Originally Posted December 10, 2017
“What are you so afraid of?” he asked.
My ex, my parents, and most recently my roommate have asked me this. I shrugged them all off. Except Richard.
My roommate (whom we will call Richard) convinced me to go on a walk with him one night. I was reluctant due to the late hour, but I went anyway. As he walked calmly while I, in a paranoid tizzy, nearly sprinted, he asked the pivotal question. “What are you so afraid of?” Upon my silence, he suggested “Murderers? Rapists?”. I shook my head and answered blandly, “Not rapists, but yes, thieves and murderers.”
Silence once again. Nothing but the sound of cars humming by and our footsteps occasionally crunching over dead, dry autumn leaves. After a few moments, with a kind and curious breath, he asked “Why? Has anything ever happened to you?”
He said it so sincerely, without a hint of malice in his voice, so I considered it. For the first time, I did not dismiss that wretched question with a haughty attitude. Before I could gather my thoughts though, he shared his own experiences. “I’ve been run over by cars. I’ve been shot at. Chased by dogs and people. That’s why I ain’t afraid of anything.”
He was so causal in the way he confessed this. It was as if he’d told me the time of day rather than deep personal situations from his life. I considered his words for a few moments more. “I was in a car that spun off the highway once. That’s my only near death experience.”
We continued walking with soft crunches at our feet and gusts of wind breezing past us in the wake of the dozen or so cars still on the road at 10 pm on a weekday night. Occasionally, I broke the trance to add, “Well, an acquaintance of mine once pretended to kidnap me. Though, of course, I didn’t know he was pretending at the time.” or “I was pretty sheltered growing up. Nothing really terrible happened.”.
That makes sense doesn’t it? If you haven’t been exposed to danger or trauma, when something new and unexpected happens that threatens your safety, your body will begin to shake with fear and anticipation. Then you break.
Sometimes, you feel that shaky mess of trepidation so many times that it begins to feel normal. It’s like lifting weights. Maybe you start with five pound shoulder presses as an out of shape slob and it feels like Mount Everest on your trembling, flabby arms, but after weeks, months, or years of that same five pounds it feels as if you have no weight on your shoulders at all.
Why? Because you’ve done this before. Our bodies love to learn through experiences and they are experts at it. Never cared for a baby before? Have fun getting peed on. Grew up with half a dozen younger siblings and raised five of your own? People will be throwing fussy babies at you to deal with.
The same goes for negative experiences. After enough encounters being hit on by creepy men, I’ve learned that kindness only encourages them, even if it is a polite kindness. I’ve also learned that anyone who shows you their knife collection before you’ve known them for at least a month or before you drop any hint that pegs you as a knife aficionado is best given a swift goodbye. That being said, I am not afraid of creepy guys asking for my number as I try to pick out some skittles at the store. This has happened before. After this and other situations, I know how to deal with creepy men.
What I don’t know how to deal with are thieves and murderers. Rapists too I suppose. I have never been in a situation where I have been chased by a dog or shot at, even with a water pistol. I have no prior experience to rely on and no self defense training or other prevention strategy to depend on. I’m not scared of random dog attacks because I grew up with dogs and I know how to behave around aggressive dogs. I am scared of random murderers roaming the streets looking for a thrill because I’ve hardly dealt with angry people, let alone murderous ones.
The unknown and unpredictable. Chaos and helplessness. That’s what I’m so afraid of.
But how to prepare for the unknown and unpredictable? Do what you can now and trust or hope that you will be astute and strong enough to endure the rest.
By the time I came to these conclusions, Richard and I were a couple paces from our apartment. We hadn’t spoken a word for a long while and we didn’t start then. Instead, we went up the stairs in silence, him none the wiser of my life changing revelations.