Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The Big E (The Eastern States Exposition for those unfamiliar)— that Mecca of overpriced carnival food (must-haves include mini donuts!) and infomercial merchandise—starts in a couple of weeks. Looking for a Cham-wow? They’ve got it. New set of Ginsu knives? Of course. In the market for a feather roach clip? They have that too. And chotchkies galore. Of course there are animals and exhibits, parades, and rides, like that famous yellow slide, too. It is a place I used to love to go when I when I was growing up, and now like to bring my nieces and nephews. It is also the place I discovered my newly developed fear of heights--while on the Ferris Wheel with my nieces and nephew.

There we were, Auntie Joanne and her monkeys (except Charlie, who wasn’t born yet), on the gondola-style Ferris Wheel, so that all four of us could ride at once, suspended above the parking lot when I came as close to a panic attack as I ever have in my life. Keep your cool, I coached myself. Look at the kids, not at the ground below. I was shocked. How many times had I been in an airplane, on roller coasters? And now, I was going to panic on a Ferris Wheel? With kids? For whom I was responsible? So not cool.

My next near panic attack came almost a year later on the Newport Bridge. I focused on the road rather than the beautiful scenery and made it across without incident. But I wondered about this height thing. What was going on with me? Had middle age (did I say that?) zap all the boldness out of me? Why was I a scaredy-cat all of the sudden?

Eventually I figured out that this fear wasn’t out of the blue at all. Just a little different.

My father loves to tell a story about when he was building a porch with my uncles and I, 4 or 5 years old at the time, got on a pile of 2 by 4s in the back yard and started crying because after I had climbed up, I was afraid to get down those 6 or 8 harrowing inches. Legend has it I wailed. And I’ve always hated ladders. I don’t mind climbing up, it’s the journey down that makes my heart race and that I avoid at all costs. And now I guess just looking down from somewhere high makes me anxious.

I wonder what that says about me. What might a therapist scribble in a note? Fear of falling, so avoids climbing and heights altogether.

And that's a little too much to think about without a bag of those Big E mini-donuts.

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