tagReviews & EssaysRidding Myself of My Fear

Ridding Myself of My Fear


Even today, I am deathly afraid of ants. Only those who have known me very closely for years know why, yet even they do not truly understand. Yes, many people consider ants annoying, but they would also almost certainly say that it is idiotic – even childish – to be deathly afraid of ants.

My fear, of course, has a quasi-rational cause. Simply put, as a little girl of maybe six years old, I awoke one night with ants crawling all over my bed, and all over me. According to my mother, I screamed and sobbed for hours, although the entire ordeal seemed to last both a second and a year simultaneously in my memory. I do recall that it took several weeks for me to sleep in my own bed again; during that time, I barely even stepped into my own bedroom.

The reason the ants were in my bedroom at all, in retrospect, was my own childish carelessness. I had been sitting on the bed, "reading" a picture book while eating little squares of cheese from a small plate. Obviously, at least one of the cheese squares fell from the plate and lodged itself underneath one of the pillows, for my father later reported finding the ants surging around a small piece of cheese under a pillow.

Even thinking of that experience now makes my skin crawl, as if it is reliving the sensation of all those ants crawling upon me, all those tiny little feet scampering across my body, all those black nuisances crawling within my clothes en route to their midnight snack.

What makes my fear of ants even more ludicrous to many people is my current job: I am a trauma nurse. Regularly, I see "blood and gore" of all types resulting from the most extreme of accidents, and it rarely ever affects me. A nearly-severed hand from a farming accident is no problem for me; a single ant will send me through the roof.

Upon seeing just one ant, I am seized with the impulse of stomping on it, hard, repeatedly, killing it again and again and again and again and again... just in case it has as many lives as a cat. Upon seeing two ants, my instinct is to spray the entire house and yard. Upon seeing three or more ants, my only desire is to flee the state and then launch a nuclear missile to ensure the ants do not survive.

Even stranger – even to me – is the recurring nightmare I have, always relating to ants.

In every nightmare, I am hiking – sometimes with a friend, but almost always alone. In the odd illogical fluidity of many dreams, the clearly-marked hiking trail will suddenly disappear, as will my friend if I had not been hiking alone. In an attempt to relocate the trail, I wander through the forest, brushing aside the undergrowth, veering around the tall thick trees, feeling the initial stages of panic clutch my heart as I realize I am almost certainly lost in the vast forest. Even worse, it is typically raining in each nightmare, so that I am wet and cold and certainly underdressed for the weather.

Eventually, I stumble upon a blue tarp, the same kind many campers use to place between a tent and the ground. This tarp is always held down somehow – sometimes by large rocks, sometimes by stakes driven into the ground – but it is clear that there is a person underneath the tarp, protected from the rain and from any prying eyes, as if it is a person never meant to be discovered.

Yet, curiosity always wins my internal battle, and after the stakes or the rocks are all removed, I grab one corner of the tarp and fling it back and to the side, instantly revealing the hidden body.

In every nightmare, I am the hidden body.

I am naked, my lips parted, my eyes wide open and staring skyward into the downpour, the tattoo of a lightning bolt upon my left shoulder the only adornment of my body. My hair is always completely shaved, so that the tattoo is the only means I have of truly recognizing myself despite the birthmark over my sternum. But even stranger is that I do not breathe, I do not breathe, and my fingers hold my labia open.

And from deep within my sex, the ants emerge. I effectively give birth to the ants – thousands of the small black nuisances, thousands of reminders of my childhood fear – and do not react, as if my fear of the ants has petrified me.

Kneeling before my doppelgänger, I am petrified by my fear. Not only am I seeing myself giving birth to countless ants, I am also watching those very same "children" crawl up my body in multiple meandering trails that ultimately converge upon my parted lips, where they crawl into my mouth and never emerge.

Only after watching in horror for a long time do I ever finally gather the courage to scream in fear. And that scream always carries from dream to reality as I return to consciousness in the dark, sitting up straight in bed, sweat causing my sleepwear to cling to me. Often, I cannot return to sleep, thus suffering fear-induced insomnia which can sometimes last for days.

No one understands. Perhaps by writing this, I can start on the path toward ridding myself of my fear, of these ants.

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