Enjoy Tenx9 first-timer Whitney Booth’s story “Scared of Everything” that she told at our October theme “Fear.”
October has always been a tough month for me. Not due to any unpleasant anniversary or memory, but because October has always meant having to spend 4 weeks of my life pretending I wasn’t afraid of everything around me, or strategically avoiding it all. As a child, I learned to avoid the small-town drug store where rubber motion-sensor rats would squeal and wiggle in their traps as I passed. My mother would say, “I need to run into Fred’s to pick up a prescription” and I would respond with a gaze that meant, “It’s October 4th. You know I’m waiting in the car.” And it worked. My class would make monthly trips to the public library to hear campfire-style stories, and for the October one, I made multiple extended trips to the bathroom. My family and friends knew to expect this from me. At the age of 3, my parents bought me a cute jack-o-lantern costume for Halloween and I was so afraid of its black triangular eyes, I wouldn’t even let my mom take it out of the drawer. If she even walked NEAR the bottom drawer, I emitted a warning signal to express my displeasure. Same went for many a baby doll or Barbie gifted to me. If it had weird eyes, it lived in the drawer.
I continued this cautionary lifestyle into my later childhood years. My dependable voice of reason in dangerous circumstances earned me the nickname “Chuckie” (as in Chuckie Finster, the red-headed allergy-ridden baby from “Rugrats”, obviously not an allusion to that terrifying movie about the doll that comes to life, which, of course, I’ve never seen.) Forget about scary movies. I learned that lesson long ago. Even a scary scene in A scary movie. Nope. Once in high school, I thought I had outgrown it and tried not leaving the gathering when my friends decided to watch Jeepers Creepers, but then I didn’t sleep for several nights.
It may be bold to call myself a fairly well-adjusted adult, despite this strangeness buried deep within me, but I do think I’ve turned out alright. Halloween became fun again once I got to college. Clever costumes like Quailman from Doug replaced gross masks like the Scream guy dripping with blood. (yes, that’s 2 Nicktoons references in one story.) Sometimes a friend wants to take a Haunted Tavern tour for her birthday and I show up prepared with my headphones in my pocket (just in case I need to excuse myself for a bathroom stall Netflix-sesh), but will pitch an irrational fit when someone suggests a follow-up trip to The Slaughterhouse. Because I know and love myself, there are certain things I will always avoid: horror films, haunted houses, the rubber snake aisle of a toy store, and “Night on Bald Mountain”, the final musical number in Disney’s Fantasia. And I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping distance from things or situations that scare me, but no one is perfect.
A couple of months ago, I set off to backpack around Europe by myself. I’ve always wanted to do that, I found a window, and I went. 16 days – just me and a backpack full of wrinkly clothes. Certainly, as my departure date approached, I felt anxious about the trip but I wasn’t really afraid for my personal safety or anything like that. I had traveled alone before and knew how to not be an idiot, for the most part. No dark alleys, don’t drink an absurd amount with a stranger, that kind of stuff.
Early in my trip, I spent about 24 hours in Prague, definitely the most foreign-feeling place on my trip, meaning: there’s no Czech Republic expo at Epcot. Prague is really lovely – gorgeous architecture, great beer, lots of goulash. I walked all over the city that day, taking pictures of buildings I can’t identify, avoiding street vendors and hurrying through touristy areas with a death grip on my purse. It turned out that everything in Europe that I wanted to see involved climbing a thousand stairs or walking up a giant hill. The Strahov Monastery and its adjacent Strahov Monastic Brewery were no exception. By this point, it was late afternoon, the sun was just thinking about starting to set. Also upon this hill is the Petrin Observation Tower, which is basically the Czech attempt at the Eiffel Tower. It sits at the top of Petrin Hill, which is covered by a huge park that stretches all the way back down to the city streets. I was already up there and God knows I wasn’t going to climb up that hill again in the morning just to see the fake-Eiffel tower, so I started heading that way. I saw the tower, all lit up in the now-dusky sky. I took a picture, and promptly turned to head back to the street on the north side of the Park and walk home.
My tourist map showed me which street I could take to walk around the park to get back down to the city’s center. But the street sign outside the park didn’t match what I saw on the map. I walked to the other exit and that wasn’t right either. I couldn’t find either of these streets on my map, and the darkness was encroaching upon an already ominous situation. I took a deep breath, and started walking into the park. “Surely,” I thought, “this path will eventually get me through to the other side, or I’ll see a central place with a sign or something.” So, boldly and brimming with idiocy, I walked further and further into a park, in the dark, by myself.
