When Fear Becomes Too Real

My greatest fear as a child, and an adult, was and is dying: either developing or catching some horrible disease, experiencing a terrible accident, or murder. I think I feared murder the most, with disease a close second. I also greatly feared losing my loved ones to death and I still do.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t frightened of being murdered in my bed at night. Thanks to reading articles I shouldn’t have in my grandmother’s magazines, as well as watching shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” and “L.A. Law”, I knew about violent crime. I knew about children dying from diseases no child should have to endure. Also, in a well-intentioned, but very misguided act of parenting, my father managed to convince me that kidnappers were constantly waiting in the wings to snatch me. We were to trust no one.

During a discussion of getting in cars with strangers:

“What about Garland and Grace?” (A lovely older couple who lived across the street.)

“No. Not even them. We don’t really know them. Children get kidnapped by people they know all the time.”

On whether I could go to a public bathroom by myself:

“No! Someone might be waiting to snatch you in there.”

He meant to help me learn to be careful. Unfortunately, I simply learned too young that my parents really couldn’t protect me from everything.

I have been afraid while going to sleep in my own home practically every night of my life. The only extended period of time I felt little to no fear of murder in my sleep was the six months my daughter Lucy fought cardiomyopathy. My brain was busy with a fear that had materialized.

Despite these fears, I lived alone for five and a half years in my twenties. It was definitely scary sometimes. Luckily, the worst thing that ever happened was a peeping Tom at my bathroom window in College Station. I felt safer in public than in my own home sometimes. The bookstore, Target, the movie theater, and the mall were my happy places. With plenty of people around, no one could corner me and hurt me.

That has changed now. It has changed so much, that I completely forgot until last week how safe I used to feel in public.

It changed with Columbine.

It changed with 9/11.

It changed with Virginia Tech. (This is a big part of the reason I no longer teach at college level.)

It changed with Newtown.

And Aurora. (Another safe place, movie theaters, forever marred.)

And so many others that I can’t recall any more names at the moment. I feel frightened taking my child to a movie or on an airplane. There have been weeks where I was terrified to send Max to school. One day, at the height of my anxiety before Zoloft, I kept him home. He wasn’t sick. I had a bad feeling I couldn’t ignore.

The last time I took Max to a movie, I noted with relief that we were right by the emergency exit. I could grab him and get out that door before a shooter got us probably. I would probably have that crazy mom strength that comes in a desperate situation, rendering me capable of lifting a 50 pound boy and moving faster than a hail of bullets to get out that door.

I am still afraid at night, but now I feel safer at home. I would have preferred that to come from conquering my fears, not the creation of new ones.

Even with the increase in public shootings in America, I know it is still so very unlikely I or my loved ones will end up victims of one. But it should be much less likely than it is.

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