Whitney Booth – Fear

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.

Advertisements

Jackie Rizo – Fear

Here is the moving and vulnerable story from Jackie Rizo on childhood violation, loneliness, shame, and forgiveness. She told it at Tenx9’s October theme “Fear.”

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” 

― Yann MartelLife of Pi

As the summer night began, she gracefully entered the home as a young, teenage girl.  Her long curls bounced back and forth as her and her friends danced the night away with Dr Dre, Meatloaf, & Ace of Base.  It was a party of firsts for her.  Her first time to be at a party with no supervision.  A party where the boys shot guns & where many drank alcohol.

It was the party that changed her course of life.

She was your average, Small Town Girl, well-known in her community for her role in sports.  Her family was poor, probably the only ‘somewhat’ homeless family in the town.  But it didn’t stop her from trying to rise above it, instead she hid her home life from the world.  No one needed to know that she lived in a house with no utilities, no food, and an absent father.

As the night grew late, she was escorted into a room by her boyfriend.  He was clearly drunk and she was clearly naive.  As quickly as the door shut, his arms restricted her with each heartbeat.  She was forced to give him something that was never his to begin with.

And from downstairs, she could hear the Eagles sing “Desperado” while her tears puddled the bed sheets.

She left the house much differently than she had arrived.  Out the front door, there was a new road awaiting her.  It was dark, lonely, and expressed itself just as she had felt.

And that is when she took her first steps….steps that led her down the road of despair.

Small town living is rather beautiful.  A place kind of like “Cheers”.  You know, “where everyone knows your name & their always glad that you came.”

But, that quickly changes when a girl looses her virginity at the age of 14.

No, it is at that moment that it becomes a brutal place to live.

Rumors spread quickly about her.  Feeling helpless, she said nothing.  For it was far too late for her defense.

The years passed and her void became a black hole, sucking her into a life spinning out of control.

She was the type of girl that masked her hurts with drugs, alcohol, and a handful of partners.  One that tried hard to do right, but kept filling the void with instant gratification that only left her soul famished.

Shame laid heavily on her head.  Her eyes felt comfort in the floor.  Her best friend, well, we all know her by the name of “Loneliness”.

She was the type of girl that taunted trouble & that trouble loved to chase.  And if I’m honest, there were times that I, too, would bask in her careless spirit.  From spotlight parties to the country back roads, we’d dance & drink the cares away.

But, in reality…..I absolutely hated her and all that she represented.  She found her defense in her false reality.  Her lies were told out of self-preservation.  She would cover the truth for fear of being exposed, alone, and unloved.    Hope, well, you wouldn’t see hope shine on her path.

She spent her entire life in hiding.  A place where only loneliness knew of her childhood, her abuse, & her poor choices.  She would throw the memories in her prison cell, lock the door, and pretend to forget.

But we all know, no one can run from their past.

(pause)

I can no longer run.

From my bathroom mirror, I see her eyes stare back at me yearning to be free.  She silently cries and I tell her to stop.  Her tears are not wanted here.

This is MY here.  I created my “now”.

It is a place where I single-handedly laid each & every thick, cement brick, in order to mask the screams of a 14 year old girl crying out for her innocence to return.

A place to hide past & present mistakes.

A place for this wife to throw her shame.

I pushed the old me in that cell & tried to keep her locked up for over 13 years.  But she is an escape artist.  Her bruising is permanent and smells of filth.  She is a carrier of shame, regret, and bad experiences.  I threw her in there because I didn’t want to look at her.  I didn’t think she deserved to exist.

It’s funny how the truth will set you free regardless if you ask it to or not.

This past year has been a long one for my marriage.

My husband knows her, my past.  He has fought for me to bring her in the light, to expose every hidden corner within my soul for healing to be found.  But to do so, would mean that I would have to tell him the present truth…. I am still her.

If exposed, I just knew he would see my lies, my loneliness, my void, & my shame.  He’d know that I still hide & that my heart desired to look for something outside of marriage.

For 13 years of marriage, fear was winning.  If he knew, I was convinced he’d leave me.  He’d stop loving me.

So one by one, I laid false bricks around my inner world & waged an unnecessary war to protect it.

But to my surprise, he fought back harder, uncovering me until there was nothing left to uncover.

