Thursday, July 21, 2011
someone else's fear
These are the paper tigers: the ones you can't help but laugh at, the ones that earn your eyerolls and sighs of exasperation. The ones you can't see because they aren't there... for you. These are someone else's fears. Heights or closed-in spaces when you have always loved standing on the very edge of the precipice or never blinked when you stepped inside a too-small elevator. Fast cars or strange food or the number 13. Something that you simply don't understand because you never earned the fear. You didn't survive a near-fatal car crash or spend four days in the hospital after an alarming bout of E coli. You don't have elaborate worries about a specific number. And you most certainly aren't afraid of jumping into a swimming pool.
But wait--- you were. On that last one, you were afraid. When you were five and so tiny, when your older siblings and cousins ran in and around the water in an endless frenzy of splashes, when your dad stood at the side of the pool telling you to jump, just jump--- you found yourself paralyzed with the fear of it.
And this is how you know it's true, this memory of fear, because as you stand in the pool and call your three-year-old into your arms, you can remember that wiggling seed of worry over the flight and soar. Your memory is tangled in the one you're living now, calling Alice into your arms, telling her you won't drop her, promising her you will always catch her no matter what. But still she stalls at the edge, her bathing suit dripping in a sloppy puddle. She draws her hands up to her face to count with you--- a ONE, TWO, THREE of exaltation that is stunted at the end, her arms dropped down to her side and that forehead worry line even more pronounced. She is asking you to step closer to her now, willing you to simply pick her up and hold her in your arms. But you are frustrated with the hold-up. You insist she JUMP, even when you can hear the same echoed in your mind: this one from your dad as he tells you to just do it, just JUMP ALREADY. This is the five-year-old you, worrying that he won't catch your falling body, worrying that he will let you flail uncontrollably in the water, worrying that he simply won't be there even as he promises he will be, even as he stands so still.
You don't know how to do it, how to explain to your daughter that she is safe - even as you ask her to throw herself into the void and trust that she will be caught. You don't know how to talk to her without mocking the things she fears. This act of belittling will only make her back further from the edge, will only have her expect you to throw her in the ocean one day. She will bear her claws then, spitting with fury and betrayal, her legs running wobbly up the shore to dry sand, knowing that later she will refuse to hold your hand.