I took a self-help course and they wanted to know our first traumatizing event. What shaped us into who we are. I didn’t know what to say. My dad falling off a cliff, my mom passing away on Valentines for Pete’s sake, or maybe all those other painful moments. So I focused on the ‘first time’ of the sentence. The first time I knew fear, bone chilling, teeth chattering fear. It is also when I met my stubborn, embarrassed self. The one who has difficulty admitting the need for anything I can’t do myself.
I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. Fall had already begun. The cool chilly nights. Darkness enveloping the world by dinner time. On this particular day, a thunder and rain storm had begun to roll into the valley before we headed back up the mountain. A lightning bolt hit the mountain across the valley and started a fire. The hillside was bone dry from the hot summer. It burst into flames spreading as only fire can. My father and the other men in the car needed to go to investigate. Apparently, that could only be done by putting me in the hay barn alone in the dark to wait for their return. You can imagine how that went I am sure…
How many 6-year-olds do you know that can wait alone in the dark watching a forest fire spread. I became certain he wasn’t returning. The fire monster surely had eaten him and I needed to do the only logical thing. Walk to the nearest home to find an adult. No flashlight, headlamps weren’t even a thing yet. Barely a sliver of moonlight to guide my little feet along the lane towards the road I needed to cross to find the nearest residence. I passed various paths and lanes that led to empty homes or sheds. My eyes had adjusted enough to see the large shapes looming out of the darkness. I was terrified a cougar or other creature would jump out and eat me or worse.
As I was walking along with the fingers of fear wrapped around me I began to think. I had left the barn. I had expressly disobeyed an order from my father. That became scarier than being alone in the dark. As a child, you do not question your parents’ knowledge or authority. You blindly obey and follow with a deep love and devotion only a child feels for their parents. For our family is the center of your life. So here I was a disobedient child far from the barn, far from home and too scared to knock on the door. Scared to walk out of the darkness to the warm yellow light beckoning from the porch.
Standing in the shadows I can see my friends home. The light beckoning thru the darkness to me. Yet how could I explain why I was there. I couldn’t very well say I had disobeyed. I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to walk back to the barn. Too embarrassed to knock on their door. So I turned away and began down their long long driveway. Cold, scared, unsure of myself, and now worried about facing my father. I had no idea now where to walk to. It was my first taste of insecurity, fear, and embarrassment. I was at a total loss as to what to do besides blindly keep walking in the darkness.
Once I was back on the main road I began towards an elderly ladies home. She would know what to do. As I stumbled towards her lane a car pulled up. It was my father. He was so happy to have found me that the anger at my disobedience was overruled by his joy at finding me.
I now can understand his fear. The horrible feeling you have when you think you may have lost your child. Only a parent can understand the grip of despair, the band of agony, the ray of hope that it’s not too late. That your child is safe and you just have to get to them. That fear is much worse than the fear I had as a little girl. It just would take me 30 years to realize that.