Why death? — Childhood

A large part of my childhood was spent under the dark cloud of knowledge that I, like the butterfly, could also die. This was a shocking revelation; my experience with death had informed me that other things could die, especially fragile pretty things, but to learn that I was not exempt from that possibility was terrifying. I learned from my experience with the butterfly:

Dying is a very easy thing to do.

I started to take the defensive with everything that could destroy me. I learned that spiders and snakes were poisonous, and it was possible for them to kill you with one bite. I adopted a healthy phobia of heights, knowing that one fall was all it would take to snap my neck or crack my skull, and that would be the end of me. I spent fourteen years of my life afraid of the dark, because it was so like what I imagined death to be and so full of things that could destroy me.

The worst thing someone ever told me about death was, “Dying is a lot like going to sleep after a long day.” I didn’t sleep for weeks. I kept worrying, every time I went to bed, “Is this it? Is this the last time I fall asleep? Am I about to die?”

Children are subjected to a variety of very commonplace illnesses because of their very young immune systems and their relative inexperience with bacteria and infections. Every time I got sick, I was worried that it would claim my life.

This obsession with mortality did not compose the entirety of my childhood experience, I certainly enjoyed normal kid activities like soccer, Boy Scouts and elementary after-school programs, but I do feel it bears emphasis that the notion of death was never very far from my mind during this time.

This period of terror-ridden paranoia only occupied my life from age six into my early teenage years. Luckily, I managed to leave most of the phobias behind. Unfortunately, the underlying fear of those phobias persisted. The question became academic.

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