Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thought I Could Nap. Couldn't. Time To Post About My Childhood Phobias And Avoid Working On Real Writing Projects.

Or, Weekly Blog Update No. 5A37

I got a couple responses who were intrigued by my childhood after seeing the God's Eyes post.
So this blog entry is more about my life, rather than any pattern--unless you think an array of childhood anxieties as a pattern, in which case you would be belittling years of pain, angst, issues and much needed electrotherapy.


I wrote this up a few days ago as "my favorite personal story" for a creative-writing project I'm working on, so bear in mind that it wasn't directly aimed for the blog, BUT IT WILL HAVE TO DO.  I'M ONLY HUMAN. STOP THE PAIN.

*and begin story*

My sister and parents will agree that I had some weird phobias as a child. There were the
standards (fear of darkness, monsters in the closet, Santa).

But, I was also afraid of being eaten by wild wolves, of peeing in public bathrooms, and, thanks to the Harrison Ford Movie, Patriot Games, car bombs being placed in our 1991 Volvo sedan by the IRA when we left it in the parking lots of the ironically named Safeway or Lucky’s. 

Disclaimer:  Not Your Father.

(I failed to remember that in my case, my father was not a renegade cop who killed the brother of an IRA operative, nor does the IRA have operatives stationed in Alameda, California, as far as I know.)  In fact, I never told my family about this last fear because I knew they would scoff—and in movies, those people, the non-believers, were always the ones that got blown up first. I was protecting them.

One of my biggest anxieties was being judged and laughed at for being so anxious. So I began to write letters to my mom, starting at age 6. Anytime I was afraid, or upset or worried, either by things that she did or exterior threats to my life (like my sister), I wrote. As my mom puts it: 

“What would happen is…you know a lot of children, if you’re annoying them, or doing something that causes them to react they will respond right then…but instead of shrieking at me…you would just go into your bedroom, and shut the door and disappear for a while. And at some later point, I would find a letter by my bedside table.”

By putting my fears down onto paper I could feel somewhat in control of them. But, there was always a surplus of things to write about. In one letter I go on about how my parents must be ashamed of me because I, unlike them, hated books. Another one complains that when my mom brushes my hair it hurts so bad it “makes me want to kill myself.” Another expresses a deep fear about becoming addicted to smoking, even without ever having tried, or wanting to try to smoke.

Back then anything could be a threat, and it didn’t matter if I was generally a good kid because, as I wrote, “I don't know myself.” Even I couldn’t be trusted. The letter writing got to the point that I’d pass bits of cardboard, or whatever was handy, to the front seat of the car while my family was, say, out on an eight-hour road trip. And at the end of the letters there was always one, clear direction: don’t laugh—take this seriously. And mom always did. She’d talk to me calmly and honestly, hearing every single fear out. And usually, I would move on and feel reassured, until I found something new that scared me, like spiders leaving their babies in my bed. But, mom was always there to write to, and listen, like this icon of reassurance.

I’ve since managed to overcome many of my childhood anxieties and can now enjoy these letters as a weird window into my psyche. The reason why I like this story is that through these letters, I can look at my childhood as if through the wrong end of a telescope and all the pain and anxiety seems so small in retrospect. The fear is diminished, and in letting go of habitual letter writing, I am more in control than I was when I wrote them. Years after I had forgotten (and gotten over) my letter-writing stage, mom mentioned the letters and showed me the few that she kept. They’re old and torn, and only a few survived over the years. We talked over about it all and I said thanks for at least reading it all and taking it seriously given how weird it must have been to receive them over the years. 

It was then that she confessed, the first thing she did whenever she saw an envelope on her bed, was preemptively close the door, grab a pillow, read the letter, and laugh hysterically into the pillow.


p.s. Have you ever googled "electrotherapy" ?  I recommend it, as you get websites with demonstration-pictures like this.  I didn't realize electrotherapy can (or should be?) sexed up.

p.p.s. No, I did not receive electrotherapy as a kid.  Little homo-joke there, ha. ha.  You know, because way back when (as in, the 1970s) people were still openly using electrocution as a way to cure The Gay?  

p.p.p.s.  Also, my parents didn't suspect The Gay in me as a child, nor did they want to shock it out of me when I told them.  Although, I was the Red Power Ranger for Halloween a couple times, so I do wonder about their levels of denial.

Homosexuality:  You can't stop it.  But you can start laughing at it really early on.


  1. beryl, this post is simply brilliant.

    2 thoughts:

    1) santa is to baby beryl as pop rocks is to coke.

    2) as for the letter writing...i do often think you are a little *too* good at it...

  2. and now i'm wondering if it was the dress or the tights or the bow or santa or all of the above...

  3. Awww we were all weird as kids. I remember one time I was seriously upset because I thought my parents love my brother more "because he has better calligraphy skills." I was crying and dead serious as I made that statement, and my mom bursted out laughing. At least your mom had the courtesy of hiding it.

  4. Your mom's confession was amazing, as was little Beryl. And I'm pretty sure that in 1989 they only sold one little girl Christmas dress...and we all wore it.


  5. Alana--I agree with your analysis of said pop rocks. I was a screamer-child. And you know, what's funny is, if you ever get letters from me that begin "I AM SO SORRY" or "Dear Mather," then I a) definitely sent you the wrong letter or b) have devolved into a little kid and you should get far, far away from me.

    Chin--It rings so true, that story just reminds me of that inner monologue all kids have at some point with their parents "I have figured out the horrible truth--they don't LOVE me after all...they love...The Other One. Because that's what I would do." So sad. But, hilarious.

    Jen--It's true. I'm going to slowly divulge the horrendous choices of outfits due to the 80s and early 90s. I think I faired worse than my sister, too. It's almost as if because I resisted girlhood it clung to me that much more ferociously and things like what you see above happened all too often.

  6. I love how your sister was an external threat to you. She's got the older sibling thing DOWN.

  7. Amy--Ah, yes. I remember you saying Abby at some point feared you but now the tables have turned, I gather?

  8. I was a bit turned off by the mathiness of this blog, but today I decided to give you (I mean the blog) another shot.

    This is hilarious and lovely! Thanks for sharing