I’m not really afraid of anything. I mean, I don’t like spiders, but I’m not walking on water to get away from them (like someone I know). Snakes and other creepy crawlies don’t bother me in most cases. Well, with the gigantic exception of cockroaches, which I think are so disgusting that I kind of freeze up when startled by one or faced with several at once. And then I proceed to itch uncontrollably until I manage to shift my focus. But I’m not afraid of roaches; they’re just gross! Remember that commercial about the pest control company where a roach roams across the screen? I’m likely to turn the channel, but I’m not going to have nightmares.
When we moved out of our apartment, the cleaning checklist we were given required that we clean under and behind the oven and fridge. Now, I’m not the best housekeeper, and I couldn’t move the fridge on my own, so we hadn’t cleaned underneath it. It took both Naren and I to pull it out, and when we did, there were roaches. I managed to kill one without too much reaction, but then a few more scurried out, and I had to leave the room. I didn’t scream and run out, I calmly, probably twitchingly, walked into the other room and proceeded to scratch my head and arms for ten minutes, then got back to work cleaning a different room. Naren thinks this irrational reaction is hilarious, by the way, but he’s been warned that I don’t have a sense of humor where roaches are concerned. Realistically, if I had to take care of roaches on my own, I could, but it’s likely I would have just pushed that fridge back and pretended the roaches weren’t there if Naren hadn’t been there to kill them or Mom hadn’t been willing to mop that area. (My mom understands this irrational reaction because she’s absolutely and irrationally afraid of spiders. In one incidence she jumped out of a canoe and made it to shore over six feet away without getting her feet wet, because she saw a spider when the canoe went under a tree.)
I also don’t enjoy being startled, as in movies that are only after shock value with no story. I do like scary movies with a plot, but not at the theater on opening night. Mainly, I like being entertained and want to escape reality in some way when I pay for a movie, but also, people in groups do stupid things. On that note, I generally avoid haunted houses, whether they’re actually haunted or just theatrical representations. People who are afraid often aren’t rational, and I prefer not to follow them through unfamiliar places.
I’m not afraid of ghosts. I’m fascinated by ghost stories, and watch my share of The Dead Files. I even have my fair share of strange experiences that might qualify as ghost stories, and they generally don’t freak me out. Sure, I’ve watched one too many episodes of some scary reality show, and ended up sleeping on the couch with the lights on, but I usually recognize that I’m psyching myself out. I don’t think that’s real fear. In my whole life I’ve been really scared only a few times.
I had a lot of premonition dreams when I was around 12, not typical deja vu where you think maybe I heard this conversation before, but real premonitions. I dreamed that my grandmother had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. It was so real and traumatizing that my mom had me call her at her sister’s house, where she was visiting. We found out she’d had a bad fall, and gone to the hospital that day. So when I started dreaming I was raped, and rumors began circulating that someone in our neighborhood had been date-raped at a party, I had a very real fear of being outside at night. That fear has morphed into being cautious about my surroundings, which I think is pretty realistic. It also probably made me overly cautious about parties in college, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
During college, I spent a semester at Harlaxton College in England. We took a weekend trip to Paris, and an acquaintance and I decided to take a walking tour instead of going with a larger group to Euro Disney. We had a great time exploring, and although I don’t generally feel safe in Paris, I wasn’t afraid. But then it started getting dark, and we jumped on a bus. Neither of us spoke French, and at some point we were the last people on the bus. The driver shooed us off, literally make sweeping motions in our faces and chased us off the bus, in the middle of a residential area about as far away from our hotel as possible. We ended up walking to a miraculously close police station and some kind officers took us to the metro, but not before a terrifying car ride. We were outnumbered by young plainclothes officers in an unmarked car, and the road signs indicated we were leaving Paris. The men were speaking French and occasionally laughing. I was terrified we were never going to be seen again. The very nice officers dropped us off at a metro station with a train that took us just a block from our hotel. I couldn’t get out of that car fast enough. One of the officers gave us his phone number in case we had any trouble getting back, then saw us safely onto the train. And my heart stopped trying to strangle me.
I woke up thinking about being scared this morning because I was afraid in my house last night. We’re new to this neighborhood, and though it seems relatively safe, and the neighbors we’ve me have been friendly, we don’t really know much about it. Naren told me last night that he hadn’t slept well the night before because he kept waking up to noises. Our house is ridiculously creaky and makes some pretty loud noises, but we’ve been here two weeks and it hasn’t kept him up, so I was curious. Apparently, he thought he heard the storm door open followed by a creak, and he thought someone was coming in. He was rational enough to realize that if he didn’t hear more creaking, no one did come in, and he fell back to sleep. But he heard it again. He didn’t get up to investigate, I’m assuming because he didn’t have a weapon, and he told me that it occurred to him that we might be killed in our bed. If that’s not a soothing bedtime story, right? And I spent the rest of the night turning on lights unnecessarily and refused to go to bed without him. I also locked the garage door, which wouldn’t keep anyone out, and triple checked the windows and doors. Overreaction, perhaps, but irrational? Okay, maybe a little bit.
I think society tells us it’s uncool to be scared, that if you show any reaction to fear, it’s an overreaction. We’re taught that “strong” people aren’t afraid. And that translates to people doing stupid things because they worry more about what other people will think than about their safety. It leads us to be completely unprepared rather than look crazy. And I think the fear leaks out in other areas of our lives, making some people mean, others obsessive or overly timid. Most of the people I know don’t have a lot to really be afraid of, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise caution or prepare for a disaster or occasionally leave extra lights on.