I’m 17 years old, and I still can’t dangle my feet over the edge of the bed in the dark. I know that clammy hands with coarse hair across the knuckles will grab my ankles and drag me down to a black hole of terror. Of course, this is never a conscious thought when my foot strays over the edge of the mattress, but an icy chill of fear shoots up my spine, and I quickly jerk my wandering limb back to safety. I should have discarded this childhood fear a long time ago, but it’s been with me for decades. It’s familiar and comfortable. Besides, sometimes I’d just rather deal with monsters under my bed than take on real life.
For instance, I was a horribly shy kid, with no social skills or grace. More than anything, I yearned to be noticed as the popular, outgoing girl I knew I was, instead of the awkward nerdette everyone saw. But being noticed was also my worst fear because my shyness usually led to yet another social disaster. After the long and painful process of emerging from my shell, I cherish my individuality. But how far can I push this self-expression? What if no one likes the real me? When I was little, I had this terrible, recurring dream that the devil was chasing me off a cliff into a raging river. And I can’t swim. But my hero, Superman, would always fly in and rescue me just in time. Now, in my late teens, I’m vaguely uneasy about what awaits me in old age. I know that many older people do just fine. But what about those that don’t, because of illness or poverty or finding themselves alone? It’s not the devil chasing me now, but mortality. If you’re alive and honest, fear never really goes away. All you can do is learn to face it. Maybe being human means always having to dangle over some edge or other, with the devil advancing and the unknown lurking below. Maybe Superman will arrive in time, and maybe I can snatch my foot back from the brink. Then again, maybe not.