There are hideous things in this world. Things we wish we’d never seen. Things burned into our consciousness for the rest of our years as though we had just witnessed them seconds ago. We agonize over our inability to just forget these things.
As a child these things, much like the rest of the world, are beyond realistic comprehension in both scale and reality. The scariest things happen to us when we are too young to truly understand what we have just witnessed. As adults we have some degree of context in which to place the scariest moments of our lives. A moment as a child measuring a ten out of ten could very plausibly only be a two or a three to a wizened adult. Or at least we hope.
One of my earliest memories is of being lost. I was four years old, shopping with my mother in a department store. While she was looking at some clothing on a circular rack, I turned my attention to my left. When whatever shiny object had captured my attention had outlived its usefulness I turned back to my mother: who was gone. In the tiniest of moments, everything that was my life unraveled. In one instant I’m a happy lower middle income, middle child, in middle America. The next I felt as though I had nothing and death was imminent. To make no mention of all the monsters and strangers who were going to either drag me away or eat me. Neither of which sounded appealing.
Panic. There is nothing more scary than true, genuine panic. I did what any little kid would do in this situation: I ran. To my left, in the opposite direction of where I had last seen my mother. Running a path around the clothes rack, step after step, as quick I could move my feet. I felt as though I was running for my life. Each step bringing me closer to death and further from the life I had known if not taking my life itself. Panic, real true panic is a thing which, as an adult I never want to experience, though it has happened a few times.
The panic turned into something worse. We could bat words like terror and horror around all day to see which is a more befitting description of what my racing little heart was experiencing. The most accurate term may be, loneliness. For a little kid from a family of eight that lived in a two bedroom house, being alone was something I didn’t know.
All the things I would learn from my parents. All the things my siblings would teach me and share with me. Being the first kid in the family to not win at least one spelling bee, although I did come in second once. My neighbor who taught me how to ride a bike. The bully in the eighth grade who gave me a black eye. Learning that Stephen C. Varnell would be the most influential teacher in my life. Realizing almost too late when choosing friends to make sure you don’t have to question why you did so in the first place from the back seat of a police car with handcuffs on(no charges BTW).
My entire childhood up to this point had only consisted of coloring books and barely learning how to use the toilet. And in the efforts of full disclosure here, I would be remiss to not mention the ‘incident’ in Haag’s Drugstore. A conversation that started with me telling my mother I had to use the bathroom and ended with me standing in a large puddle. Not my proudest moment, but to be fair, I did tell her I had to go. In the end, I think I will chalk that up as the first ‘win’ in disagreements with my mother.
None of those things can happen to a kid who is about to die in the middle of King’s Department store or at the very least be teleported to another dimension akin to the creepy Donkey Island in Pinocchio. As it turned out, my mother had only moved a few feet to her right. The clothes rack being round, just a step or two was all it took for her to disappear from my line of sight. As a child, I didn’t know anything about line of sight, all I knew was my mom was gone and I was lost.
I nearly slammed into her as I was running around to find her. I didn’t throw my arms around her in rejoicing adoration. I didn’t try to blame her for what had happened to me. I somehow managed to not cry over the whole thing. I felt more embarrassed than anything because once I realized what actually happened, I felt rather foolish. But as a kid, I made the whole thing so much worse than it was. I panicked.
As an adult, we take these hideous things, these horrible accidents and reason them into a place in our brains where we can find some sense or peace about them. Sometimes terrible things happen and you can’t prevent them. As an adult we call that an accident. A child just knows panic.
The moments of my childhood when I was the most scared:
- being lost
- watching Alien(just that once and I have never seen it again)
- thinking my Mom might die in childbirth with my youngest brother(no reason to think that-just a kid being scared)
- the movie Jaws(though now one of my favorites)
Hanging from the precipice I experienced on the knife’s edge of panic or control in those moments gave me something I wouldn’t have expected: an appreciation for fear. Knowing chaos, knowing terror, knowing panic, now as an adult I find(strange though it may sound) something oddly beautiful those moments. It has taught me beauty is not always a fully bloomed rose or a sunset, beauty can be anywhere and anything.
Andy Dudas 9/8/2017
This was written purely from the hip. I chose a picture from my files and wanted to see where my mind led me. The only direction I had for myself was to make it exactly one thousand words. One of DIVA’s goals is to broaden the definition of Art and today this was mine.