Correction: I’m A Coward

Photo by Toni Cuenca from Pexels

The clouds hang heavily in the sky, and rain batters the world below. The wind rustles the trees, and the trees let out an ungodly howl. A single crow clings to a barren branch of a lonely oak, and caws in defiance. The technicolour world fades to black and white as a three-note musical score comes to life.

The earth shudders and people run for cover. Panic filled screams ring out throughout the lands, and even the dogs howl in dismay. A dishevelled soul stands in the middle of the street. His weathered face reveals the madness within. He stretches his arms out wide, throws his head back, and laughs hysterically. A car horn blares. Tires squeal. It’s utter chaos, and still, the music plays on.

That’s how those films go, right? The scary ones. The ones you watch on Halloween or on a dark and stormy night. Friday was the 13th, and it’s still 2020, so that had to be a tailor-made invite to a night of horror and mayhem. I can only assume because, as you will soon find out, I’m a coward.

The only horror movies I’ve watched came from the library of Alfred Hitchcock. Not his personal library. I never knew the man, obviously, and I’m pretty sure he was dearly departed before I made my entrance. But I’ve watched some of his films, and they’re predictable, weird, and brilliant for the time they were made. 

Alfred found a formula that worked so he went with it, and he made off like a bandit. He was very successful and well respected. He’s known, to this day, as a cinematic legend and genius. The man knew how to tell a story, even if that story was predictable. Ah, but who am I to question his artistry? No one, that’s who, and I find comfort in the predictability of his movies.

Of course, by today’s standards, he’s pretty tame, and his films give more giggles than chills. Especially if you’re a diehard horror lover. Is that the right term? Diehard? With all that blood, slashing, and dying, it feels too on the nose. Ah, but if you like to be scared and soil you pantaloons, then Hitchcock might be quaint in comparison. 

Here’s a surprise, I’m not a horror fan, and some of Hitchcock’s films are scary enough to keep me up at night. Let’s go one step further, Disney movies freak me out. What the hell’s going on with Fantasia? Dancing brooms, flying whales… I just shivered and threw up in my mouth. My left eye is twitching. That movie, it’s just not right.

The first time I watched it, I must’ve been 7 or 8. We were in England, and my brother and I were locked in a room filled with flowers. The wallpaper, carpet, sofa and cushions were all covered in a floral pattern. There might’ve been birds too, or perhaps butterflies, but they were overwhelmed by the flora. 

By the way, this isn’t a critique of anyone’s interior design skills. I’m sure it was in vogue at that time, in that country, and they were lovely people who had a gorgeous home. Thank you very much for your excellent hospitality. Please disregard the muddled memories of a mind that was, at that tender age, still developing its processing prowess. 

For whatever reason, the floral print sticks out in my memory, and it sets the scene for my night of horrors. A night that haunts me to this day. Oh, the nightmares! The insomnia! The… Too much? Nightmares with an exclamation mark was over the top, wasn’t it? Yeah, sorry, I was going for a dramatic impact, but I think I hit melodramatic instead.

Anyhoo…

We were in this floral room, with that movie playing, and my fear quickly reached a simmer. The evil mouse, you know who I’m talking about, danced through a magically disturbing world. Inanimate objects came to life and pirouetted across multiple dimensions made up of too many colours. A devil creature, with a terrifying musical score, emerged from the dark, and it was all too much.

I looked at the flowers on the walls, and they started to move in time with the tunes booming out of the boxy tv. This room was alive with the sound of music, and it was freaking me out. I was sure that the cartoon rodent was making the flowers move and that, if something wasn’t done, he’d order them to devour our tiny little bodies. 

Something had to be done to save our lives! I tried to turn off the Tv, but I couldn’t make it stop. Every button I pushed made the music grow louder, and that damn mouse danced faster. Sure, it was probably a coincidence that my terror lined up with a frantic scene in the movie. But what if it wasn’t? What if this was the moment he struck us down? What about our parents? What would they do without us?

The horror!

I ran to the door, but we were locked in! Who locks kids in a room with a mad mouse hell-bent on our destruction? It’s just not right. Or, I was too short to reach the doorknob, and my brother didn’t understand why I was panicking. I was trying to save your life, bro, you’re welcome.

Eventually, we escaped the torture chamber with our lives, and Mic’s evil plans were foiled. Booyah, you dirty rat! Freedom never tasted so sweet. Also, we were given an extra piece of dessert as a reward for surviving such a harrowing event. Extra dessert is, in my humble opinion, a mark of an excellent host and hostess. Thank you for your hospitality. May I suggest you burn that movie in a small, intimate ceremony officiated by a religious figure of your choosing? Just to be safe, and all that.

