Lying in my bed, lights out, blankets on — making sure I don’t let my toes poke out at the foot of my bed, lest monsters start nibbling on them in the middle of the night — I hear a noise. A soft rumbling, a gurgling, maybe. To most people, this would be the sign of a water heater doing its work, or perhaps the soft whir of a vent. To me, however, it is the unmistakable sound of a murderer slipping in through the door I foolishly forgot to double-bolt lock. This murderer, this crazed psychopath, has been stalking me for years and has found my one weak moment to pounce and stab me approximately 70 times on my head and torso, leaving a note scrawled on my pristine white walls in Dawn of the Dead-esque blood, warning my family that he will not stop until every last one of them has been surprised in bed and killed in the most stabby way conceivable.
Or, you know, it’s just the A/C kicking back on.
My life seems filled with these moments, these little pauses where I allow myself to be consumed with the most ridiculous fears imaginable. I can’t stand on a subway platform without a fleeting thought of “What if someone runs up behind me and pushes me in front of the oncoming train?” as I scoot several paces away from the rails. I often look down stairs and think, “What if I slip and fall and break 60 percent of my ribs?” I imagine tickle fights will end in broken teeth or shattered noses, from a wily knee breaking free of its tickly captor, aiming directly for my face. Though I know that I likely will not succumb to any of these obscure injuries/deaths, my brain seems incapable of not jumping to the worst possible conclusion at least a dozen times a day.
And though I wouldn’t describe myself as a hypochondriac — I don’t have a general practitioner on speed dial that I harass during family dinners to talk about my ingrown hair with — I would be lying if I said that the first thought that crossed my mind for almost every small ache and pain wasn’t “cancer.” Hit my arm and still have a bruise two days later? Arm cancer. Feel like there is something lodged in your eye after dusting? Eyelash cancer. Hair knots seem impossible to untangle even after smoothing them with leave-in conditioner? Hair cancer. And any shortness of breath, even after physical activity, means impending heart attack.
Why am I so afraid? I don’t have a traumatic history of injury or being murdered while sleeping cozily in my bed. Sure, I’ve had stitches and been mugged once, but those events were more disorienting than anything else, and led mostly to frustration over the sudden dip in my bank account. They cannot possibly be the reason why I have to run up the stairs when I turn off the light in a basement for fear that ghosts are going to pop out of the washing machine and eat my face. I know that, in most areas of life, I am fairly rational and thoughtful about most things — why do I still fear the boogie man that lives in my closet and is going to jump out at me if I try to take out a sweater in a darkened bedroom?
More importantly, though, when does it stop? Is there a time in life when you just magically grow out of your scaredy cat-ness and decide that you are, in fact, going to go skiing because the chances of getting caught in an avalanche are minuscule compared to the chances of having a sweet-ass time and learning to ski? And what does it mean that my mind is constantly going to the thing that could go terribly wrong and lead me, during an innocent walk to the grocery store, to dying a Saw-esque death in the middle of the street?
Perhaps it is best to just embrace my tendency to be scared of just about everything. Sure, it might prevent me from trying new things from time to time (I have lived in France for two years now and have yet to put a snail in my mouth, because that shit is gross, and snails are scary in a slimy, creepy-crawly way), but it doesn’t seem like the end of the world. Maybe I can even learn to live with the ghosties and monsters that live in various corners of my room when the lights are turned off, hanging out with the crazed serial killers that are playing poker in my shower, waiting for me to come in so they can all take turns murdering me. Yes, the chances that the bee in my room is going to launch across the room and sting me directly in the eye whilst its bee brothers rally all the spiders on my balcony to come and crawl all over my face are slim, but it doesn’t seem like the image of it in my mind is going anywhere anytime soon.
For now, I’m just going to run out of the room when I turn off a light. I’m going to look down every alley — even on busy, crowded areas — and see Jack the Ripper hanging out with my name scrawled on a sheet of paper like at an airport terminal. I am going to wonder, briefly, if the elevator shaft I walk into will be the one that has no actual elevator in it and leave me plummeting to certain death. And yes, I know that makes me kind of childish, but try being cozy in your silent, dark room when a washing machine unexpectedly kicks on and tell me that you don’t pee your pants least a little bit.