stolen by the gravedigger. The woman couldn’t pay the toll to cross over to the land of the dead without the coins, so her spirit possessed her dead body, dug itself out of its grave, and claimed her coins–along with the gravedigger’s life.

My throat choked shut. I couldn’t breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to not to listen, but all I saw in my head was the angry dead woman. I had to get out of the treehouse.

But I couldn’t move.

My brain told my legs to go, but my body was in shock and couldn’t recognize what my brain was saying. I couldn’t move or breathe. I was drowning in fear and couldn’t call for help. My heart pounded so hard I could feel it in my teeth. Each pulse slammed unoxygenated blood into my head. Finally I drew a long, shallow, involuntary breath, scattered down the ladder, and ran home.

All I remember was standing outside my parents’ front door, back in familiar territory, sweating and panting. I looked around in the Darkness. I felt it–the Darkness was no longer empty. It had become thick and smothering, like exhaust fumes.

I ran into the house, straight into my bedroom, and dove under the sheets. I closed my eyelids so tight it hurt. But the pain was a welcomed distraction. There was no sleep that night.

When the light returned, my muscles loosened and my breathing was deeper, unrestrained. The light cleansed everything and cradled me in its warmth. Looking back at the previous night was like looking at an old picture–it was over, done with, and in the past. A meaningless memory. Life was good again. Like mom said, “There’s nothing to be scared of.”

But as night approached and the sky was bruised with purple, again I felt the knots and broken glass in my stomach. Darkness again brought the new fear.

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