If Disney and Hitchcock skirt my horror limits, then I shouldn’t go any further. Freddie does the thing would push me over the edge. The guy with the face and the clown with the ballon would do me in. Friday the 13th? Nope, no thank you. I’m a wimp, a fraidy-cat, a yellow belly coward. 

How about an extra serving of dessert? I could really use a slice of cake right now.

My cowardice goes beyond my cinematic preferences. In real life, I’m timid and shy. Fear is my constant companion. Do I sleep with a nightlight? Yes, but my dog is afraid of the dark, and if I don’t leave something on, he cries all night. I do it for the dog! That’s the only reason.

I should pause, and give a quick recap for our new friends. I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, kidney disease, when I was three years old. Since then, I’ve developed secondary conditions such as an arrhythmia that has caused my heart to stop on a number of occasions. I’ve had hundreds of surgeries and thousands of procedures. Three kidney transplants, and for the moment, I’m stable.

Knock on wood, turn around, and spit three times. Here’s hoping I didn’t jinx it!

When I hear people talk about my life, a funny thing happens. Despite my best efforts, and repeated assertions that I am a coward, I feel like they’re only seeing the movie version. The one where there are heroes on grand adventures. Good versus evil and good always wins. It’s an epic battle between expectations and reality. 

More accurately, assumptions tussle with who I really am when the lights go out. Which is where a fallacy has arisen. It might be something others with chronic conditions face as well. If you can relate, let me know in the comments below.

There’s this image of bravery that’s projected onto those of us facing medical challenges. We’re seen as being tough, courageous, and fearless. I hear these statements all the time, but I’ve never felt like they’re authentically me. People say: How do you do it? I could never face what you face. You’re so brave and strong. You’re like a hero or something.

Or something is very accurate, but thank you for overestimating my fortitude. 

Thank you for calling me brave and strong, but it doesn’t feel authentic. I am, unequivocally, a coward who’s been dumped in a situation I can’t escape. I would love to run away in a panic. I wish I could get into my car, lay on the horn, and peel out with screeching tires. At this point, I’d settle for the lone crow yelling at the wind or the howling dog.

If my life was an old horror movie, I would be the person standing in the middle of the street. My arms would be stretched out wide, and I’d be laughing hysterically as my inner madness seeps out. Yep, that’s an accurate portrayal. Might even be a true story some day.

When you ask me how I do it? When you say you couldn’t go through what I’ve gone through? When you tell me you aren’t strong enough or brave enough? It’s not true, because here’s the secret truth I’ve discovered: Most of us feel the same way. We don’t feel brave or strong. We don’t know how we’re going to get through it. Most of us are holding on to our faith, family, or a sliver of hope that tomorrow will be better because we have no other choice.

This situation we’re in is not of our making or choosing. It’s been thrust on us, and we’re too afraid to breathe wrong. We’re stuck, trapped, and we’re forced into action despite our emotions. Is it bravery or desperation? For me, it usually feels like the latter.

Bravery isn’t the absence of fear and, I would argue that’s it’s not an abundance of courage. It’s a choice we make, when we’re at our most vulnerable, to look for something to hold onto when we’re too afraid to stand. It’s standing there, in the middle of the storm, laughing. It’s having the audacity to make friends with the fear and using its energy to take the next step.

Fear has an energy, especially when you’re fighting for your life, and it can drain you of your strength or give you the strength you need to survive. That’s where I’ve found this mystical creature called courage. It’s not my default setting. I’m not someone who’s been given that quality as a special gift. I am a coward by nature, but fear, my constant companion, has become a friend.

For those of you who’ve asked, that’s how I do it. I’m not braver, stronger or more courageous than you or anyone else. I stopped fighting fear, and I started using it to give me the strength I needed to do what had to be done. If you want to conquer fear, don’t view it as an enemy; embrace it as a survival tool. That’s what it’s there for. That’s why we feel fear. It keeps us alive!

That being said, every healthy friendship needs boundaries, and this is mine. There won’t be a horror movie night, and we won’t watch movies with an oversized, singing, dancing, giggling rodent. *Shiver* It’s just not natural.

One thought on “Correction: I’m A Coward

  1. Having had fear sitting on my shoulder and poking and prodding from myriad corners (using myriad in a comment… a tad poncey, but I go a bit nuts when scared)…

    Anyway, I recognize this.

    And I have had some eerie encounters with overstimulated floral backgrounds myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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