When Was The First Time You Were Afraid?

That’s the writing prompt for today.  Actually, it’s been the writing prompt for the past several days, but I’ve busied myself elsewhere so I could avoid writing about it.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid.

That’s not entirely true.  I have an inkling, some internal “sense,” that tells me I wasn’t scared when I was very small.  Oh, I’m sure there were things that frightened me — being yelled at, bugs, that sort of thing.  But big frightened?  That came later.

I don’t recall one circumstance that brought fear into my life.  It grew slowly, like mold or cancer.  An insidious thing that, bit by bit, took over my childhood and, later, my adult life.

How could it not?  I was raised by parents who were afraid of everything — bills, debt, spiders, the great “what if.”  Not desirous of children, they were saddled with three, all girls.  Imagine the horror.  Our gender alone added a plethora of fears to the mix — unwanted pregnancy being the top contender.  Mom did what she could to make us (me, at least) terrified of boys in general and sex in particular.

I’ve reached a point in life where I find it hard to entirely blame my parents.  I suppose they did the best they could with what they had.  The least introspective people on the planet, it would never occur to either of them that they had the power to change their behavior, to make it different from that of the parents and grand-parents who came before them.  (Fear, it seems, runs deep in some families.  God knows it’s a wide-running seam in ours.  If it were gold, we’d be millionaires several times over.)  Raised to insecurity by insecure families, my folks knew nothing better but to spread it along to the next generation.

Unfortunately, that sort of thing draws interest, compounding with the years until it’s a mountain across your shoulders.

I remember the shock I felt the first time I realized that my parents were afraid of everything.  As a child, your parents are gods.  You can’t imagine anything that they can’t handle.  As you grow and gain perspective, you begin to see them as people.  It’s a surprise to find them frail and faulty, no better than anyone else.  Being able to see their fear made it easier to understand where mine came from, although no easier to bear, fight, and banish.  (And forgiveness?  Not there yet.  Still working on it.  For now, trying to understand is about the best I can do.)

So while, yeah, I could blame my folks for all my ills, at some point I had to take responsibility for them.  God knew my parents weren’t going to help me overcome them (to this day, they can barely get out of their own way and spend too much time frozen like deer in the headlights).  If it took introspection, tearing down, building up, therapy, whatever, it was my job to do it.  Frankly, I can think of other things I’d rather do, but I’m also determined to make it happen.

This is something I’ll probably work on for the rest of my life.  Confidence does not come easily to me.  Oh, I can fake it with the best, but to really feel it from the heart?  That takes work.  It’s not something I was raised to feel, or to feel I deserve.  Nor was gratitude, nor happiness.

But I’m learning.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Childhood, children, Essays, Family, Fear, Life, Melissa Crandall, Memoir, Memory, Neglect, parenting, Personal History, Writer, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to When Was The First Time You Were Afraid?

  1. notquiteold says:

    It’s strange for me to think about my parent’s fears. They were (and my mother still is) pretty strong and fearless. But you have started me thinking about my mother-in-law. She was forceful but fretful at the same time… and I can see how it affected my husband. Your post is helping me see them in a new light.

    • It’s funny what perspective can do for an issue. I resented my parents for a long time and then one day, after my divorce, they got talking about the past and that’s when I discovered that they both had been abused/neglected as children. Dad had the world’s worst passive-aggressive mother and to this day is insecure and thinks himself stupid. Mom had an indifferent mother (raising 5 children alone during the depression surrounded by family who refused to help her) and a horrible grandmother (who would eat in front of her and not offer any food, and who locked her in closets). I was never locked in a closet (nor were my sisters, so far as I know), but there was some serious emotional cruelty in our family and the scars are visible to this day.

  2. Good question–now I’m thinking about this–seriously.

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