I spent years in fear of losing the one person who loves me with such tenderness.  The one willing and desiring to love all of me.

I’ve heard it said, “Love conquers fear.”

Not in a fairy tale kind of way.  But in a way that gives a hurting husband strength to reach out in forgiveness to his broken wife.

(pause)

After all this time, I finally realize that there was never just one road awaiting me that night back in 1993 or any night thereafter.

For many years, I blinded myself from this simple fact.

I continually chose to find comfort in my own despair.

Missing a road where hope is found.

Where honesty reigns.

And where forgiveness wears no chains.

Tony Laiolo – Fear

Tony Laiolo struck again with another great story, this time for our October event “Fear.” 

“Spiders. Me. A History.”

One day when I was six or seven, my dad brought home a cardboard box the size of a refrigerator, for the eminently sensible reason that it used to have one in it. He thought my brothers and I might have some use for it, and he was right.

Out on the patio, I sized up this box. It was really just a question of “What do I want it to be first? Fort? Spaceship? Goldmine? Shoot, this box WAS a goldmine — it could be anything. Big things were going to happen in this box. I tipped it over and crawled in, then thrashed around and managed to pull it back upright — opening at the top, me at the bottom.

It was surprisingly peaceful in there, sunlight trickling in through the gently swaying branches of the oak tree overhead. You might almost drift off to sleep, lulled by the slow-dancing shadows at the bottom of the box. Except that one shadow was different. Growing larger. Wriggling. My eyes shot up and who should be rappelling into my little sanctuary — looking big as a football, evil in all eight of its eyes, the meanest chunk of malice this side of Lex Luthor – yeah, you got it — Mr. Big, dropping in for a little visit.

Now, at age six or seven I would frequently pack a gun and holster, but instinctively I knew that “bang, you’re dead” wasn’t quite going to cut it this time. I quickly opted for an alternate strategy, the ever-popular freakout, and knocked over the box so I could escape. One little problem. Mr. Big had worked his way just inside the box’s air space, and my knocking it over had knocked him down…all the way down…where I was. Smooth move, Ex-Lax.

My freakout ramped up exponentially. I could not get free of that box fast enough. Only it wasn’t quite that simple. I couldn’t stand, so 1) I couldn’t stomp, 2) I couldn’t run, and 3) because I was crawling, more of my tasty young flesh was offered up for his smorgasbord. We were neck and neck. I had the slight size advantage, but he had the eight legs to my two. I knew what he was trying to do. I’d done my homework, seen plenty of Westerns. He was going to gallop up alongside and hop on over to my calf, rodeo-style. Maybe that’s why they call it a calf.

I don’t think the hop ever happened. This is where the memory ends. I probably ran crying to mama, and she probably said it’s all right. But it wasn’t all right, not after that. The rest of that memory may be lost, but there’s a deeper kind that never forgets, a kind that recognizes a known threat, fires up the old adrenalin pump, and dictates action — fight or flight. Now I had a mortal enemy, put on earth for the sole reason of scaring the crap out of me. Flight hadn’t solved the problem, now fight got its turn. My wrath was terrible, my swath wide. Any spider foolish or unlucky enough to cross my path paid with his life. No exceptions. That’s just how it was.

Then one night maybe a year later, I was in my room. It was on the upper floor and had a ceiling I really liked — rough-hewn pine planks, painted white so you could see them even by nothing but moonlight. There was plenty to see. Each plank had its own personality — the grains and whorls and textures that caught your imagination, there on the edge of sleep, and pretty soon you were dreaming.

That night, as I slept, I felt something wispy and insubstantial on my cheek, and brushed it away. Then there was another. And another. OK, what’s going on? I turned on the lamp. Blitzkrieg! Tiny spiders, hundreds of them, dropping in from the cracks between the boards of my beloved ceiling. It was as though my carnage, my decimation of their ranks, had reached some critical mass and required retaliation. It was personal now, like they’d all lost loved ones. Likely they had. You could imagine their battle cries — Get him! He’s the one! He got Jerry!

I remember no more of that episode either, although I suspect a vacuum hose might be involved. But my haven was gone. Even in my own room, in my peaceful slumber, they could get to me, and I’d given them ample cause. He got Jerry!

