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Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

The first time that I remember being scared was when I was just six years old. I somehow was allowed to walk home from first grade alone, the reason why I think this is because I have images of myself sitting on my book bag talking to my class mate after school, talking and talking, completely unaware of the time. I remember at one point standing up, thinking that I might have stayed there for too long and that is when my fear started to build. I quickly said goodbye and started running towards home. When I finally got there, my landlord was sitting on the front stoop playing with my little sister who was a toddler and he looked worried. He was relieved when he saw me running towards him, I could tell from his smile. Mister Brunner was one of the nicest men that I have ever met in my life; he was the best landlord that anyone could ever ask for and my sister and I were so very lucky to have him as our babysitter.

That day is still etched in my mind as if it has been chiseled there. Mister Brunner told me that my parents had gone to the police station, they had been that scared when I hadn’t showed up on time from school. The fear sitting in my stomach was so deep and so bad that I felt nauseous and I couldn’t even stand up, I laid down on my bed and when my parents finally came home, my mother charged into my room and gave me a spanking that was filled with such anger and fear that I wet my pants. I started crying even before the spanking had landed on my bottom, my tears were from being terrified of my mother’s anger. I definitely didn’t like it when she was angry.

Being a parent now, I can understand the fear that can consume you when your child is late and you don’t know where they are, but I have been lucky thus far. I am also not my mother, I practice deep breathing and can talk myself down from bursts of anger. 

My mother’s angry reaction to my being late at coming home from school reminds me of a scene from that wonderful movie “Parenthood” starring Steve Martin, Mary Steenbergen and Jason Robards. Jason Robards plays the patriach who has a difficult relationship with his son played by Steve Martin and he explains his inability to connect with Steve Martin’s character by telling him about the time Jason Robards was told by the doctor that Steve Martin’s character might have polio and how it had filled him so deeply with abject fear that he had hated him for it. He had hated the power that unconditional love had over him and how powerless he felt because of it. My mother must have felt the same way and I was too little to understand it, all that I understood was that I was so very scared of my mother and her wrath.