Surely I’m not the only person left in this park. It’s huge. I convinced myself that I would meet others to whom I could mime my confusion and point at the map. I did not. I just followed the poorly-lit path. I came to a fork and, with literally no argument for either side, I picked one. I chose poorly. Coming to a dead-end in a fort-like structure, I turned on my heels and flew out of there, back to the fork.
“Why did I have to go see that stupid fake Eiffel Tower? I’m going to be in Paris in 2 weeks.” My flip flops slapped my heels as I increased my pace and widened my stride. As I zig-zagged back and forth through this park, I tried to convince myself that I was at least going downhill. I was alternating audibly cursing myself for being such an idiot and bargaining with God, that I might be delivered from said idiocy when I heard music. I slowed down a bit, rounded the corner at the switchback, and saw a little cottage. I thought, “Oh Jesus. Okay, okay. If I needed to stop and ask for help, I could knock on the door of this little house.” There was obviously someone home, the lights were on, music playing. I followed the path around to the front of the house, where I glanced in the window, only to see a room with orange goop lining the walls and ceiling – it looked like what I imagine the inside of a dragon would look like, were you to be swallowed whole and light a match like they do in cartoons. The place was crammed full of weird sculptures and the walls were covered with paintings of witches and mythical creatures, mostly topless female ones in a variety of blues and greens. Trees may have been flourishing in there. I don’t know – my memories are not terribly thorough because I stayed in that spot just long enough to turn away from it. In the blur of my headspin, I saw the word “magic” on the sign and that was all I needed to see.
A cacophony of expletives blasted off my lips and I took off in a dead sprint. Good GOD. I think I ran for about a mile. All I could hear in my head was a quip that I had made many times before leaving for my trip. “I mean, I just think if I’m gonna get “taken”, it’s gonna happen in Prague.” Jesus Christ. Thought you were sooo funny and now you’re lost in this damn park with this crazy magic freak show house. The f-bombs and the divine bargaining grew louder with my desperation, and on I ran. Eventually, I saw the headlights of a car pass through the trees and the cool breeze of relief rushed over me. Lights. Civilization. YES. I almost put my face on the sidewalk when I reached it. Instead, I walked into the first restaurant I saw and mimed “big. beer.”
The next night, I was in Salzburg having another big beer or two with some new friends at the hostel: two guys from Canada who truly loved Nickelback, and a brother-sister duo from California. I was excited to share my harrowing experience with them. As I got to the part about the house, which I found out later is actually a museum of fantasy art called “The Magic Cave”. Oh yeah, and the artist claims that each piece was inspired by a personal experience in the realms of fantasy. So anyway, as I got to that part of my story, I made sure my new friends knew that this encounter was all the more comically horrific since “I’m scared of everything”. John from California astutely interrupted me to say, “Yeah, I’m sure you are. That’s why you took off to backpack through Europe all by yourself.”
He made a good point. All my life, I’ve bought into this role of being “the Chuckie” – the one who didn’t want to float down the shallow man-made waterfall. The one who decided in 4th grade that I was “too old” for dressing up and trick-or-treating. Sure, I don’t love being startled or frightened, but I’m not scared of Halloween or taking risks, or even of being alone in a park at night. Even so, personal safety gets a pass. I bought a house and live in it by myself. I tell the truth, out loud, even when it’s not easy to say or hear. I get out of bed every morning and show up and live my life in a world that is really confusing, in a world that can be dark and very truly scary.
But I’m not scared of everything. I’m realizing that being a person every day makes me pretty damn brave, but that doesn’t mean that fear doesn’t creep in on me. I do suffer from the clinically self-diagnosed FOMOs (fear of missing out). I know that’s a cute thing people say, but I really am afraid of missing something. I’m afraid that my life won’t happen the way I think I’d like for it to happen. I’m afraid of finding myself stuck in a relationship with someone that keeps me from thriving. I’m afraid of not spending enough time with my family and realizing it when it’s too late to change that. I’m afraid of being anything less than the person I’m created to be.
There’s always something. Maybe it’s a doll with creepy eyes. Maybe it’s the sneaking possibility that you can’t will things into turning out a certain way, even with meticulous planning. I’m starting to think that the fear of what might scare me down the road is probably far scarier than the actual thing down the road—fearing future fears. It may seem ridiculous, it may be ridiculous, but we all experience it in one way or another. This October, I’m still scared of all kinds of shit, but I’m owning it and that helps a little and, for today, that’s enough.