on what follows me
I wrote this essay a few months ago i think, for a lit mag to try to get it published. It was supposed to be sort of halloween related. A themed essay on what haunts you. So this is what i interpreted that as. Although i finished the day it was due and literally clicked “submit” a second too long because as soon as i did it said submissions were closed !!!! I was so bummed. I tried to find another home for it but i didnt know who else to submit this too – even tho its not super tied into halloween, i dont know, i didnt know where else to place it or how i should restructure it to not reflect the theme. So i left it on the back burner. The topic of fear the past 2 days has come up a lot in my house so i thought i would share the essay here:
“Maybe the trouble is that the shape of life is elastic, that it can feel and be full at variable levels of fullness. Or maybe we’re poor judges of our own lives’ fullness. Or maybe the concepts of emptiness and fullness are poor metaphors for happiness, if in fact happiness is what we’re talking about.” (Sarah Manguso)
I don’t know what follows me more, my fears of what I think are lost opportunities, or my fears of failure, or maybe it is the fear that choices I have made are permanent and will come to play into my life forever. Perhaps it is the simple fear of letting go at all. Fear is a crutch that I lean on to not feel pain, or heartbreak. Fear is also what keeps me from happiness, or what I hope the lack of fear could bring.
Fear is something that has grown inside of me. There were no fears leaving home at 20 to a city 2,000 miles away. I thought I had escaped my terrors. But as the years went on fear started to stack itself inside of me, showing me that fear is not located in a city but rather something that follows me around regardless of where I go. Moving back to my home city of Houston after 3 years was terrifying. Now, my fiancé and I are thinking of moving away again. I dislike this place so much I didn’t think I would find home in bits of it like when I sit outside in our backyard watching our dog roam around, looking up to see the neighbors bamboo trees that I love, catching the sunlight peak through them, watching the wind make them dance. I didn’t realize I had grown so comfortable watching this all. But I know comfort is a thing of time. After a few months of anything you can find comfort in it, in its familiarity. Thinking of leaving this city, or any home old or new brings fear and so does wondering if happiness is really on the other side or if it was where you left it.
While I can say that being stuck in Houston forever terrifies me, and not ever being able to live in my dream city, New York City terrifies me, it’s a cop out for my real fears. It is only the surface of them. What really scares me is never being able to lose control, to let myself lose control of my emotions, to let myself cry, and feel sadness, and anxiety instead of finding a way to suppress them altogether. Instead of convincing myself not to feel anything at all to protect myself. To let myself feel the pain of rejection, to let myself at least try.
I read somewhere that if you find that you are holding your tongue to the roof of your mouth, clenching your jaw, and holding your shoulders to your neck it is because of stress, or tension. You are holding stress in your body, in your bones, in your teeth, in your tongue that forces it to the roof of your mouth so that you don’t crumble. I was holding myself so tightly all the time because I was afraid if I didn’t I would crumble to a million pieces. Perhaps it isn’t so much that fear haunts me but that I hold onto fear. I press my tongue to the rough of my mouth and clench my jaw at all hours of the day, that is what holding onto fear looks like.
A friend was telling me how there are days where she is unable to control her emotions. She said there are days where all she can literally do is scream and cry and let the emotions run out of her like water. The context was how her boyfriend can help her in those moments, how she feels during those periods, how to cope with the unstoppable amount of feelings coming out of her mouth and eyes and heart. I envied her a little bit in that second. All I could think about was how freeing it must feel to be able to let go, and allow all the emotions that need to come out to leave. I envy her ability to let go of the control over her emotions. All I could think in that instant was how much I control my inner self on a daily basis. How tight I keep the leash on my emotions, sure to never let one slip from me. Is fear the leash? Or is fear my hand gripping the leash as tight as I can?
I never wanted to feel pain and loss and heartbreak. I have never known what the end of something looks like because I have always stopped before I could ever reach it. I have never wanted the things I love to betray me, so I have betrayed them first instead. I have abandoned so many dreams and goals I said I was going to do, or wanted to do, because I could not handle if they didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned them for myself. Or if not, I try only once at something and if it doesn’t work out the first try I immediately opt out. The pain of rejection one time is too much for me to bear.
When asking my fiancé why he thinks I can never finish anything, he tells me I don’t like pain. He said that while sure, I enjoy challenges, the minute I think it will be painful I stop. Challenges and pain are not the same, I remind myself. When something is painful for me, he says, I forgo it. I detest it, and give up. He mentioned that was why I claimed I wasn’t competitive. “Because you automatically think you are going to lose, so you don’t even want to try to fight.” Fear of failure.
What patronizes me is fear that I will never live up to myself, to my own dreams and expectations. My real fear is that I will let fear consume me. That I will let fear win, and will never do the things I aspire to. But fear is not so simple to look at. It comes in the form of control, stress, anxiety, and guilt. They all follow me and it is hard to determine which one is which sometimes. They float in my head like a ghost, waiting for their turn to haunt me.