Friday, July 6, 2012

Guns, Balloons, Thunderstorms & Other Sounds That Freak Me Out

I've done this mental exercise where I try cast my mind back as far as it will go to try and figure out when/how I came to be afraid of loud, sharp noises.  I have a very hazy recollection of the panicked struggle to break free of my grandmother's bear hug as she tried to watch from a chaise lounge the fireworks being shot over Lake Leelanau.  (The rest of my family were watching from boats on the water.)  However, this memory is so vague that I can't be sure it is even real.

Really it could be anything - the ritual Thanksgiving skeet shooting at my grandpa's farm (which I hated with an unholy passion, but always went along so that I wasn't excluded), severe thunderstorms that come to those of us who live at the end of "Tornado Alley", or maybe (likely) just a predisposition for being easily startled.  I like to tell people that perhaps I was a shell-shocked solider in a previous life.  It's bullshit, but at least it's an entertaining explanation.

It really doesn't matter where my squeamishness comes from.  The fact is I've had to deal with it my whole life.  Thunderstorms, fireworks, balloons popping, guns - anything that goes "boom", "crack", or "pop" has made me edgy and jumpy.  It's an irrational fear, but it feels like cowardice.  Whenever there's a thunderstorm, you can bet that no matter what time it is, I'm awake fretting about it.  Whenever my son or daughter brings home a balloon from a parade or party, it is me trying to hide it or keep it out of reach.  My Fourth of Julys are spent indoors, avoiding the simulated warfare exploding all around me.  Yeah I know - that's some pretty weird behavior.

But this whole fear/irrationality is also kind of funny too.  My mom told me a story from my college years.  It's a long story, but I had just finished summer break and had moved back to school for the year.  An officer from the Anderson Police Department came by for a visit.  He had come to track down some weapons that had been stolen, and I was a suspected of purchasing some of the guns.  My mom was in the basement cleaning.  She saw the police car pull into the driveway and immediately sensed trouble.  She met him at the door and had a conversation that went something like this:
Policeman:  Mrs. Zink?
Mom:  Yes - what's wrong?
Policeman:  Do you have a son named Matt?
Mom:  Yes - is he okay?
Policeman:  We have reason to believe he has purchased some stolen hand guns.  Is he home?
Mom:  Matt?
Policeman:  Yes.
Mom:  You're sure it's Matt?  Not Joe?
Policeman:  We have a man in custody who insists it's Matt.
Mom:  . . . because Matt is afraid of thunderstorms.  I don't think he'd buy a gun.*
Emasculated by my own mom. Fuck.

There was also the time I went with Quack and his buddy Billy to do some small game hunting - an outing that ended with them taking target practice at debris floating down the White River.**  I was carrying my dad's .12 gauge if I remember correctly.  I had no intention of firing it; I was more or less the gun caddy for this trip.  Joe spotted something - maybe a pheasant? - and shouted to Billy.  I heard Billy's safety click off as the barrel of his gun swept up to the sky to site the bird.  I frantically pitched the shotgun I was carrying away from my body to cover my ears.  Not only did I ruin Billy's shot (they ducked immediately when they saw me throw the gun), but Joe had to be stopped from beating the shit out of me.  Good times.

To be honest, I have made progress with all of this crap.  I still try to avoid loud, sharp sounds; but you don't find me cowering under my covers when thunder rolls over head.  I may go downstairs to check the weather radar on the computer, but I don't lose nearly as much sleep as I used to.  And I'm not as anxious during the Fourth of July as I used to be.  I'm making progress.  But I think I'll forever feel at least a little tension in the shoulders when the skies darken over head or when the sun starts to set on the fourth.

* - Mom was right.  There are a million reasons I'd never own a gun.  Hating the sound is just the tip of the iceberg.  And I don't know why the douche bag seller (the "man in custody" who  I had known from grade school who had broken into his step father's house and stolen all his guns) fingered me.  I wasn't even fucking around when he made the sale.

** - This is HIGHLY UNSAFE, kids.  Don't do this.

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