Day 191: The Fear Response

I am little and hiding behind the green-brocade, swivel chair in our family’s living room.  My mother is sitting on the chair, but she doesn’t see me.  The room is full of adults talking, smoking, and laughing, but I am afraid.  My father has pulled out a gun and is pointing it at another man.  I want to scream out to him to stop, but I cannot.  My voice is frozen.  I am paralyzed and helpless. 

I wake up.

And remember.

My parents loved to party when I was a child, and I wanted to be part of it.  In later years, I would perch on the staircase and listen to the exploits, but the dream takes place in the early years, when we lived in a bungalow, and I would wander out of my bedroom and hide behind the living room chair, wanting to be close to my mother and hoping I wouldn’t be found out.

My father never actually owned a gun that I know of, but he did have a violent temper, and on more than one occasion ended the evening by beating up on one of the male guests.

I learned fear in my father’s home.  I learned that to step out of line was to invite violence.

What I didn’t learn is how to define that line, so I lived most of my childhood in irrational, and sometimes paralyzing fear.  Survival, unharmed, became a goal and focus.  I spent countless hours and years upon years trying to figure out how to avoid my father’s wrath.

And in the meantime, I failed to learn about a healthy fear response.

I didn’t flinch when my older sister took me to a biker bar when I was only twelve.

I didn’t think anything was amiss when I was allowed to stay out to all hours of the night, and no one asked where I’d been.

It never occurred to me to question a strange man giving me a ride home.

When home is a scary place, everything else seems tame.