Facing the Fear on the Wall

john-cameron-l6Mb-CwYoKs-unsplashI grew up afraid of a lot of things. Burglars. Bullies. The Dark. The Boogie Man in The Dark. Thunderstorms/Tornados. For starters. I had plenty of other fears.

That last one still bothers me, but I have good reason. When I was 4, we heard a tornado rip through my hometown in Nebraska. It sounded like a freight train as we huddled in the neighbor’s basement, since our house didn’t have one.

Another thing that has always terrified me — scary movies. And the worst one I’ve ever seen is “Silence of the Lambs” during my senior year of high school in Kentucky. My friends knew I hated horror flicks, so they brilliantly convinced me this one was “a drama.”

As I recently Googled this movie during a conversation about it (with someone who LOVES scary movies), I learned it’s the only “horror film” ever to sweep the top Oscar categories. So, my friends indeed lied to me about the genre to get me to go. And go I did. And sleep that night, I did not. Pretty sure I sat straight up in my bed wide awake all night – thinking about that creepy guy who sent the lotion in that bucket down to that girl he kept in that hole in his basement. Is this movie coming back to you yet?

Needless to say, I was PISSED at my friends for taking me to that movie. Not even my tub of buttered movie popcorn, probably my favorite food on this planet, could make the experience better. (Man, I miss movie theater popcorn these days.)

Fast forward to the summer of that same year, right before I left for college in Indiana…I received my roommate assignment. She lived in Oklahoma. This was long before email and texting and “Insta” so we connected the old-fashioned way a few times – on our teen lines by phone. This reminds me how much I used to talk on the phone. Maybe that’s why I really don’t care for it now.

The roommate-to-be and I bonded on those conversations as we both anticipated what college would be like and what our dorm room would become. She was bringing a mini-fridge and a microwave and all kinds of stuff I didn’t have. And since she was working at a video store, she could score us some fun movie posters for our walls. Cool, right?

(A lot of you already know what happens next…)

The new roommate beat me to college where she was completely unpacked and settled into 75% of the room by the time I got there. I made my way to my 25% of the room in a corner where I found a bed and a desk. I looked nervously around at what was to be my home for the next 9 months. Mind you, I had several friends in high school, but I was definitely a nerd and a bit of a homebody. I was feeling major anxiety about college. This room only intensified my nerves from the get-go. I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach about the vibe that was engulfing me.

Yep, as promised, I found several movie posters hanging on the walls, just as we had agreed upon that summer. At no point though had we discussed actual movie titles or even genres. Then I spotted the poster hanging on the wall directly in front of my bed. To give you better perspective, imagine lying on your pillow at home. When you wake up in the morning, what do you see on that wall straight ahead of you?

Well, at this moment in my life, I could look forward to waking up to one of my worst recent nightmares – THAT movie. “Silence of the Lambs.” Straight ahead of my extra long college dorm room twin bed.

It was an omen. College did not go well for me for the first three months, in large part due to the rocky relationship with my new roommate. Everyone else seemed to become BFFs with theirs, joined at the hip. That was, at least until Greek Rush Week in October, when the dynamic shifted and everyone bonded with people beyond their roommates. I ended up becoming close friends with 4 other girls on my dorm floor, and we did everything together. From that point forward, I was set for the rest of college, and I loved it as much as a girl possibly could.

Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time in that freshman dorm room. I didn’t feel welcome in there. I didn’t feel at home in there. I ended up spending most of my time in the study lounge across the hall with those 4 friends or in one of their rooms, when I wasn’t at class, at the library, or having meals. (My college had great food!)

For the longest time into my adult life post-college, I kept a floral blue armchair that became my favorite spot to sit during my freshman year. It belonged to my dear friend Luci in her dorm room she shared with the nicest roommate ever named Karen. I always felt welcome in there. That dorm room felt like home to me. Luci let me have that chair after we shared an apartment for that first year after college. I took it with me to another apartment, a condo, and two houses over the course of 20+ years. I would often read in that chair, feed babies or read to them while sitting in it, and place towels for guests on it. I miss that chair, as raggedy and worn as it became.

This summer is my 25th Reunion Year since graduating from college. We were all set to have an incredible time at Reunion Weekend on campus in June. That, too, has been postponed, like a lot of life right now. Luckily and hopefully, my friends and I will get to go to a rescheduled event in Summer ’21. No word on whether or not that roommate will be there, too. (Ugh.)

As a middle-aged adult now, I’m quite selective about many things mentioned in this story, including – 1) the movies I watch; 2) the art I hang on my walls; and 3) the friends I keep. Age leads you to be much more selective and even exclusive about what and who you allow into your brain, your home, and your heart.

But even back then, when I was 18, I didn’t let that poster get under my skin (no pun intended if you’ve seen the movie!) I woke up seeing it all of my freshman year, but I didn’t let it instill fears in me or start my days off badly. I learned to stare Hannibal Lechter in the eye and not think twice about it. (He’s actually not on the poster, but I wanted to mention him!)

There are times, especially the current, when we have to decide how we will let our external environment impact our psyche. There’s so much information swirling around our heads, in front of our faces, and staring us in the eye every morning. And what we do with it and the sense we make of it can feel burdensome and downright exhausting. That’s why I find it helpful to stay in touch and in tune with the outer world right now, yet I’m allowing myself to “hunker down” away from the range of opinions and emotions, especially of the negative variety.

Thank God this pandemic waited until my middle age to hit – a time in my life when I know who I am, what’s most important, who’s most important, and what I think about most things without needing to think too hard. My instincts have kicked in, and I use them daily. My preferences are well-established, and I lean on them hard. My beliefs are solid, and I don’t let others sway them. My gut speaks clearly to me daily, and I listen. Who out there can relate to this glorious stage of life? Who out there is still working on getting there? I suspect there will be a blend of both out there reading, and if so, I say to all of you THIS…

All of us are afraid of something. Embrace whatever that might be. Quit trying to conquer it and rationalize it away, just because you’re an adult and you’re “not supposed to be afraid.” That’s bullshit. Own your fear(s). I’ll always be afraid of bad weather, the type that starts brewing at this time of year. And, just like when I was a kid, I don’t have a basement here in my home. If a tornado comes this way, you’ll find us sheltering in the interior hallway. The place The Precious Pair and I fondly call “The In Between Spot” because it connects many important areas of the home. (It also makes a great place to trap our two dogs when we need a little space and time between us and them.)

I’m still afraid of horror movies, too. No, thank you. I’ve tried many times to watch them. I don’t make it through them. Even with that person I named above who really likes them. It’s fine. He understands. (Luckily, we’re both drawn to “ridiculous comedies” as a genre that’s mutually entertaining.)

A lot of us are afraid right now. We can’t pretend that we are not. Balance your fear with your instincts. Even at age 18, even after the sheer terror of experiencing “Silence of the Lambs” against my will, I knew the chances of me being kidnapped by a serial killer and trapped in a basement hole were slim. Not impossible, yet highly unlikely. That’s why I could wink at that poster on my dorm room wall every morning and say “Nice try, Boogie Man, but you’re not getting to me today!”

Be smart out there. Narrow the odds of landing in a hole. Heed the posters on the wall. Follow the rules that jive with your gut and your preferences. Continue to shelter in place, if that’s what makes you comfortable in a storm. Cover your eyes if the scary movie is too much. But keep them open. You owe it to yourself and everyone you love to keep your eyes open … and your face covered.

Pandemically yours,

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash



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