But what was a childhood fear did not outlast childhood. Where does that kind of hate go to die? Apparently it goes to Santa Barbara. I’d stayed there the summer before my senior year of college, had a job, but this was Sunday and I was lying on the beach, drowsy head upon folded arms.

I noticed movement in the hairs of my arm, which on closer inspection turned out to be the sorriest, skinniest, least threatening excuse of a spider ever seen. He’d struggle up one hair, teeter on the top, fall forward, then struggle up the next one. It took forever. If you were playing it for laughs, you could do no better. He was a bass drum and trombone shy of a full-on circus act.

And I was fascinated. Why is he even there? Does he live on the beach? Is he kicking himself for hanging that left at the seaweed and ending up in this fix? Is he thinking “bad hair day”? Who knows, but he just kept going. And I just kept rooting for him.

Fear never showed up that day. Things had clearly become different for spiders and me. I could know one on a non-adversarial basis, as a fellow creature simply trying to get by. Somehow I was finally out of that refrigerator box, out from under that treacherous plank ceiling.

Here’s the best way I can illustrate this change. In a corner of my bathroom, suspended on a near-invisible web, is my pet spider. He just kind of hangs there zen-like all day, waiting to see who might drop by for dinner. We talk — he’s a good listener — about baseball and women, and he really likes it when we talk about flies. Cute as a bug.

The others who drop into my domicile are captured and relocated to the garden. Not him. He’s a keeper. Good old Jerry.

Michael McRay – Singing with Soldiers

Here is the story from Tenx9 Nashville organizer Michael McRay from the October theme “Fear.” He tells of violence de-escalation in Hebron when Israeli soldiers were about to invade a Palestinian home in the middle of the night. The story ended with unexpected melodic audience participation. 

Fear – The Understory

Fear.

It’s starts with October:

Horror films :: Halloween tales :: Dolls with creepy eyes :: Shitty relationships.

Darkness falls over a park in Prague.

When the map doesn’t match the city, will you take the path less taken?

Are you afraid yet?

So you say you don’t scare easily. You got this. What about when your life is on the line?

Turbulence :: Near in-flight collisions :: Drunk drivers.

CAN’T YOU SEE? LOOK!

A car where your sofa should be. A tree where your wall should be.

Getting caught after a a tornado in your underwear :: The dark :: A fire.

Will you have your shoes when the moment comes?

Are you afraid yet?

Small towns ::  Parties :: Boys ::  Alcohol :: A bathroom.
Violation. Bruises. Loss. Despair.

(The road is getting darker.)

Gossip. Shame. Loneliness.

RUN! RUN WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

Wait! What road are you on?

You afraid yet?

Midnight :: Soldiers. Bullets.

Occupation :: Home invasion.

Think you can fly? Fly away? Think that’ll save you? It might save you. Might not save them.

Are you afraid yet? Laid to the void yet? Motivated yet?

Thunder :: Lightning :: Dank basements.

Silence :: Darker.

Who are you?

The doorway ::  A form.

Dying ::  Living :: Success :: The drink.

Can you tell what’s real?
Fear will rob you.

You afraid yet?

A canyon :: A handsome young man to walk with you :: People turned to stone.

Sheer

d
r
o
p.

DON’T LOOK DOWN.

Think screaming will help? There’s your voice screaming back at you.

You afraid yet?

Corporations ::  Shit! Lawyers for corporations. :: Demons!

RUN! RUN AWAY!

You ain’t gotta go nowhere to get somewhere.

Take nothing.

Swamps :: Alligators. [*deep exhale*]

Are you afraid yet?

Severed thumbs :: A father’s tears :: Quadruple bypass.

Dementia :: Your tears.

tick tock tick tock tick tock

Are you afraid yet?

Spiders. Now it’s time to freak. The. Fuck. Out.

There’s the fear you can remember. And the fear you can’t forget.

Feel its brush upon your cheek :: An army of spiders :: Blitzkrieg.

Foe? Or friend?

Are you afraid yet?

A haunted house :: A plane :: Bathroom :: Hebron.

A basement :: A canyon :: Hospital room. Childhood.

This stage…

When your heart’s pounding, when you’re afraid…
You’re still living.
And if you’re still living, there’s still hope.

Be afraid.

tenx9nashille, this is your story.