When traveling there is a forceful inclination to confront one’s fears more often than we might otherwise be afforded. Thus far, this has proved as a means of insight and improvement. Being forced to grapple with what makes me uncomfortable, allowing overcoming, and as a result being better. What is life without constant improvement? I wouldn’t like to know. But there is this one fear that I can’t come to terms with. It illuminates itself at random, and its seeming non-threatening nature perplexes me.
Driving east on the 210 towards far-east LA we pass development after development. Hundreds, or perhaps thousands of identical houses sprawl from the edge of the highway deep back to the mountains. Each nearly exactly the same as the next, and the next, dirty brown paint and withered lawns. I stare at this as a pit in my stomach forms; anxiety rises and takes over my body. I tear my eyes away and concentrate on the rhythmic passing of yellow lines and the low hum of the engine. Slowly, I begin to feel normal again. An absurd feeling, one I couldn’t possibly fully understand
My greatest fear isn’t death, but rather a perceived death within life. Entrapment; it is the day-to-day routine in which life continues, because perpetual motion necessitates it, but the living has ended. These small brown houses represent a sort of prison to me, and the fear of life taking some turn that lands me there is paralyzing. I can’t rationalize my fear. I tell myself, there’s no reason for it; developments don’t dictate that its residents live dismal trapped lives, and yet the sight of one frightens me in a way nothing else does.
It’s early, too early to be up, the fall sun has yet to rise as I stand shivering on the R platform in Brooklyn waiting for the train to Manhattan. As I board, I watch the empty eyes of fellow commuters as they follow their muscles on the same route they have taken for perhaps years before, and years to come. It feels cold, mechanical, dismal, as if I were surrounded by bodies without souls to occupy them. I stare out the window to the black nothingness until we climb, slowly out of the tunnel onto the bridge. I feel a fear yet again. I know this route too well, it has become part of me, I am becoming an absent observer in my own life. Then suddenly, as the sun rises bringing with it the warm reds and oranges biting the dark skyline of Manhattan I am calm once again. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and despite having seen it every day for the past few months it never ceases to steal me away. I allow myself to relax, fear is gone as I enter the city I have grown to love. Wandering the empty streets of SOHO before the crowds arrive, I am renewed, New York has a way of doing that, and perhaps it is one reason it feels like home.
This fear used to make me question all that is associated. I was skeptical of any aspect of what we consider the American dream, as if my succumbing to any part of it, marriage, house, the 9-5, might somehow trick me and slowly pull me under. So I flew above the clouds and pushed away any semblance of commitment or stability. But recently there has been clarity, a realization of a control I hadn’t known to exist. Those brown boxes aren’t my fate, if I don’t want them to be. But that doesn’t mean the sight of them doesn’t frighten me, in the same way a harmless spider might induce great fear. I know it won’t hurt me, but I’d prefer not to see it all the same.