Overcoming a Childhood Fear

Overcoming a Childhood Fear
10 mag 2024 · 4 min. 20 sec.

In this story, I share a childhood fear that I outgrew. Admittedly and with only minor apology do I share the truth that I’m obsessed with dogs. The apology is...

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In this story, I share a childhood fear that I outgrew.
Admittedly and with only minor apology do I share the truth that I’m obsessed with dogs. The apology is to those with whom I walk as the canine imperative forces me to stop and pet any pup in my path. I love almost every dog I meet and communicate with them in a way that makes me, dare I say, gifted? It IS a gift to be able to look into a doggie’s eyes and let him or her know that they’re safe with me, that I understand how hard it is to wait to be fed, to stare at the back door when you just have to pee, to have to be leashed, outdoors, like a wild animal. This makes it all the more difficult for those who know me, even for me, to understand that at one point in my way distant past, I was actually afraid of….cats.
I tried connecting in the way that I did with dogs, but they always walked away, unimpressed. Sometimes they hissed. Or swatted a paw at me. So rude. Two women – Ceil and Barbara, lived together across the street from us with their two cats: Penny and Kitty. – My mom said that Ceil and Barbara were old maids, like they didn’t luck out when husband shopping. I pointed out that they were a happy lesbian couple – it was obvious. They drove to their jobs at Polaroid together every morning and, in the evening, they called “Penny, Penny, Penny, Penny….here Penny, Penny, Penny” and “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty…… here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” It was the soundtrack of my childhood, punctuated by an occasional piercing cat cry that left me glad there was a solid door keeping me safe inside and them outside in the dark. I’d be walking down the street to school and one of them would dart out from behind a bush, scaring the bejesus out of me. (I looked it up. It’s a word…Irish in origin…small J so I’m assuming not disrespectful….) For years I would cower if a cat was anywhere in the vicinity. Cower. It’s true.
And then there was that one long night the summer after I graduated from high school, when I might have ingested a hallucinogenic substance. After listening to Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd on some guy’s waterbed – he was elsewhere - I wandered up to the apartment roof to gaze at the stars. It was so peaceful, and I was perfectly relaxed, lying on my back, when seemingly out of nowhere a cat sauntered up to me. She walked toward me slowly, looked me right in the eye with what I interpreted as kindness, and lied down next to me. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid of a cat. It was like someone flipped a switch and we were two beings, basking together in the warm summer night under the stars. I gently pet her coat and she purred in bliss.
Was it a magical roof? Do I attribute the sudden cessation of my fear to the fact that it was 4am, that she was a particularly docile cat? Or should hallucinogenic substances be investigated as a tool for ridding people of phobias? I don’t know…nor really care. While for the decades since, I haven’t been drawn to felines the way some people are, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt afraid again. Except for that one time when I was bitten by an adolescent tiger in a Mexican zoo….but that’s a different story.

Joanne’s book, “By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go” is now available from your favorite online book seller. Stay tuned to hear if Joanne will be speaking at a bookstore near you. If you’re interested in having her come to your local bookstore, contact her directly at joannergreene@gmail.com or get updates on her website at joanne-greene.com and make sure to sign up for her newsletter!
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