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Fear of Fear
I lay in the motel bed, hoping my shivering wouldn’t wake up my sleeping sister beside me, although I also couldn’t figure out how she had already slept through so much. I closed my eyes and wished for sleep, a deep comatose sleep that could make me forget what had happened. I heard the steady breathing of my dad in the next bed, and wished that I could too so easily put aside my fear and get a few hours of rest. But all I could do was lay there, acutely aware of the sensation of the thin sheets and itchy blankets, and listening for any sound that would prove that what I had heard had been a mistake, or that they were coming for us next.
We had been driving for almost 10 hours, arriving at the motel a little after midnight. After the long trip the car felt cramped, with sandwich wrappers and empty bottles, with the sounds of the book on tape that played through the car radio mixed with the music that leaked from my sister’s headphones in the back seat, with the feeling of being responsible for keeping my dad awake as he drove while barely even being able to keep my own eyes open. The sight of the old-fashioned, run-down motel in Springfield, Missouri, felt like being handed a glass of sewer water after a yearlong trek through the desert. At that point, you were willing to drink anything.
We were almost silent as we quickly unpacked the car, got into our pajamas and set the alarm clock for the next day. It wasn’t an awkward silence, but a silence that acknowledged that in the car we had said all that we needed to say, and that we were so exhausted that even small words might turn into big arguments. I crawled into the stiff sheets and covered myself with the rough comforter, it wouldn’t be a comfortable night, I could already feel my sensitive skin begin to itch and I resisted the urge to scratch it, knowing that if I started I would be at it all night.
Hannah went to sleep at once, as usual, and I followed quickly after. But at 2:45am I was awoken by running footsteps above me, and then a yelling voice outside my window. Later the next morning my dad asked me what I had heard the girl saying, I told him all I could hear was the “f” word. It sounded like one long string of “F*** you! Mother F***er! F***! F***!” Well, you get the picture. Once she had gotten all the “f” words she could have possibly have had in her system out, I heard the sounds of a motorcycle driving off.
The running footsteps continued, until they were halted by the loudest, most terrifying sound I have ever heard.
And then quietly, a single, solitary, “F***.”
Four gunshots, in a row. My heart felt like it had stopped, and then suddenly started pumping like I was running a marathon. A bitter taste formed in my mouth, and my body began to shiver, although I was still covered by the blankets. I slipped out from underneath them and onto the floor, sitting against the side of the bed, knees pulled to my chest. I reached over and tapped my dad.
“Did you hear the shots?” I asked. He had. His eyes opened immediately, and I saw in his face that I had confirmed the one thing he had been trying to convince himself had not happened. He got up out of the bed and started to walk over towards the window, whose shades were drawn.
“Dad, don’t” I whispered. “What if they’re out there? What if they see us?” He came back and sat on the bed, and reached for his cell phone. “Dad, we can’t call the police. We can hear them. Everything they do, everything they say. What if they can hear us?” I whispered again. Even now we could hear their footsteps, slower and quieter than before, and the sounds of doors and dresser drawers opening and closing. I couldn’t help but think that no matter what we did, soon they’d find out we were down there, that we had heard them, and then we would be dead too. After a few minutes of silence, him sitting on his bed, and me still curled up on the floor and rocking against the side of mine, he said, “I guess we should try to go back to sleep.”
I nodded, though I knew I’d never be able to. He had seven more hours to drive the next day, though, and I knew he needed his rest. I climbed back into bed, and asked, knowing he would never say yes,
“Can I sleep in your bed?”
“You’re sister needs you,” he said. I looked over at her, sleeping soundly, and slinked noiselessly back under the sheets.
I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. But I barely moved either. You know how they say that fear is paralyzing? Well, I thought that was only an expression, but for me, at least, it was true. I stayed still as a stone, though my heart began to beat like I was lifting a boulder every time I heard the smallest noise above me.
At 5:00am I heard louder footsteps, and they were going down the stairs. After every few steps there was a deep thud. Step, step, step. Thud. Step, step, step. Thud. Eventually I heard the sound of car doors opening and closing and a car driving away. Then silence. An hour later, it was still silent, and my dad woke us up an hour earlier than we had originally planned.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. We packed up quickly and quietly. He called the front desk, told them what we had heard, and then, all in one trip we took the bags out to the car, got in the car as fast as we could, and drove off. We didn’t even eat the free continental breakfast that the motel had provided.
I live my life in fear, but never have I felt fear like this. Little things scare me, like spiders, and heights, like getting things wrong in class. I’m scared of bigger things too, like stepping out of my comfort zone, of getting hurt by someone I love, of not being loveable. But I have never felt fear as crippling as this. I thought I was going to die. No. I knew I was going to die.
And as cliché as it sounds, looking back on things I’ve missed out on because I’ve been afraid, I’ve begun to realize how not scary those things really were. Spiders are way smaller than I am, and are very unlikely to kill me. Why should I be afraid of them?
I’ve realized how limited I am by my fear. I missed out on zip lining through the jungle because I was afraid of heights. I watched as all of my friends tried it, flying through the air, through the canopy of trees, like they were powerful and carefree. But I couldn’t make myself do it. I let my fear get in the way of probably one of the most amazing experiences, and I may never have that opportunity again. I have regretted it every day since then, but even if I went back there tomorrow, I don’t know if I would try it. I might still let my fear get in the way.
I’ve tried to not get too attached to some really cool people, because I was afraid they would hurt me. As a Snowball leader I have almost 40 “best friends.” I know that every one of them would be there for me if anything ever went wrong in my life, and seeing them in the hallways and around town always puts a smile to my face. Inside our circle I know I will always be safe. But I’m distanced from them. I’ve given myself to them, but only just enough. I can’t give them my whole self because I still have a fear that something could go wrong. That in a second they could turn on me. I’m also afraid that if I did let them know my whole self that they wouldn’t love me, that they couldn’t love me. I feel like I’m not completely part of the group, and often I feel like an outsider looking in.
I feel like that in most relationships. Like I am a scientist, observing and collecting data, and not getting too involved. I want to be closer to people, but there’s always a wall. I envy people who are able to be completely in a relationship, who are able to know someone so completely that they know them better than they know themselves. I have gotten close to this, but I’m afraid to truly be there. It’s like I get to a point in a relationship and then I shut down, I lie in the hotel bed, parlayzed, sure I am going to die.
But I didn’t die. I lived.
This has been my most powerful realization. I lived. When you are in the moment, fear seems like the most powerful force on the planet. It is the one, insurmountable obstacle. But you can survive. You can live.
Despite all this, it’s not easy to stop being afraid. It’s not easy to take risks. I can be as logical as I want, but most of my fear doesn’t respond to logic. I have been trying to reason my way out of fear since I was very little. I also have had fears for so long that I don’t know how to get rid of them. How do I suddenly just jump off the high dive? How do I suddenly fully connect to a person? I don’t even know where to begin. No matter how hard I try to reason with fear, to try to forget it, to just do something in spite of it, fear just comes back. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will never be able to live a full life because I can’t get rid of it.