Being Afraid of the Dark Is for Amateurs

Everyone is afraid of something. But for me, I like to go big or go home. I don’t fear the dark, or heights, or snakes. Wait…actually, I do fear all of those things. But then I also fear completely irrational things on top of your average, run-of-the-mill phobias. I have already confessed my propensity for irrational fear when it comes to my children in my Instagram Diary of Anxiety. But I am not new to this game. I have been afraid of ridiculous and unlikely things for as long as I can remember.

Case in point: For a very short time in middle school, I was convinced I had become the next Virgin Mary. I had been getting ready to take a shower when my profile caught my eye in the mirror. Specifically, my protruding stomach. Did I wonder if I had just eaten too much pasta? Did I consider a bad case of gas? Did I rationalize that my period was due next week and I was bloated? No. My immediate go-to explanation was that I was carrying the next Messiah. I worried about inevitably being disowned, seeing as how there was no way my parents would ever believe it to be true. But even worse, this meant the second coming of Jesus was at hand, and the world would likely end before I even got my driver’s license. (In an extremely serendipitous coincidence, one of my favorite funny bloggersAnna Lea West was plagued by the same fear. You know when people say, “It’s nice to realize you’re not alone”? Well, yeah…that. Go read her post. It will make you snort, in a good way.)

virgin mary

I do look good in blue…

Thankfully, it turned out I wasn’t carrying our Lord Christ and Savior, so I was able to conquer that irrational fear pretty quickly. But another loomed larger in the distance, and it would menace me for months on end.

The year was 1990. We had just started a new decade. I was in the 8th grade, ready to bust out into the high school scene. Our class had been losing students steadily over the past couple years to the public school. That meant with fewer competitors, I had gained some comfortable popularity clout by default. The United States was kicking ass and taking names in Desert Storm, as suggested by the trading cards being sold with the likenesses of General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell,…and of course,the smash hit “Voices That Care” by a supergroup to rival the “We Are the World” clique. (Um, Nelson AND Fred Savage? I’d say “Voices That Care” scores the win.) And with a couple of doses of Midol, my bloating was gone and the chances that I would make it to the driving age were looking pretty good. Nothing could go wrong in my world.

desert storm trading cards

I’ll trade you a Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney for a Saddam Hussein

Enter the New Madrid fault.

Some guy named Iben Browning had made a prediction that the New Madrid fault was due to shake things up, and in a big way. The last time a massive earthquake occurred along the fault in southern Missouri was in the 1800′s, and it toppled chimneys all the way in St. Louis…where I was. And Browning thought this earthquake, which he pinpointed would happen during the month of December, could be even bigger.

Of course, the media took that and ran with it. And so did everyone else. We began having earthquake drills at school. We talked about where was the best place to go in your house during an earthquake. We were warned to have emergency kits full of food, supplies, and water. Everyone was being very responsible about the whole thing.

I was freaking the flip out.

New Madrid Fault

Like most maps, I can’t read this

I thought about it all the time. I was terrified, so I took matters into my own hands. I removed all the things off of the shelves above my bed, lest the earthquake happen in the middle of the night, and I die from getting smashed in the head by a Precious Moments figurine. I would mentally scan each room I entered to find the best spot to be in an earthquake. I spent most of my time at school, so the probability was high that the big moment would happen while I was there. The problem was the desks. They expected us to duck and cover under our desks in the event of an earthquake, but our desks tipped over if you put a full trapper keeper on them. How was a desk like that supposed to protect me from falling concrete and steel? I decided I wanted to be in the Art room when the earthquake happened, because it had large sturdy tables. But who was I kidding? We only had Art like once a week. Damn. That would be a jackpot I wasn’t likely to hit. So I devised my OWN plan. To me, it only made sense to run out into the hall and get into a locker. Being inside a locker HAD to be the only way to survive an earthquake. So it was settled. 

Only then I started freaking out because my little sister and younger cousin both went to my school as well. I didn’t want them being led willingly to their deaths by those who put false hope in particle board desks. I felt it was my duty to tell my sister and my cousin of my extremely informed and expert locker plan. Whew! Crisis averted.

But THEN there was the fact that, after the earthquake was over, we were to calmly walk, single file, out to the parking lot to weather the aftershocks. Surely the parking lot fits the bill…a wide open space where nothing can fall on top of you. Oh, EXCEPT THAT GIANT STEEPLE ON TOP OF THE CHURCH ACROSS THE STREET! I would literally stand in that parking lot and look up at the linear green steeple that shot high into the sky. If that thing falls this way during an aftershock, it’s long enough to smash the whole second grade just standing on the blacktop like a bunch of suckers, I thought.

But it was all for naught. The earthquake never came. We had a few small tremors; nothing very noteworthy. But my irrational fear still raged at a 7.3 magnitude. It was hard for me to let go, even when I logically knew there was nothing to be scared of.

But you can’t really fault me. I mean, I had just experienced my Virgin Mary miscarriage not long before. I needed something else irrational to ground me. It is the only way I have ever known how to live: to be frightened about the most unlikely ways my life could end.

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