Hallowe’en is coming up in a couple of days and it got me thinking, besides wondering which kind of candy I should buy for my trick-or-treaters, about scaring kids and fear. What is so funny about being scared out of your mind, making your hair stand on end and your skin feel like it was crawling with ants? What I don’t understand is that the kids are not frightened by witches with blood-curdling laughs, owls in the night, or black cats that run across their paths. They know they won’t be hurt and they can laugh at the merriment with impunity. They are having fun!
It was not like that for me when I was growing up. A couple of days ago, I was invited to speak to a local book club about my memoir, Becoming Alice. Almost everyone had read my book and came to the meeting armed with questions. One of them asked, “Why was it that you had so many problems even though you were already safe in America?”
The answer is simple. The depth of fear and the duration of time that passed in which my family had to endure constant panic was so long, that none of us, including me, could bounce back to normal as if we’d just gotten over the flu. The seeds of fear that had taken root so deeply at such an early time in my life that it effected my entire childhood and adolescence. I reminded them of the parts in my book in which I described my difficulties in learning how to swim, to watch a Frankenstein movie, or go to Sunday School by myself. I was terrified to go to elementary school and barely overcame that hurdle.
My father warned me about telling anyone anything about ourselves, lest that information would be used against us. So, I rarely spoke and made no friends. I thought I didn’t look like any of the other kids (I didn’t in those awful European-style clothes) and was sure my classmates were laughing at me behind my back. I remained isolated, fearing that some unknown danger would happen to me.
I was in an unacceptable quagmire and knew that I had to do something. In late adolescent I decided to run away from it all by leave Portland, Oregon and coming to California. I didn’t realize that I would be taking all my fears with me.
At another speaking engagement at a local library, a young girl perhaps sixteen or seventeen years old, asked me, “How did you change from being the anxious, insecure teenager that you were, to being the woman you are today? I ask because I have those same problems.” My answer to her was that I made some decisions for myself; they are described late in my book. Those decisions would be different for every person, depending on their circumstances, and their inner strengths. But those steps need to be taken in order to conquer your personal fear. Luckily the kind of fear that comes with Hallowe’en is a lot different; it is the fun kind of fear.