Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Long Way Down

The city I live in has way too many flyovers. Spark loves them because he can see on top of the red store. He thinks that’s cool. I, on the other hand, think they’re sick. Really.

I have an irrational fear of heights, and I have a recurring nightmare about flyovers. I’m driving along on the flyover, clutching the steering wheel of my car until my knuckles are whiter than rice, and suddenly two of my tires fly off my car. I careen to certain cemented death below.

So, if you see a blue Mazda moving at the pace of a slow sloth along any of the major freeways in the Austin area, please be patient. I’m bracing myself for the loss of two tires.

A similar recurring nightmare involves the stairwells in the parking garage where I work. I park on the third floor often. I start down the stairs, and all is fine. Then, out the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the little part between the stairwells where I can see all the way down. Bad. I nearly lock up. I breathe deeply. But, I still move into my nightmare where I see ghastly images of me falling down, twisting into a strange-looking pile on the ground below. Or, I see myself falling but catching onto a slippery, cold rail and slowly my fingers slide off the rail as I, once again, careen to a certain cemented death below.

This is usually when I’m knocked out of my nightmare by the type of stairwell people I like to call “bounders.” They indeed bound down the stairs, seemingly taking them two or three stairs at a time. Surely, they must be having their own dream: they’re running a marathon or they’ve morphed into a horse in the Kentucky Derby. As a bounder gets closer to me, I become more nervous. The acrophobia gets stronger, and I almost lock up. The bounder stops right at my heels. I can feel the bounder’s breath on my neck. I want to turn around and vomit on this person’s shoes. But, I do not. I keep going, counting in my head for each stair to try to focus.

Not one of my nightmares is pretty.

Acrophobia has plagued me since birth. I do all right until I look down or think about it. Like the time I climbed up on my great-grandmother’s counter to help her get her fine china out of her highest cabinets. I looked back to hand her a dish, and I felt faint. I had to sit down. She laughed harder than I’d ever heard her laugh.

Then, there was the lighthouse trip. My family was spending the summer in Savannah, Georgia. We took a day trip to Tybee Island and decided to tour a lighthouse. Because so many books I’d read involved lighthouses, I could not wait. All the way up the long winding stairway, I was fine. After arriving at the top, though, and looking out at the great expanse of Atlantic ocean, sand, and cars the size of micro Hot Wheels, I nearly fainted and vomited at the same time. It took a lot longer for me to get back down that winding staircase than it did to climb up.

I was 12, and on the way down, my family met another family, including a grandmotherly type. I clutched the handrail so tightly with both hands that I couldn’t move to let the grandmother pass by. She had to let go and pass by me. Else I would have died right then and there. Or puked on someone’s shoes.

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