The queerest fear

I’m not quite sure when the fear began. Sure, I have never been that into reckless behavior or extreme sports, but I like to think I’ve mostly maintained an air of courage when it comes to navigating this great Earth. Truthfully though, I have never been “good” at getting injured. I suppose I’m referring to the way in which my eyes well up with tears when I’m suddenly injured. How upset and scared I feel, even as an adult, when I’m faced with the reality of the impending physical doom that awaits us all. Wounds and mortality beget us all, even those of us who race fearlessly race toward that end with nary a second thought.

In this case, I have to assume that my inexplicable fear was bred from my dreams. That somehow a string of specific recurring visions wrought with overwhelming emotion eventually brought me to this current state of terror. It’s as if my unconscious imaginings slowly forged themselves into being and that my chronic state of maturity is not solely responsible for my shrinking sense of invulnerability.

What is this newly apparent phobia, you may ask? A simple fear of hills. Yes, hills. Specifically, rolling, falling, or sliding down them (though in my dreamscapes, I also slide backwards in an attempt to surmount monstrous terrain). This coming from the girl who up has somewhat intentionally relocated herself from the vast flatness of the Midwest to the rolling hills of upstate New York and now to a city that is ridden with steep inclines and in my reality, often compares to a mild San Francisco ‘scape.

Of course, this fear is situational and is often made worse by my participation in activities that require the relinquishment of control for my general well-being: biking. When I’m on foot, though I’m exceptionally clumsy, I like to pretend that there’s safety and stability of my pair of size tens. That somehow grounding myself physically on the earth precludes me from catastrophe (the lies we tell ourselves). But I digress.

The panic I feel while biking down steep hills was undeniable today as I rode home from a friendly brunch date not more than two miles from my home. The ride there: delightfully challenging. There is no easy route here to any one destination. This is something I discovered quite quickly here, though I took pleasure in denying that fact for a good few months. Biking up and down dry hills is one thing. Getting caught in the spontaneous fits of rain that are quite common here is another. And so, as I biked home at snail pace and with great caution, gripping my wet handlebars and grimacing at the sound of my squeaky, rain-spattered brakes, I had the realization that I was utterly petrified by every coast, every slight turn, even by the most trivial surface change on the road. There I was, thirty years old, clutching my brakes as I glided down what some might find to be joyous descents. Instead of enjoying the freedom of gravity and the  refreshing mist of rain, I was mentally preparing for sudden injury or death, for sliding into traffic, for wrecking my body yet again, in even the smallest spill.

Therein lies the source of my fear… maybe? Except for the fact my hilly nightmares began ages before I’d ever taken on mountainous territory or flown over my handlebars as an adult. Before I had cracked a rib just by the mere act of hitting a curb at the wrong angle or had my wheel snag in a trolley track causing the temporary debilitation my shoulder. Heck, I still get tense in yogic headstands and I do them on a near-daily basis on the safety of my trusty mat.

So, perhaps it’s age? Perhaps it’s that I am (we are?) all haunted by pains of the past whether we like it or not; subconsciously recovering from spills, ego-bruises, and wounds to our delicate, ever-hardening hearts. But we can choose to face our fears, focus on the present, and still find those shadows hanging nigh in the periphery. After all, we are immortal, pervious beings and what’s worse, we fully realize this. Some embrace it, understanding and accepting that there is no true lastingness, while the rest of us sigh and shudder at the inevitable pains to come.

Even in picking this apart, I have no solution. I simultaneously occupy and reject this fear. I gear up, tell myself a lie (that even if I wreck it’s going to be okay) and gingerly take on those hills. On days like today, I take baby steps; ditch my pride, and two-step my way down even the smallest slopes. I embrace awesome clichés and do the one thing I can: I get back on that bicycle again.