Thursday, August 13, 2009

And In Short, I Was Afraid

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
though I have seen my head [grow slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet -- and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
and I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
and in short, I was afraid.

T.S Eliot
- "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

I have a fear of bikes. Really. I'm afraid of going too fast, afraid of losing control, afraid of getting hurt. I'm afraid of getting my pants stuck in the gears. I'm afraid of the gears ripping a hole in my leg.

It might be because of that time I hurtled full speed down the steepest hill my 6 year old eyes had ever seen and flipped over the handlebars. My aunt decided to walk her bike down but my cousin rode down so I did too. I just followed people in those days. I rode right into a pile of rocks and forgot what brakes were for.

I don't want to get hurt. Hurt, (how could you have forgotten?) hurts. I don't want to die.


I'm also afraid of horses, which is really stupid considering I went to horseback riding camp for two years. I followed my cousin there too.

It's not just that, though. I'm afraid of drowning. I like the air, I like the ground, and I like both to be readily available. Maybe it started in Mexico when I followed my cousins into the ocean and was gasping for breath, for control of something -- the water, the ground, my limbs maybe, -- something that would get me out of there. I discovered the ocean is beautiful from the shoreline.

I'm afraid of driving too fast. I don't even drive. It's not even the accident potential, it's the I'm-afraid-the-car-is-going-to-blow-up feeling, which is less likely to happen than an accident. I have no control. When I was little I never liked when my dad twisted and swerved. As the highway whizzed by I quietly imagined car crashes in the backseat.

I guess it goes without saying that I'm afraid of airplanes too. I don't want to crash in the ocean. I don't even think I'd make it to the ocean, let alone the emergency exit. I'm afraid of the oxygen masks the lady in the video so calmly puts on, like the last seconds of her life aren't just ticking away. I like my own air. I like my feet on the ground. Real ground.

Maybe it started some eight years ago, when I suddenly realized I was about to fly over the ocean in a giant piece of metal. I was going to England with my grandmother and I was about to say goodbye to my dad. Maybe it was because I was afraid to leave, or maybe I was seized with a panic and certainty that we were going to crash. I refused to even go to the boarding gate. My grandmother cried, she thought I didn't want to go with her. And right then, I was afraid to tell the truth.

I can't control anything on a plane. Turbulence practically makes my heart stop. I don't want my last meal to be plastic chicken. I don't want to die in a place where no one outside the plane can reach me. I don't want to die in no man's land. I don't want to die. And I don't want to survive on a plank of wood because I don't want to be eaten by sharks and I don't want to die of starvation, 'cause then I'll really wish I'd eaten the plastic chicken. I don't want my last meal to be plastic chicken.

I don't want to nosedive into the ground. If it wasn't clear, I'm also afraid of roller coasters.

Other things I am afraid of: Jumping too high on the trampoline, skiing down double black diamonds, skiing, cancer, hospitals, not recording everything because I am afraid of forgetting.

What it comes down to is this: I'm afraid of pain, and I'm afraid of dying because I'm not ready to go. Hurt hurts. Every single one of my fears is based on dying.

But more than that, I've been afraid to live. This is something I've known for a long time. I've felt it, as people moved faster than me in other directions, and I stood there because I'm too scared to move. This is something I've struggled with; how do people do it? How come my cousin went down the hill without a scratch? How come everybody I know likes to drive fast?

I'm afraid of the physical things and the mental things. I'm afraid of knowing things and not knowing things. I'm afraid I'm doing it all wrong.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
would it have been worth while,
after the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
after the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor --
and this, and so much more? --

T.S Eliot - "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

It was Christmas 2008. The first time I had ever spent Christmas somewhere without snow.

I don't know why, but I'd just had the urge to go to California. I missed the weather, the clouds and the rolling fog, the ocean from from a safe distance, the big houses, the other world. I missed San Francisco, which felt safe, and Berkeley, which felt cool and homely.

It was fun to watch people walk down the street wrapped up in their jackets and hats and earmuffs in 11 degree weather. Somewhere north of the border there was a snowstorm happening.

I loved the decorations on the houses. Outside it looked like spring, and yet, there was santa on a roof. There were reindeer in the yard. It's weird to imagine Christmas with no snow but I loved that crisp feeling in the air. I loved the smell of Berkeley, the shops, the streets, the laughter. I loved my aunt's house, the sheets, the cat, breakfast in the morning. The colours of the flower petals were more vibrant, the food more organic. Yes, everything there is good, good, good. I felt good.

