I’m a very impatient person. This stems, I think, from one of my greatest fears: being helpless. When I was little, zombies terrified me with their promise of slowly undoing my mind and forcing me to eat my friends. These days I still have a lot of trouble being put under anasthesia. I often wake up confused and furious, and I’ve been known to yell through entire surgeries. And because of all this, I hate the way time works. Things in the future are by definition out of my reach. No matter how hard I strain, I can only advance towards them at a rate of one second per second. It’s infuriating.
I am also afraid of insects. I’ve been betrayed by a lot of insects in my time. When I was ten, a beautiful horsefly landed on my arm. While I was curiously examining it, it bit me. When I was thirteen, a bee flew up my swim trunks as I sat motionless in gym class, and stung my dick. More recently, I became convinced that my bed was infested with bedbugs, and spent an entire night soaking everything I owned in cedar oil. The smell persisted for months.
These two fears suggested to me an elegant way to complete this task. But the task is about facing three fears, not two, so I had to magic up another one. I decided that I was afraid of the future. This month I quit my restaurant job, effectively halving my income and committing me to finding some way to advance in my life. I still don’t have another job lined up. It’s scary.
My plan was simple: I was going to sit on the grass in my yard, completely motionless, from just before sunset until all light vanished from the sky. My yard is infested with bugs – in fact, that’s where I got the bites that convinced me I had bedbugs – and the constraint of sitting motionless meant I would be powerless to brush them off. While I was there, I figured I’d meditate on my future.
Multitasking, see. There’s that impatience again.
I hurried home after class, and saw that the sun was already well on its way to setting. As I wolfed down dinner, I worried: would there be enough bugs out to force me to face my fear? Would my roommates see me motionless and call an ambulance? From EMT training, I knew that if I refused to respond to the Paramedics, they’d automatically transport me to a hospital. I figured it was a risk I’d have to take. I descended the back steps, through a strangely reassuring cloud of gnats, quickly set up a time lapse camera, and sat down.
Doesn’t look like much time, does it?
Let me tell you, it was an ETERNITY. That camera took a picture every ten seconds. There are 625 pictures in that time lapse. That comes out to about an hour and forty minutes. Okay, okay, maybe that still doesn’t seem like a long time. Let me break it down:
I sat down with the sun on my face. I felt peaceful. I focused on my breathing. The sun flickered as it was alternately hidden and revealed by the branches of a tree in the next yard over. The weather was nice. I thought I felt a bug crawling on me, but wrote it off as a tactile hallucination brought on my diminishing circulation in my fingers. I imagine a lot of bugs on me that aren’t really there. Part of the phobia.
My back began to ache. I am not very flexible, and I don’t often sit cross-legged for long periods of time. The sun continued to flicker behind the tree. A fly landed on my left hand. I kept my eyes closed, and resisted the shivering convulsions that radiated from my hand. My right foot, positioned with the sole near the fly, was tickled by the insect’s mere presence. The toes twitched slightly, but I remained motionless. The fly left me, though it was several minutes before I stopped feeling its presence.
I forced myself to think on my future. My problem, I decided, is that I’m unwilling to admit that I’m a writer. Since I won’t admit it, I won’t fully commit to doing the things I need to do to be one. It’s embarassing to me to think of art as my career. I resolved to submit a story to a journal – something I’ve been avoiding doing – just as soon as the sun finished setting.
The sun was nearly at the horizon. The pain in my back had spread to my hips and knees. I heard occasional buzzing behind my head. My hands slipped from their places on my knees, and slid down my shins. Without their support, I found it increasingly difficult to remain upright. But I couldn’t move. That was one of the rules. And I was on camera. If I failed, everyone would know. My back began to feel as if I might be seriously injuring it.
That was when I figured out what my third fear really was: fear of embarrassment. I don’t want to look bad in front of people. I was hurting myself so as not to be seen falling down on camera. It occurred to me that all of my fears were really the same fear. I have no control over time, or over what people think of me, and insects are too small for me to completely avoid. I absolutely have to be in control to feel safe. Only one thing to do: I let myself fall.
Of course, now my head and arms were on the ground. Insects immediately began to explore the newly-exposed territory. An aphid landed on a leaf directly above me, and stayed still. I steadied myself by imitating it. The sky was still infuriatingly blue.
It grew darker, but not dark enough. I took to shifting my legs every few minutes, to relieve pain in different parts of them. Every time I did, blood flooded the muscles in alarming ways. My body was now a jungle-gym for ants. Things landed in my ears and crawled up my arms and into my armpits. The temperature dropped noticeably.
Soon I was shivering uncontrollably, trying desperately to focus on my breathing. I narrated bits of my future post to myself, and stared pleadingly at the sky. Lights came on in the surrounding houses, but it was not yet dark enough to quit.
My shivering turned to convulsions that rocked my whole body. I vaguely remembered reading something about how lying still for too long could kill a person. The sky seemed dark. I tried to count to a thousand, and became distracted around forty-six. I tried to count to a hundred, and succeeded. I decided I’d had enough. It was not totally dark, but dark enough. I sat up slowly.
There were still a few ants on me. I patiently corralled them on my hands and deposited them on the ground. Even just sitting up caused a dizzying rush of blood to my head. I stood up very slowly indeed. I felt like I was underwater.
I went upstairs, and my roommates asked me what I’d been doing. I tried to explain, but kept losing my train of thought. There was one ant left on my hand. I watched it, and did nothing. Eventually it disappeared.
I’ve got a few bites on me, which is to be expected, but I think I may be over my fear of bugs. We’ll see how the next few weeks play out. It may sound overdramatic, but I learned that there are worse things that can happen to a body than a little bug bite. As for the impatience? That may take a bit longer to get over. There’s a lot of things I want to do in my life, and I cannot bloody wait to be doing them. But at least now I will never underestimate how much time there is in an hour.