Be afraid, be very afraid

I’ll tell you something about myself: I have a few phobias. One is a phobia of multistorey buildings, particularly where there is car parking involved.

I once saw footage on the news from a wedding in Israel. It was like seeing my worst nightmare played out. One second people are dancing and laughing and having fun. (Therein lies their mistake, I think. Do not relax. Do not have fun. Not if you are in a multistorey building designed and constructed by HUMAN BEINGS.) The next second the floor literally caves in. You see people just falling, and those on the edge screaming and scrambling to find solid ground.

It can happen. It has happened before.

Most days I don’t even think about it, but from time to time (particularly if I’m sleep deprived or already stressed, aka being mother of a small baby), I want to run screaming, get outside and find some grass to lie on, and not move.

The thing that freaks me out is the weight of this constructed world. All that cement. All those cars. All those people and objects. Surely it should all just stay ON THE GROUND.

Is that too much to ask?

And no, please do not tell me about sinkholes.

So you might think it strange that I live in a fifth floor apartment, work in a third floor office, and by one of those strange metamorphoses of parenthood spend a lot of time with my baby boy at (horror of horrors) a multistorey shopping mall with multi-level car-parking – though I almost only ever go there on foot.

I found a book at a Lifeline Book Fair a couple of years ago called ‘Why Buildings Collapse’. It had a whole series of case studies of buildings falling down. It was probably perverse of me to buy it. As someone who is already quite aware of the fact of buildings collapsing, I would be better off with a book about why most buildings actually stand up in the first place, which is the thing that I don’t understand.

Because nothing will stand forever. That’s just logic, isn’t it? The only question is, how long has any given structure got? The apartment block where I live, it’s standing now, but will it still be here in a hundred years, a few hundred years, a thousand years? It will probably be knocked down before it falls down, but theoretically, if it isn’t knocked down, how long has it got?

I don’t know.

Mostly this question doesn’t keep me up at night, but sometimes, when I’m vulnerable to such things, I lay in bed unable to sleep horrified by the combined physical weight of the  world.

On those nights I wish I could give everything away, clear the apartment of furniture, books, whitegoods, other people, all those objects that seem so heavy and that make my world feel unmanageable.

A lot of the time, I’m completely fine.

Another thing I’m scared of is loud noises. I’m better than I used to be, but as a kid it was something that really terrified me. When I was about five or six, my parents sent me for piano lessons. The piano was too loud. I remember I used to play, banging the keys louder and louder and getting more and more frightened, until I would run away and hide.

I swapped the piano for the violin, which was some improvement, though still sometimes made me anxious.

My baby is terrified of the sound that the garbage truck makes when it picks up our garbage every day at the bottom of our building: the roar of the engine, the crash of things falling. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a scary sound.

It makes me wonder though – where does fear come from? Is it something you can inherit? Is it a natural evolutionary response to things that in our distant past we should have been extremely cautious about because they could lead to our death?

I don’t know.

I give Jack big cuddles when he climbs up my leg like a frightened monkey, and I tell him about the trucks and what they’re doing. And I wonder at how he reminds me of myself, of the things that used to frighten me that have since worn off, of the things that frighten me still.

Those fears are nothing, of course, compared to the bone-crushing heart-gnawing terror of being a parent. But let’s leave that one for another time.

So tell me, what are you afraid of?

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