Brave and Invisible
July 16, 2009, 12:51 PM:
I consider myself to be a very brave individual. There are not very many things that truly frighten me to the point of an uncontrollable panic. When I was a small child it was different. Now that I think back, I seemed to be afraid of many things. Like any five year old I was terrified by things invisible and, to me, very visible.
The dark was a door that led to a space between earth and hell filled with clawed hands and pointy teeth ready to devour me at any second. The strange things my little eyes would see in the dark. I could never fall asleep on my back in fear of being possessed by the large-faced people that lived in my ceiling. One night I remember being caught in a nightmare where I was trapped, petrified like marble on my back, while these faces screamed and tormented me with their glowing eyes and sharp teeth. I would scream my loudest scream, but no sound would come from my mouth.
I would wake up mad wondering why no one came in to save me.
The basement was a place where an evil old man lived who liked to eat children. He sat in the far corner of the basement between my father's obsessively large collection of books and the room filled with model trains. I thought my dad captured him one morning in the woods and hired him to watch over his sacred train set which was strictly off limits to my five year old hands. He paid him with peanut butter crackers and Ovaltine and instructed him to "keep those kids away from my trains."
The forest was a place filled with the ghosts of dead Indians killed during the revolutionary war, wolves, and bobcats hungry for the blood of a five year old boy. From my back yard you could see the wall of fifty sixty foot pine trees guarding the entrance to a dark world of branches, needles and creatures of the night. I would sit on my back stairs looking deep into the darkness and see eyes just waiting to pull me into their deep hole. My older sister amplified my paranoia by informing me that there was a witch in the woods that had died many years ago. "At night her ghost roams the woods and sometimes stops to build a fire. If you look hard enough, you can see the glow in the distance." she said. We never had an attic you could enter by stairs so I was never worried about the possibility of ghouls, goblins, or child-eating freelance killers coming to get me. I figured that all the Christmas decorations, Santa dolls and Baby Jesus in the manger worked as a force field of good. Death from above never crossed my mind. It's funny how the mind works.
When I was 8, my father, who, up until this age, allowed my mom to treat my fears of the darkened gloom with a hug and a nightlight, had enough. I could picture him sitting at his desk calculating the monthly bills when he makes a shocking discovery. "Now I know why the damn electric bill been so high for the past three years. It's that freakin' night light burning all night long. Why the hell is he afraid of the dark?" he barks in his old school New England accent. He comes into my room slowly with silent intimidation just like Charles Bronson in "Mr Majestic". "Your done with being afraid of the dark", he said with a pompous growl Patton would have admired. "Look around. See all this stuff?" He then flicks off the light and shuts the door. I want to cry out in fright, but ironically I'm too afraid. "What is in the dark that is not in the light?" he said. "Nothing. You put those things there yourself." He then quoted former President Franklin D. Roosevelt's historic phrase "The only thing to fear is fear itself" and switched back on the light."Say goodbye to your nightlight. Time to go to sleep". Sleep I did. Maybe to scared to attempt the crying tactic now that mom had been disarmed, maybe I grew an immediate respect for dear FDR-who ever that was. What ever it was made me think and begin applying the philosophy to my young life. My adventurous alter-ego had been called to action.
Later that year I crept into the dark basement, and decided to kick the shit out of the Train Guardian once and for all. Armed with my baseball bat and my father's flashlight, I turned over everything in that basement looking for that twisted guy but found nothing. No cracker crumbs or empty peanut butter jars. This guy hit the road when my fear left my mind. I was beginning to think that my dad was right. I began sneaking into the train room on a regular basis and started to mess with all my dad's treasures but Crackers never returned. When trouble would come my way, I never had a problem taking a punch or giving one. I trained as a boxer in school and spent my days using my fists to melt my assorted tangible fears away. I never felt intimidated by anyone and never coward from a threat. No one stood in my way. I only had to deal with my dad. Some days I wished I had never given the child killer in my basement the boot. He had nothing on my old man and was not close to being as intimidating.
When we finally got my old mini-bike running, I passed through the forest entrance without a care and rode the trails everyday in summer heat and winter cold. I figured if that old witch crossed my path, I would just out-run her, get the Baby Jesus and some tinsel from the attic and mount it to the front of my bike for spiritual protection. Nothing would keep me from a good ride in the woods. Thinking back, those rides could have been much more frightening if I had let the fear sway my decisions. Over the years, I grew to larger, more powerful bikes which did not stop my need for speed and excitement. Some of my off road adventures took me into dangerous territory but nothing so sharp to wake up the fear that slept inside. During my teen years an accident left me with a severed tongue and broken nose but no fear of the next ride. My twenties took me into a hot summer ride resulting in multiple breaks, metal plates and steel rods just to keep me from amputation but fear did not keep me from riding on the street for many years to follow. I burned my witches, exercised my ghosts, and put my fear to bed.
I quickly grew to be an older kid with nothing to fear but fear itself. As a young man I began to realize that fear wears many faces which showed itself in many ways and through a hundred situations. The bravest of men can conquer fear on the bloodiest battlefield, racing at high speed and by climbing the tallest mountains, but can be afraid of the softest touch, the deepest love, or the tears of the smallest child. I grew not to be afraid of anyone or anything but found myself frozen when trying to speak from my heart. I once spoke of becoming a rock star and playing in front of thousands of fans, but was too afraid to put a band together. I once began to fall in love with beautiful friend, but when she finally confronted me with mutual feelings, I was too fearful to admit mine. One day I shared one of my dreams with a friend and told him about my next big plan. He quickly responded, "That's funny. You are always talking about what you are going to do but you are always too afraid to do it. Don't even talk about it because it will never happen." I got so angry. What a jerk. What a friend. What a jerk for making me think about how much fear is still inside me. My dad flicked the lights off all over again and shut the door in my face. Not afraid to fight, bleed, or fall to my death, but scared to go the distance, push myself into unknown feelings, do something that may cause me to fail, or possibly succeed.
Older now with obvious age on my whiskers and old muscle hovering around my belly, I've stepped on the neck of many fears in my life. I became a successful, respected musician and performed in front of huge crowds of people only because I joined a band and didn't give up. I made many friends, some who would have been far outside my social expectations only because I was not afraid of being myself and giving them my heart. I've spent years as writer, travelled the country, and have conversed with everyone from the homeless on the streets of Boston to Henry Rollins in his L.A. office only because I was not afraid to open my mouth and speak. I'm only half way to the mountaintop. I may not want to believe, but all my fears are far from conquered. Parenthood, grand-parenthood, emotions, depression, marriage, communication, age, time, health, and hundreds of others have now established residency in my heart and soul.
Now, when I become truly afraid, I turn off all the lights and search for the monsters, ghosts, and witches who are not there. I walk into the woods and remember my days of riding on danger without a thought or worry. I pick up my guitar, dream of a smoke filled room and turn up the volume as loud as my ears can handle. I scream my loudest scream and no sound comes from my mouth. I write down my thoughts, my fears and my dreams for all the world to see. Now, like any forty four year old, I am still terrified by things invisible and, to me, very visible, but now, I carry a much bigger bat. - BT