Phobias and Euphorias
Do you have a phobia? One of those debilitating things that, when thrust into a group, can lead to mortifying consequences if the phobia is triggered? Maybe you tell yourself it’s silly, even though your reactions are agonizing and severe.
Well, I’m afraid of the dark. I mean, THE DARK, not nighttime or a murky room. The suffocating brand of darkness when THERE IS NO LIGHT paralyzes me. Consuming, enveloping, blinding darkness. It makes my hands humid, my heart throb, my lungs constrict.
When I was eight, my Mom took us to Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave system on Earth. At that age, a cave represented an other-worldly place. In my hyperactive imagination, I thought it would be like visiting the moon. I. Could. Not. Wait.
I skipped through the historic cave tour like a pro. Nothing at all to fear. Because we enjoyed the heck out of the first tour, we decided to take another, one that visited the wet part of the cave. Things called stalactites and stalagmites oozed from the ceiling and pooled on the floor. I was enchanted by a world where rock looked liquid, undulating around the space like a variant of frozen water full of mud.
That’s when they turned off the lights. The ranger wanted to show us the cave in its ‘natural state,’ one of complete darkness and silence. After two seconds, I started to panic. My palms sweating, I grabbed my Mom and held her in a vice grip and willed myself to swallow every shriek that burst forth from the chamber of my racing heart. It was physically impossible to breathe. For a smattering of seconds, I SAW my own death. I walked out of that cave and promised myself I would never, ever be put in that position again. It was too frightening, the consequences too unbearable for me. My life might be incomplete, but I wouldn’t be a horror-stricken, blithering idiot for some portion of the world to witness.
I guess it doesn’t make much sense that I visited the same cave last week. Four hours of hiking under the crust of the earth - that’s what I bought an advance, non-refundable ticket to do. As I authorized MTM to click purchase, I panicked with a sense of searing dread, a pounding core. I didn’t sleep that night. The most strenuous tour at Mammoth Cave that didn’t crawl through grave-sized spaces HAD to contain the lights-out bit. IT MUST. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
I can’t stand to be right about things that are so wrong for me. Near the end of the tour, they sat us down on benches, forced us to be quiet, and extinguished the lights. Our evil girl-guide let it go on for excruciating seconds longer than I remembered. When it was over, I was spent and dizzy. I swallowed bile in my throat. I staggered through space like I’d gone on a week-long bender.
Maybe I felt euphoria instead of panic. I sent myself through the worst thing I could possibly imagine, and I was fine. Dented. Dinged a little. But fine. I walked through unearthly slot canyons covered with roofs of solid rock. I squeezed through cracks and climbed into soaring caverns that left me teary. Yes, I descended into a pit and craned my neck to glimpse the frilly, liquid rock of my girlhood memory.
What do we miss in life because we fear of a microscopic piece of the whole?
A repost, in part because Andra’s under the weather, and in part to suggest the beginnings of this recent series on caves.