Monday, 9 January 2017

She’ll be Right
by Ann Harth

As a child, fear was my most intimate acquaintance. It wasn’t your ordinary, generic dread but one filled with three-dimensional images and the intricate details of possibilities that would have caused even Charlie’s Angels to shake in their high-heeled boots.
As I lay unprotected and vulnerable in my bed, it wasn’t the dark that frightened me; it was the evil that lurked there. I was visited by large shadows of men with cruel intentions and life shattering schemes. Slimy serpents found my facial orifices and slithered in for a snooze and huge hairy spiders tangled in my hair and laid their eggs. But the most frequent night time occurrence was my flight through the inky blackness dangling from the arms of a flying monkey from the Land of Oz. My legs would kick in slow rhythm and my pink fluffy slippers would plummet, tumbling over each other as they fell to the earth.
Sleeping at my best friend’s house didn’t cause my palms to sweat and my heart to race; it was the experience I knew I’d face the next day when Mom didn’t pick me up. When my friend’s parents drove me home, the front door of my big white house would be swinging in the breeze. The rooms would be echo-empty except for a note on my bedroom floor. I would step toward the bare windows and stoop to unfold the crumpled paper. Sorry, it would say, we had to move. When I stepped back, reeling as though from a punch in the stomach, I would tread on a red crayon, grinding it into the carpet so it looked like blood.
Girl Scout camp didn’t worry me, either; it was the inescapable and horrific effects of bad packing that caused my palms to sweat. The week before camp, I packed and repacked my duffel bag, making sure I could fit everything in when it was time to come home. After seventeen successful attempts, I was still unconvinced. What if I couldn’t roll my sleeping bag small enough? While the others tucked their Sleeping Beauty and Barbie sleeping bags into neat little bundles, I would roll and re-roll my father’s ugly brown bag, leaking sweat and tears as I tried to tame the billowing flannel enough to stuff it into my packed duffel. The last station wagon would sail down the road with plump arms waving from the windows. Cathy Heckles would call, “So sorry, too slow!” I would be left in the woods surrounded by lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
As a child, I woke most mornings with shaky hands and a stomach rolling with dread. A bee in the yard would chase me inside for the rest of the day. The friendly dog next door would wag his tail and evoke panicked shrieks and a scramble to the top of the slide. Even my own six-week old dachshund had me cornered in the back seat of the car in terror as we drove home from the pet shop.
My life was filled with fear.
But there was an upside to a fertile and extensive imagination. The other side of the fear coin was the dream of worthiness. Again, not your run-of-the-mill fantasy, but a world two small steps from heaven.
I was a slim, athletic hero with flawless skin. I saved children from sinking cars and burning buildings, found lost families in the woods and, with my ingenuity and quick tongue, whittled the school bullies into cowering, quiet shadows of their former selves. I was also a keyboard player in a band.
I lived in a world of extremes. It was exhausting.
While my imagination had me jumping from burning buildings and being kidnapped by evil religious cults, my real life was reasonably average. We were an American middle class family consisting of Mom, Dad, brother, sister and scary little dog. The kids went to school, the dad went to work and the mom did everything else. All was fine in our average little scenario. My excitement and success came from a complicated and unpredictable place within and I tried not to set more than one fat foot into the real world if I could help it.
My fears and fantasies changed as I grew older, but they remained.
I finished high school, went to college and loped through the next few years with a beer in one hand, a joint in the other and roaring white noise in my head which temporarily dispelled the fears and replaced the fantasies with silence. I had the obligatory boyfriends and break-ups and the semblance of a broken heart or two. I had the friendship dramas that many young middle-class women must endure. The world revolved around me, my friends and what was happening Saturday night.
Then my dad left.
It rocked my tiny, trembling world and I disappeared.
We were shaken, my brother and I. We clung to each other and entered that roaring vacuum together.
I was drowning.
Somehow, between parties, I came up for air long enough to save some money and plan a camping trip around the country with a couple of friends. A chance encounter, in the parking lot of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, marked the beginning of the rest of my life.
I met an Australian. We grew close over a matter of weeks and, when he left the country, it was with the hope that I would follow as soon as I could afford it.
Floundering through my directionless life had been much more frightening than winged monkeys but finally I’d found a goal. I grabbed it and clung to it. I moved back in with Mom, got my old job at the nursing home back and saved my money.
For the next nine months, the fears attacked but the fantasies kept them at bay. I had no choice. Swim … or sink.
Over the years, my malleability and inability to define myself as an individual had forced me to collect characteristics from others: people I knew, movie stars, models and even photos of a face or a stance that shimmered with the image of who I yearned to be. I armed myself with these, hid my fears and drew a mantle of calm over my persona. I pretended to be the person I wanted to be.
I didn’t move to Australia to find myself, but to create myself.
This is my story.

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"She'll be Right" is the prologue to a memoir in progress by the same title.