But it turns out there are scary things in Berkeley too. More things I'm scared of, like people. Also, there's me. Sometimes I'm scared to know who I really am. Sometimes I'm scared that someone might see me. You know, really see me.

There are also bikes in Berkeley.

And hills. Big hills.

Do I dare
disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

T.S Eliot - "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

We decided to go for a bike ride on Christmas morning. I'm afraid of bikes. I used the smallest one, which even then was too big. I tried not to be afraid, but it's hard when you're afraid of everything.

Going for a bike ride up a hill with my family? The irony wasn't lost on me. I'm afraid of getting hit by a car.

The top of the hill was beautiful. I could see the whole city. I could see the clouds and the rolling fog, the houses with lights and decorations. I could see forests of trees which seemed to be greener than any I'd ever seen at home.

The only way back was down, down, down. My cousin began his descent easily, breezily. Even my aunt went ahead of me, experienced and steady. I started after them, slowly. I guess I still follow people. My cousin was way ahead. Occasionally I could see the back of my aunt's windbreaker, puffed up with the wind, at the corner of a turn. My hands were gripping the handlebars tightly, my stomach was tense. My fingers were holding the brakes halfway, ready to do the full squeeze at any time.

The thing about going downhill is that you don't need to pedal. Gravity will take care of everything. I don't really want gravity to be in control, I want to decide how fast or slow I go. The thing with gravity is you don't have a choice. No one does.

My cousin made it look easy, riding down a mountain. Everyone makes it seem that way. I remembered that last time I followed a cousin down a mountain on my bike.

But I was already going down. My aunt and my cousin were getting further and further ahead of me. And then it just clicked. I was in San Francisco. It was 11 degrees. It was Christmas. I was outside, I was alive, I was in love with the big scary world. Maybe there was something waiting for me at the bottom, maybe there wasn't. It didn't really matter. I loosened my fingers on the brakes. I let go.

There is something very freeing about flying down a mountain when you don't want to. The colours blur together, the air fills your lungs, the ground disappears --

There was nothing at the bottom. The road continued as it does, as they all do. I crossed it and went home.

The truth is that I'm still afraid. This could be one of those stories where my life changes for the better when I finally let go of my fears. But it's not. I went back to Montreal and stayed the same, for the most part. But that's not the point. The point is that I did it. I left Prufrock at the top of the hill. For a glorious half hour I sailed through life. I opened my heart and touched the sky.

Let us go then, you and I,
when the evening is spread out against the sky...

oh, do not ask "what is it?"
let us go and make our visit.

T.S Eliot - "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"


laura said...

me gusta the love song of j. alfred prufrock. i think it was the first poem that made me like poetry.
i wear a helmet when i bike. i tell myself that it's because i want to die while i'm doing something BIG, but sometimes i think it's because i'm afraid of everything. it's like hypochondria with the world.
i was having thoughts about planes and the earth's momentum earlier tonight but it involves hand motions so i can't type it. luckily i am seeing you in t-minus 48ish hours.

Brooke said...

The embodiment of self-control and self-awareness is the ability to consciously, voluntarily and completely let go.

So there is that.

Lucia said...

I am also always afraid, of forgetting and of physical things. I like skiing and double black diamonds though because it makes me feel fearless and alive. I don't know how to translate that into everyday life, though.

All my Christmases but one have been 25-30 degrees and usually involve beaches. It didn't snow at all during my one Northern Hemisphere Christmas, but there were frozen ponds and ice so that was somewhat thrilling.

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily

I found your blog by accident. I love it! I live at the southern most tip of a far away continent many worlds apart from your world but I feel the CONNECTION. I think I get #smallearth now.
This post was the first I read and it clicked. I read all the rest later and clickclickclick.

Thank you.

P.S I think T&S saved my life alot.

saint modesto said...

laura: i also love j. alfred prufrock. when i understood it for the first time i felt such a connection because i was like, omg that's how i've lived my whole life.

helmets are good, even if people say they make you look dorky.

brooke: yes. we already talked about this. but i'm still afraid.

lucia: i've been down double black diamonds and i have to snowplow the whole way haha.

that's so strange to me. like in all the christmas stories there's snow. i don't understand christmas with no snow!

anonymous kat: yay, that makes me so happy! that's what #smallearth is all about. thank YOU!