BY GRAYSEN R. MUIS
“Are you afraid?”
You look up at your daughter. She holds your frail hand that rests on the crisp, white sheets of the hospital bed. Her fingers are ice cold. You think as far back as you can remember.
You first knew Fear as the monster under your bed. He first knew you as a frantic heartbeat pushing against the fragile cage of your ribs. You pull your feet and hands away from the edge of the mattress, keeping them safe from the claws of the monster that wanders there. You stare into the endless crevasse that is the crack of your closet door and see something move within it. You pull the covers tight over your head, shutting your eyes. You struggle to breathe, your lungs working hard inside your chest.
Fear moves as shadows over your walls, curling around the room. Standing guard is your Batman nightlight, its light pushing back against the darkness. Your bedroom door is open just a crack, left open with the promise your parents made to their daughter only hours ago: “You’ll be okay. We’ll see you in the morning.” Fear looms over your head, threatening to crash down all at once.
You catch your breath and start singing to yourself the song your mom used to sing to calm you down. You can barely hear your own shaking voice over the sound of your drumming heart. A pressure grows and pushes against the back of your eyelids, and slowly your body gives way to sleep, Fear drifting back long enough to let you dream.
Years pass. Fear follows at your heels, threatening to trip you. The doctors say that you’ve developed generalized anxiety disorder, you start taking pills every morning to help, but it only does so much. It can help you see Fear more clearly now, and it quiets his taunting voice. Still, you wish they would do more.
The morning you meet her, Fear jumps into your chest and grips cruelly at your heart. She’s standing on the other side of the bookstore, her hair hanging down, her eyes pulled deep into the book she’s holding in her small hands. She looks like a character out of the book itself, as if the words on the page were tempting her back home.
“I have to talk to her,” you think.
“You won’t,” commands Fear.
“She’s absolutely beautiful. How could she possibly exist in reality?
How could you possibly get to know her?
How could she possibly learn to care about you?”
Fear pulls at your heartstrings, churning storms in your stomach and sparking chaos in your mind.
You wipe the sweat from your forehead with the sleeve of your shirt and make a decision.
You’re going to do it.
You walk down the stacks of books and ask her name.
A matter of months later, you lean in and kiss her. Her lips taste like strawberries.
You smile, glancing at Fear from over your shoulder, cherishing your single moment of triumph.
Only a matter of hours later, he laughs back at you. Your parents look down on you with shame, their hands on their hips. “We didn’t raise you to be this way,” they scream, tears rolling down their cheeks, their faces flushed, as if you’ve personally harmed them. As if love was a criminal act worth hating.
They toss you out onto the street, and you’re left alone again with Fear.
You survive, somehow.
More years pass. And by now, you know Fear almost as well as he knows you. But you’ve made it this far. And the weight of all of it seems to have thinned your skin – making your veins visible and creating dark spots that you can’t help but ponder over the appearance of. How did you become so old so quickly?
Your daughter is still holding your hand, waiting patiently for an answer. Behind her, a few other men and women stand. Your friends. You know their Fears well too.
You open your mouth, summoning Fear to join your bedside.
You work open your cracked lips and meet her eyes. “Of course not,” you say. “Why would I be?”
Your granddaughter comes forward and puts a small handful of dandelions and honeysuckle on your lap. She smiles at you, not understanding the meaning of your presence in this room.
“You don’t need to be afraid,” she says simply, seeing through your lie. “I brought you flowers.”
“They’re lovely,” you tell her, your voice weak.
Your daughter pulls her back to the corner of the room, and you close your eyes. Eventually, they all leave you to sleep.
But you don’t.
And so you’re left with Fear to finally stare each other in the face.
Your absence is approaching, and you’re all too aware of it. Every painful breath is closer to the last.
“Have I made my mark?” you ask him naively.
Fear stays silent, staring at you relentlessly. He lets you sit with the question for a while.
What a foolish thing, you realize, to want to be carved permanently into the world. The only things that will be left of you will be your interactions with other people – the memories you leave with them.
And over the years, even those will die.
Someday, your name will be spoken one last time.
You try to summon sleep, but Fear keeps your frail heart beating in any way he can, up until your final moments.
“Just let me go,” you plead.
But that’s not his decision to make. He is your tormentor, your lifelong companion. Being rid of him is not so easily done.
Finally though, after your many years of fighting, Fear takes the frail hand that hangs over your bed, and slowly gives you over to the cold clutches of Death.
And you are truly free.
Graysen is a first year university student studying creative writing and philosophy at the University of British Columbia. Being transgender, they also face the daily struggle of handling GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). Their hope is to pursue creative writing throughout their life in any way they can.