Everyone is scared of something, even that person you know that claims nothing causes their heart to beat faster, palms to become sweaty and make them either freeze in terror or run in the other direction for their mommy. Unfortunately, sometimes the things we are afraid of are unavoidable. It would be so much more convenient to be scared of kangaroos than cats.
Usually our fears and phobias stem from traumatic experiences we’ve had. One of my fears is commonly shared by many: the fear of being the center of unwanted attention due to something humiliating I’ve done. I’ve probably had too many experiences with this because I can’t bring any specific memory to the surface. Actually…I can, but I’d rather not relive humiliating experiences if I don’t have to.
I can remember when I became scared of escalators. I was just a little girl and I was in a department store with my mom. It was important for me to always wear matching clothes, my mom and grandma wouldn’t have it otherwise. Clad in a white, crisp t-shirt, denim shorts and white Keds, we found sanctuary from the oppressive California summer heat in that air-conditioned oasis. I still didn’t know how to tie my shoes. It amazes me how children always seem to have their shoelaces caressing dirty floors, instead of nicely looped into bunny ears. For some reason or another, my mom and I were going to go on the escalator to go up to the next level of the store. My white shoelace managed to get caught in between two of the steps of the terrible, whirring escalator. Of course, neither of us had realized this until I tried to step off and fell, it seemed to me that the escalator was trying to eat my foot. People came over to help my mom and the hysterical mess of a girl I’d become. Eventually, some brilliant soul thought of pulling my foot free of the shoe. It was a beautiful marriage of humiliation and horror.
Since then I’ve had thousands, possibly millions, of encounters with escalators. We live in a country that goes out of its way to make sure that convenience is always available. Getting to the next level at the mall by taking the stairs? How prehistoric! Heaven forbid I should break a sweat! Going up escalators is easy for me, it’s going down that remains a problem. I usually have to pause, take a breath and get on fast enough so that my feet are on the same step. I’d managed to remain incident free, until the summer of 2008.
Freshly liberated from high school, I went to Ecuador with my dad and got to visit my paternal grandparents. My grandmother is a social butterfly and loves shopping; it came as no surprise that she wanted to take us on a tour of the three malls in Guayaquil. The most extravagant of them all was four stories high with expensive boutiques and department stores, reviling the mall back home. After spending a few hours in there it was easy to forget the little kids out on the streets trying to make a living selling gum and flowers.
My grandmother has battled many ailments in her life, causing her body to age beyond its years. She almost always walks around with her bony arm linked to someone else’s. While I was there, I became the official arm support.
As we glided up the escalators I couldn’t help thinking about having to come down the same way that we’d gone up. What goes up must come down, right? My heart pounded rhythmically in my ears as I calculated the perfect timing necessary so that both of us could get on fast enough. It would have been impossible for me to detach myself from my grandmother’s strong grip on me in order to hold on to the railing, white knuckled. Relief slowly trickled in as I planted my feet firmly on the third floor; it was easier than I had thought. Overly confident that I had those escalators under my control, I took my first step on the one that led to the second floor. It didn’t even occur to me to make sure my grandmother was also ready to get on. Unfortunately, to my terror, she wasn’t. I looked up at her, still holding on to my arm and my one foot on the third floor and one descending on the escalator. My legs stretched and I panicked about what would happen when I was stretched to the max. I am not Miss Elastic Girl. My cheeks burned with embarrassment, panic and lack of oxygen. It’s unclear how it happened but she finally let go of my arm and I collapsed on the steps, shaking. Sure enough, a crowd gathered at the base of the escalators, gawking at me.
I felt angry at my grandmother; I wanted to quit being her support post. If she had just let me go, my second nightmare encounter with an escalator wouldn’t have happened. When she stepped off the escalator that day and joined me on the second floor, she just said “What were you thinking? I wasn’t ready!” And that was that.
My grandmother, I concluded, who lived thousands and thousands of miles away from me, didn’t care about me. I realize how silly that is now. If I had simply made sure she was ready or had suggested the elevator, I could have prevented the scene altogether. What it really highlights for me now, looking back at the incident, is that I don’t really know my paternal grandma and how this makes me sad. I would like to sit down with her and get to know her. I would like to hear her story from her lips, not my dad’s. What I would like to say to all those that don’t appreciate the family members that are near to them is that they should! You never know what amazing stories the people related to you have to say or how they really want to get to know you too. With all the scary things happening in the world today, I’d like to say that if something were to happen to me I would have no regrets and that all those that I love would know so. But I don’t think I can say that with certainty, and I know that I can’t say that I have said and done all that I want to in life. So my advice to you and to me is to live life now. Say I love you to those you do love, read a good book, enjoy a quiet moment, dance to your favorite song and laugh with your whole body. Most importantly, don’t let fears bring you down. Escalators are a part of life that I encounter and have to face. It’s such a trivial fear and can easily be replaced by many other fears that I have but that I have to overcome if I want to be my idea of a successful and happy person. Don’t let the terror in the world stop you. Don’t let fear win.