For a moment in my life, I was scared of everything. I was spending the summer in France. Using money I should have been saving for a mortgage, or whatever, to live right on the beach and order fish stews every night. I was, to quote the French, avoir le temps de ma vie.
And then I got scared.
I was scared of jellyfish in the sea when I dived in. The water was very clear, so I could see all the little fish swim around me, but when the sun glistened I thought I could see shades of purple shooting through the sea. I imagined the jellyfish swarming in, ready to destroy me. I imagined getting stung, and not knowing the French for I’ve been stung. And lying in agony on the beach, alone.
I was scared of carbon monoxide poisoning. You couldn’t see it or smell it. You didn’t notice it until it swallowed you whole. Every time I felt lightheaded, I opened the window and stared at the ceiling, waiting for the end.
I was scared when cooking chicken. I stuck a knife down the charred breast, and cooked it for a bit extra. The chicken was so tough that when I ate it, I spat it back out, but at least it was white the whole way through.
I was scared of flying. Every bump or shake I convinced myself was the end. When the pilot announced 10 minutes until landing, I looked out the window and only saw blue water. He’s gona sink us in the sea, I thought, and held on to my arm rest, my breath sucked in, paralyzed in my imminent death.
I was scared of every man I met when the sun went down, especially if he was the only other person on the street. He wants to rape and murder me, I thought, as I quickly ran across to the other side. There could never be enough distance between me and those men.
Even if the street was full of people. They’re all conspiring to rape me. It will be a gang rape. And my mother will have to identify me by my teeth. I started carrying a knife around with me, a sharp one I ordered off the internet from a German company. I don’t trust the Germans with much, but I do with quality cutlery. The knife was so sharp it cut through the cloth of my bag more than once. Achtung!
Then I got afraid of that knife, afraid of its power. A man will pull it from my hand and stick it in me. My defense will become my demise. I grazed the knife over my stomach and thighs while I lay in bed at night, drunk. Sometimes I pressed down, and saw little blood freckles form on my skin freckles. Maybe I will be my demise, I thought.
I stopped carrying the knife.
I was scared, I am scared, I will be scared.
I am scared I only exist if someone if looking at me. If they turn away, I will fall to the ground in ash.
I am scared to die tomorrow, and my last breath being please, give me more time. I could have been someone.
I am scared to die at 90, and still have those dying gasps.
I am scared of getting pregnant, even though I’m on the pill.
I’m scared I won’t be able to have a baby when I want one.
I’m scared that if I do, he’ll end up a serial killer.
I’m scared if I do, she’ll be called a slut.
I am scared to marry my best friend, and for him to become a stranger.
I am scared he is already becoming a stranger.
I am scared I have no talent, or I’m wasting my talent, or I’ll get to my last breath and realize talent meant nothing at all.
I am scared of everything I am not, but I’m fucking terrified of everything I am.
Being fearful means you have something to lose. So what am I afraid of losing?
I’ve spent most of my life wanting to die. Now I want to live, and I am terrified of that being taken away.
Wouldn’t that be ironic?
I learned the word irony in Miss Jordan’s class at 14. Irony is being afraid of flying, then getting on a plane, and that plane crashing. I was very mean to Miss Jordan, and she was never mean back. I was a mean to a lot of people, and I justified it because I was most mean to myself. Like it let me off the hook.
I’m scared that I haven’t got my karma yet. I’ve done bad, to myself and others, and haven’t been punished yet. In fact, I’ve only been saved. When I’ve spat badness into the world, the world has met me with good. It’s smothered me with kindness. I am every antagonist in all those cliched films, who get away with it all, right up until they don’t.
I hear the wheels churning, getting quicker and quicker, and I know the train is coming. I have no idea from what direction or how soon it will trample my body, but I feel the ground trembling, getting louder with each second. I know it’s coming.
When you get scared, you’re supposed to think of your happy place. I imagine my body floating in the cold salty water, my chest in the air and the wind whipping my face. I keep my head raised, my eyes opened, trying to survey the blue around me, making sure nothing will permeate this happy place.
A wave hits my body, turning me over in the water, slapping me awake. I cough and spit the sea back up as I tread the water. In that moment, I forget about the creatures that could hurt me. All I can think of is staying alive.
If the jellyfish are going to sting me, let it be when my back is turned.
Marise Gaughan is an Irish stand up comedian and writer living in London. You can follow her at @marisecomedy.