Charging at fears


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One of my biggest fears when I was younger was the legend of Bloody Mary.

It was said among all the “upper-class” second graders that, when in a restroom alone, repeatedly chanting her name while staring at the mirror would summon the much feared apparition. Bloody Mary would allegedly appear as a corpse, a witch or a ghost, often covered in blood; and, if seen, individuals would have to endure the apparition screaming at them, cursing them, strangling them or stealing thfear.jpgeir souls.

From the time I learned to walk and talk until I was about 9 years old, these stories of phantoms and childhood superstitions continued to haunt me. I couldn’t go into a dark room, even if it was my own, without dragging my older brother along (who, let’s face it—was just as scared of the dark as I was). I couldn’t look at my reflection in the mirror for more than a few seconds, for fear that my face would soon distort into a hallucination of strange faces or apparitions.

Immediately after turning off the hallway light before returning to my room at night, I would race toward the next nearest light source, jumping beneath my covers because I was convinced that there were monsters living underneath my bed. Demons continued to haunt me as I stared into the nothingness before falling asleep—the longer I stared, the more my vision began to close in on itself—and voices I never recognized would surface and resurface, even as I grew older.

I never really understood the saying, “The past will always haunt you,” until Bloody Mary returned to me in our class play, ”South Pacific”, his year—as my mother. She seemed a nice, clever yet humorous woman, a jolly Tonkinese character who loved her daughter as much as she chewed betel nuts and traded with the U.S. sailors in World War II.

As the sailors sang the lyrics “Bloo-dy Mary is the.. / Girrrrl I love!” my thoughts immediately flashed to the time I was 6 or 7, trembling at my own reflection in the bathroom mirror during a power outage and praying that Bloody Mary would spare me just this one moment. Ten years later, at 17 years old, this experience seemed almost laughable.

And I thought about the future. I thought about the fears I had now: the incredible friends and family I would be leaving for a school 2,979 miles away from home, in a place where I knew almost no one, save a few fictional characters (Quentin Compson and Nick Carraway) and a single trusted friend. In four years, these fears, too, would be laughable; I would look back at all the times I had wished my demons would liberate me from my so-called troubles, and amuse myself with the sophomoric lens through which I viewed my former world.

The same demons won’t cease to haunt us after we graduate from high school, or even college. Neither will we cease to make mistakes—graduating won’t stop us from procrastinating, or forgetting an important birthday.

It’s not part of being inadequate—it’s part of being human. It’s how we deal with the demons that continue to haunt us which allows us to grow as individuals, building our courage to face the real world. Confronting our demons is a decision we make for ourselves: we can continue to run away from our fears, or decide to charge straight at them.bloodymary2.jpg

Should we manage to avoid these fears for the moment, they will resurface at the most unpredictable moments—just as Bloody Mary did for me—and when they do, we’ll discover that they are never as frightening as we initially believe them to be. And in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, who believed in “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us…

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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