Fiction Friday – 21 September 2007

This Week’s Theme: Pick an unusual phobia and explain why a character has it.

Thud. Thud-thud. THUD-THUD!

It’s not the hammer blows in my chest that are causing me to shake, it’s the adrenaline coursing through me. My cold and clammy hands grip the counter tightly, as I try to keep myself still, choke down the panic and regain some composure. I look up into the mirror, at that scared little boy…

My lip trembles as the tears course down my cheek, the mockery of my classmates still fresh in my ears. “Fraidy cat, fraidy cat!” My father puts his arm around me to reassure me. “Just ignore them son” he says to me, as I burrow my head into his chest, trying to hide away from everyone. I’ve let him down. The soldier, the police man, the man. My father. And his cowardly son, scared of his own shadow.

“Everyone gets frightened by lots of different things.”

“Even you?” I look into his soft eyes, and he smiles.

“Even me. When I was a soldier, I was so scared that I wouldn’t come home to your mom. Even now, every time I go to work I get scared that I might have to hurt someone, or someone might hurt me.” He ran his thumb across my cheek, wiping away the tears. “Fear isn’t a bad thing – it keeps you safe. There are scary things out there, and fear teaches you what they are, how to avoid them. You just need to learn how to control fear, and not let fear control you.”

That’s what my father taught me – I can control fear. If you’re 100 feet in the air on a crumbling ledge, then it’s good to feel fear. But if you’re inside a building 100 feet up, you shouldn’t be afraid. It was all a matter of controlling the circumstances, learning dangers, teaching myself how to use my reactions. A tiger is dangerous, a wasp isn’t really. A burning building is dangerous, but that shouldn’t stop me from striking a match. Master your fear and you master yourself.

So as I grew up, I took what I was afraid of and I confronted it. I studied the things that scared me. I devoured statistics, risk assessments, took part in activities that brought me face to face with the things that scared me. Heights? Bungee jumping. Water? Surfing. When I played football in college I was “Fearless” Freddy Callaghan to my team, on and off the pitch. There was no player too big that I wouldn’t go up against, and nothing off-field that I wouldn’t take part in.

Roosevelt said it, and it is so true: “we have nothing to fear…”

I knew what fear felt like, and I knew I never wanted to feel it again. And that’s when the panic attacks started. I couldn’t figure it out at first, what was I scared of? And I couldn’t see anything that could be triggering it – and if I couldn’t see it, how could I confront it? For a year, these sensations would hit me, randomly, breaking me down, causing me to shut myself away in my mind, trembling, crying. “Why? What am I so afraid of? I don’t want to feel this way!”

I lived on a knife edge, dreading the next attack, telling myself “I have nothing to fear, I have nothing to fear…”

I have spent a life time mastering my fears. And the thing that has driven me is fear. I am so scared of feeling fear, that I have done everything I can to rid myself of it, to the extent that I have nothing left to fear…

… but fear itself. Phobophobia they call it. The fear of being afraid – a self-perpetuating cycle. The scared little boy in the mirror fades with the panic attack. The man in the mirror wipes his eyes and counts the days until the next one.

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14 thoughts on “Fiction Friday – 21 September 2007”

  1. A great post to introduce me to your blog, Paul. Fear of being afraid – what a thought-provoking concept! Love your writing, I’ll be back for more!

  2. I really liked this … the ultimate paradox? I like the undertone … that you’re phobia will get you one way or the other … that there are some things in life you just can’t goose step around, no matter how hard you try. Shattering!

  3. Tight prose that flows well, leads through the story very smoothly. “scared little boy in the mirror” seems a bit trite, but the rest of it is quite good, I think. I like the relationship with the father and how he enables the son to become independent with just a single phrase.

  4. Thank you everyone for your kind comments.

    pjd – worse still, I’ve used the same phrase (or similar) to top and tail the story, which I think is just lazy. I’d say “fix it in editing”, but rules is rules!

    Virgo – that’s a scary thought – some phobias having their way regardless!

    Josie – thank you, and I hope to see you back soon!

    Webster – high praise, I’ll try to keep the standard up!

    Ingrid – thank you so much! I wondered at what point our attitudes towards fear turned into fear of being afraid – it struck me that it must almost be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Jo – I try to make them compelling, happy to see I’ve succeeded – this time.

    Rose – I think you’re strong enough to overcome any fear, even fear of fear!

    Paisley – I wonder if it is as common as the fear of success or fear of failure, something that’s been a common thread through a few of the stories today. Perhaps fear of success, failure, fear are all the same?

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