I think God, or whatever, works in mysterious ways; like giving me claustrophobia during a tour of the Catacombs in Paris, just so I’d get off my high-horse about not having any phobiæ. (That’s really the plural of phobia, I looked it up) Once my friend and I were walking though the streets of Vegas and we had to cross an overpass to get to the next casino. I looked back to see him holding onto the rail with trembling arms, wobbling like he was trying out ice skating for the first time. I never knew this about him, he was terrified of heights. In my “high-horse-ness,” I gave a sarcastic smirk and yelled over the passing car noise, “What are you afraid of man, it’s not that high?” He looked at me with desperate eyes like a man who had just accidentally swallowed a cyanide pill. “Fuck off! Just…..just go ahead and I’ll meet you on the other side,” he uttered still clinging to his aluminum lifeline. Being the asshole I was, I skipped, galloped, and even pretended to almost fall over the edge as I made my way across the short bridge. As he struggled down the stairs that led him off the overpass, he was pale and sweaty like he had just run a 5k while holding his breath. “Well there’s no way in hell I’m going back so enjoy the hotel room by yourself tonight,” he joked, kinda.
Fast forward to Paris: So there I was, walking down the never-ending stairway that lead to the buried, yet neatly stacked, bones of the Catacombs. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Catacombs I’ll summarize by saying it’s about 6 million human bodies worth of bones that were transferred over when cemeteries began to overflow around the late 18th century. They had since opened it up for morbidly curious tourists.) We started out as a wide line, maybe three people across and who know how many deep, but as we descended the space began shrinking forcing us into a single-file line. That I could handle, probably because of my years of public schooling where walking in single-file lines was the only way to travel.
Soon the air began to grow heavy, and warm. What pushed me into my first claustrophobic episode was the thought that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t just turn around and get out. The line was just as long behind us now than was in front. Faking an asthma attack seemed like a viable option. No, what good would that do? It’s not like the entire back of the line would just say, “Okay let’s all just stop, turn around, and exit in an orderly fashion so this asshole can catch his breath.” Nope, I was going down whether I panicked or not. This is probably what it’s like to go to Hell. No falling and screaming but waiting in a hopelessly long line as conditions slowly begin to grow more and more upsetting. The air grew even heavier. A flash of heat took over my upper body and I probably would have started crying if at that very moment they didn’t start blowing cool air on us. It reminded me of the little air vents that airplanes have above each seat, probably for the very same reason. Ah, it makes so much sense now. We finally reached the burial grounds where the countless human remains now seemed like child’s play compared to what I had already put myself through.
Just for good measure, in months to follow, life generously doled me out a few more phobiæ. They weren’t as intense but once at the Mall of America (everyone should have a phobia of large malls in my opinion) I suddenly couldn’t deal with the amount of open space that seemed to be hovering all around me. And though I never caught the “fear of heights” bug, I did one time feel hopelessly trapped in my own skin. How strange to be encased in this half-Asian body for all these years, and like the Catacombs line, only death could free me.
So thank you God, Life, Universe or whatever, for whipping me into shape once again. Never will a mocking word leave these lips about another person’s fears. “Oh you have a fear of small holes, I get it!” “Oh you freak out at the texture of mustard, high-five sister!”