Compromising Fear

In the 70s and 80s, parents could hire cheap babysitters, and even if they didn’t, it was an accepted practice to leave the kids home alone by the time one was the appropriate age.  It’s hard to say if parents agreed on what that age was, but it was certainly younger than what is considered acceptable today. In those days, parents would go out without the kids quite often. Once I was defined as old enough to be left alone, my parents took advantage every now and then. We only had one tv in our house at the time, or so this is what I remember. Back then, you still had to get up to change the channel and I found the tv to be good company when home alone.

My childhood home was complete with a very used wooden bar, a multi-colored patch-like love seat with wooden arm rests, and red shag carpet; the house screamed 70s’ decor, although I am not sure that is the technical name for it. We also had this deck that was a constant second gathering while entertaining. As a child, I loved having all of my friends over for birthday parties on that deck. Our legs would be dangling off the sides, swinging with joy as we sat on the bench-railing waiting patiently for the home-made ice cream machine, the kind that required rock salt, to finish. The adults too, whether separated from us or not, seemed to relish in their joy while entertaining each other on that deck.

The single door out to the deck had a window cut into small sections by wood framing, and as a young girl sitting on the love seat looking out, it would be a little above my eye level. The trees always had a slight sway in them, and through the patch glass window, I would see a light shining through the swinging trees. When alone, and as nightfall was official, I would become paralyzed on that sofa, unable to move. From my angle, it would look like a lantern, the kind they carried in the old days with bronze handling. Only, it wasn’t. It was just a house light from the cul-de-sac on the other side of the trees, but in my head, that lamp was coming for me, and was being carried by a very large aggressive man. I would freeze. With each episode, I could feel the tightening of my blood vessels, and the restriction to my limbs. My body a statue, as much as I wanted to run from the couch into another room, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t even get up to change the channel on my trusted companion.

Once my parents came home, and I could hear the garage door, in a matter of seconds, I would feel my blood vessels loosen, and the blood flow to my heart return to normal. I would tell myself how ridiculous it was, but that didn’t matter because the next time they would go out, it would happen all over again. I had typical childlike fears, but I knew that this was bigger. It wasn’t anyone’s fault and I didn’t want my fear to be a preventative factor for myself nor anyone else. I understood that if I wanted to be able to rely on myself, this fear was something I needed to work through as part of growing up. Eventually, I got over it.

Yet, as a young adult and then woman, flashes of those paralyzing nights came upon me during moments  where hasty judgement put me in unnecessary risk where I had compromised myself. In a split second, I would return to that couch in the living room with the swinging lantern, and would receive another reminder of what living in fear could be like.

When I was traveling in Greece alone years ago, I landed in Rhodes very late-a mistake I haven’t made since. Common sense for a solo female traveler is to land where you want to be in daylight with your accommodations prepared ahead of time. Deplaning and looking around a small, deserted airport, I realized I had no clue what I was going to do. This was way before we had cell phones, and internet access everywhere. With a sense of anxiety, I walked into the male bathroom, and didn’t realize my mistake until I was already in the stall hearing male voices. I sat there for a good fifteen minutes praying for the men to vacate, and for new ones to stop entering, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. I tried to recall some of the buried and unused Greek I had learned years prior, during my first visit to Greece, in the hopes that I might be able to kindly yell something from the stall that they would understand. During this brief moment of private humiliation, which was going to become very public, and only get worse the second I stepped out of the stall, I was nodding off out of sheer exhaustion. I had no choice but to exit as quickly as possible; after all, they were complete strangers and it would be over in a second. I gave a quick smile as I glanced over to the men that were standing at the sinks and they did a double take. I could hear them laughing as I exited the airport and I knew that my first memory of being on Rhodes would be locked down forever. As hard as I tried not to be the typical American traveler, this one for sure gave the Greeks further validation.

In my haze of disorientation, I now had to figure out how to get accommodations as well as transportation. Accommodations that I knew nothing about. It was the middle of the night and I had no idea of my next step. Brilliant. The Greeks that catered to such travelers as myself were lined up outside the airport in unmarked cars, similar to a taxi line in the states, only this line was clearly reserved for those with no plan; it was obvious they made money off tourists arriving too late.

I made eye contact with the third man in line, and in no time, I was sitting in his car, having hitched a ride-alone-with a complete stranger. As he was driving, he leaned over to me a bit, and in his thick Greek accent said, “Why did you trust me over the others?” It dawned on me then that in a matter of seconds, I had put my life at risk, and as he drove us into the suburbs of Rhodes Town, I knew I didn’t trust him.

That night, I stayed in a basement apartment on a lumpy mattress for $5 with a rusted kitchen knife next to my head. With every slight motion heard outside, I was the young girl on the love seat all over again. I couldn’t move. The next morning on five minutes of sleep, I ran out of that place to catch the island bus as quickly as possible, breathing a sigh of relief only after the bus drove away.

I chose to compromise myself, and thus, I experienced an episode of fear on a visceral level; however, I was no longer the innocent child on the love seat trying to build her self-reliance; I was a woman who had forgotten who she was, and had no one to blame but myself.

A little piece of me will rest on that mattress forever and I have to live with that.

Senior in High School, 1990


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