Don’t Send in the Clowns

So, I had a thought.

I have two huge fears, a couple of normal-size fears, some medium ones and some small fears. I think pretty much everyone does. It’s our nature – knowing our mortality – to fear.

My thought is with my two huge fears. They are, what many people would consider, irrational. Keep in mind that what seems irrational to one person might be perfectly rational to another, and vice versa. So, even though what you are about to read might sound silly, ridiculous, or – yep – irrational, this has altered the way I look at the world and what is within it.

The first huge fear that I would like to share with you is my fear of Clowns. Yeah, I know. When you sit down and think about it, real clowns are just people in costumes, and movie clowns are kept locked safely away from us in televisions or theater screens. Creepy clowns like Pennywise from It or those nasty fellers from Killer Klowns from Outer Space don’t really do a lot to scare me on their own. In fact, if my experience with clowns was limited only to film, television, and the few circuses I’ve attended, I doubt I would be frightened of them at all.

My fear of clowns goes a bit deeper than with most people who think clowns are scary but do not know their true terror.

When I was a child the age of six, I had a nightmare. In my dream, I was in a coffin, covered in maggots, and I couldn’t get out. I beat against the wooden coffin door with all I had until I finally broke through. I stood, panicked and sweaty, and when I looked down, the coffin and the maggots were gone. I was instead in a room that had no doors or windows or even blank wall space. There was nothing but shelves all around and filled clowns of all sorts – cloth, porcelain, glass, stuffed – and there were hundreds upon hundreds of them. Every last one was looking at me, pointing at me, and laughing at me in the most evil tone I’ve ever heard.

I woke in a start and bolted from my bed. I crossed the hall into my parents’ room and woke my mom to ask if I could sleep with them. I told them I’d had a nightmare, and mom said I could climb in. It took me forever to get to sleep, and when I finally did, the nightmare started right where it had left off.

The next day was Mother’s Day. One of my older sisters came by the house with a friend and a gift for mom. It was a long, clumsily wrapped box. Inside of it was a porcelain clown – the first of a collection for my mother. Within one year, there was a room in our home that was nothing but shelves, all of which were filled with clowns.

It was that dream that instilled this fear into me, and a dream also led to my second greatest fear – outer space.

As a child in the eighties, I was just old enough to enjoy the reemergence and popularity of old black and white sitcoms. I’d spend my evenings engaged in episodes of Donna ReedI Love Lucy, and The Andy Griffith Show, just to name a few. There is such a thing as over-indulgence, and I became guilty of that with endless hours of sitcoms from the past.

This over-indulgence triggered the second worst nightmare of my life.

I was in a spaceship, floating somewhere in deep space. There was a full crew on board with me – I don’t know what my role on the ship was, but everyone was in uniform, including me. The crew consisted of Barney Fife, Lucy Arnaz, Opie, and a ton of other classic sitcom characters. To this day, I am unsure what happened at the earlier point in the dream, but I know they turned on me – each and every one of them. They hated me, despised me, and they punished me.

Their way of punishment was to get rid of me – permanently. They opened a hatch in the ship and pushed me out into deep space without a spacesuit, with oxygen or a helmet, without a tether…

I could feel the lack of oxygen and the horror of space’s burning freeze come over me. I looked to the ship, and the crew looked at me in return through the large bay window. Each was laughing at me and pointing at me – just like with the clowns in the first dream.

Just as I was about to die in the dream, I awoke in a cold sweat. That night, I refused to return to sleep, and I have feared outer space ever since.

You might wonder why I am sharing these memories with you, and what they have to do with anything. The point of the post is not with the fears – the clowns or outer space. It is to show that fears often – if not always – have an underlying beginning that often goes ignored or forgotten. I have never forgotten the causes of my two greatest fears; I can still see the dreams vividly in my mind today.

Does seeing the cause of a fear make that fear more or less irrational? Does it help mend the fear and lessen it, or does it bring that fear closer to the forefront, where you are more aware of it?

For everyone, I imagine the answers are a little bit different. For me, it is complex. My fear of clowns has weakened over the years. However, my fear of outer space has grown. Could this be because new technology has the possibility to take us there, and even though most of the celebrities in that dream are now deceased, aspects of that dream could still become a reality? Perhaps it is the vast emptiness of space that frightens me still, or the lack of breathable air and climates. Thinking about it while I write this is terrifying. Just sayin’.

If you have a fear that you feel is irrational, please share. If you don’t have an irrational fear, I applaud your strength.

Until I have another thought,

Jae El Foster

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