Afraid of What?

For reasons unknown, a memory that’s been hidden for many years surfaced this evening. I remembered being frightened of living in this world to such an extent that I fantasized about living in a granite cave carved into the side of a mountain. This cave had polished stone floors and walls and ceilings. It was unreachable except by me and the few people I might allow to follow a secret pathway to go there. The windows in the thick granite walls on the side of the mountain were just slits in the rock, big enough for me to see out but far too small for anyone to climb inside, even if they succeeded in climbing the sheer face of the mountain to reach my home. I guess it’s the fantasy I remember more than the fear that caused it, but I remember a couple of experiences in young adulthood that triggered the resurrection of the fantasy.

The First Event: I was twenty-six years old, maybe twenty-seven, when my wife and I bought our first house. Ours was the first house to be built in a new section of a sprawling subdivision in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. Shortly after we moved into to our house, the front yard was sodded with squares of Saint Augustine grass. We were told to keep the yard very, very wet for several days.

One night only a few days after the grass was put down, I heard the squealing of tires in front of the house and then I heard shouts.  I looked out the peep hole on the front door and saw a vehicle in our yard and people running around. It scared the hell out of me. I had no idea what was going on outside, but I knew it wasn’t normal. One of the people came and banged on the door. “Don’t call the cops! Help us get unstuck! We’ll pay!” That scared me even more. I called the cops. Turns out a couple of kids decided they would trench our yard. The sheriff’s department arrived shortly and called the driver’s father (the other kids had beat it). The kid’s dad showed up, drunk, and said it was just a kid prank and urged me not to call my insurance company. “I’ll pay for it first thing in the morning,” he said. The next afternoon, I called my insurance company and gave them the father’s name and number. He called me soon thereafter, cursing and angry that I had not waited for him to come deliver money to me for the damage.

The Next Event: Not long after the first event, someone came banging on our door late one night. BANGING! My mother was staying with us for some reason (not that it matters). I got up and went to the door and yelled “who’s there?” A very drunk man screamed back at me that his car was stuck in the field behind my house and that he needed me to pull his car out of the mud. “I’ll pay you! Here’s fifty dollars!” Through the peep hole I could see him put something down on the front porch.

I told him I was not about to open my door to a screaming stranger and that I would call the sheriff. “No! Don’t call the sheriff! I’ll give you a hundred!” He bent down and put something else on the ground.

“I’ve already called the sheriff. Get away from my house!”

That sent the guy into a rage and he banged and banged on the door. I was scared. I went to the kitchen and picked up a long slicing knife. I didn’t have a clue what I’d do with it, but it was a weapon. I had no guns. Eventually, the cops came. They arrested the guy and had his car pulled from the mud and towed away. For months, I worried that he’d come back for me, because I called the cops.

The Third Event: Our house was still alone in the field, the nearest house at least two blocks away. My office was about fifteen minutes away; between my house and the office the landscape was mostly empty and my drive to and from work was easy, with little traffic. I got a call one day from the construction superintendent responsible for the housing being built in the subdivision. “I was checking on your house and it looks like somebody tried to break in the front door. Must have been scared away, because there’s no one there.” He had been checking on occupied houses for  a week or more because of some break-ins. A neighbor nearby sustained considerable damage when some thieves had cut the water line to their refrigerator ice maker and made off with the refrigerator, clothes washer, and dryer, among other things.  I raced home and, sure enough, the trim around the front door had suffered considerable damage, like someone had tried to pry the door open. I blustered into the house and screamed at whoever might have been there, but I was scared. And I was scared that someone might break in while we were home.

I had a security system installed a few days later. My brother taught me, and my wife, how to shoot his .38 special.  And I bought a gun, a .357 magnum. Until my brother taught me how to shoot his gun, I’d never shot a pistol in my life.

Even after buying the gun, though, I was afraid. The experiences with the drunks and the attempted break-in rattled me. Every minute of every day I was frightened. And I remember thinking I would not be able to protect my wife or myself, even with the gun, if someone decided to harm us. That sense of fragility and inadequacy has never entirely left me, though the protective fantasy that arose from it did. Until tonight.

When we moved to Chicago, I gave another brother the gun. He promptly lost it or it was stolen from him or who knows what. I didn’t want a gun. I thought guns might be more of a problem than a solution. Could I ever use one on another human being? I didn’t know. Still don’t.

But, back to my fantasy safe place. The fantasy arose before those three events, but I don’t know when, nor do I know its genesis. I just remember, after the first event noted above, that I knew that fantasy from an earlier time.  I don’t know why, after so many years, I remembered the fantasy tonight and I remembered the feelings I had while living it. What am I afraid of now? What makes me want to crawl into that cave, cutting myself off from a menacing, terrifying, unfriendly world? I simply don’t know. There’s a sense of unease tonight beneath my otherwise calm exterior, but I don’t know why it’s there.




About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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