I was once completely paralyzed by my fear.  It started in my toes, like a slow tingle of electricity, then jolted up the small of my back to my shoulders and zapped the part of my brain where logic is stored.  It robbed me of my strength and intelligence and instead turned me into a shaking mess with a four-year-old mentality, if that.

The sad part is that I wasn’t staring into the barrel of a gun or watching someone break into my house.  I wasn’t being cornered by flesh-melting flames; wasn’t fleeing from a pack of blood-thirsty wolves. 

It was summer.  I was about 15 years old.  And I was getting dressed. 

My favorite jeans were in the laundry room downstairs, so I made the descent into the deep dark dungeons of our basement where I once roller-skated and even learned to ride a bike.  My basement had been the scene of countless birthday parties over the years, transformed into a charming Italian restaurant, 50s café or Mexican fiesta by my dad.  My imagination blossomed downstairs while watching movies with friends and having sleepovers.  And it sheltered me, calming my nerves when bleeping tornado warnings threatened to wipe the upper levels of my house away.  In other words, I was in no way afraid of my basement.  It was one of my favorite places, and there, I felt safe.

On this fateful day, I grabbed my pants and headed back upstairs to change, never once thinking I was about to lose my marbles.  While standing up, I eased one leg into the jeans, then the other.  As I pulled them up my to my thighs, I watched the folds unwrinkle one by one with their gentle cotton choreography.  It never crossed my mind that they were about to reveal one of my greatest fears.

It’s hard to say what is actual memory and what continues to trick my mind from this day, but what I can make out of the fog is that it was fuzzy, slinking with great speed up my pant leg, its long antennae and hundreds of legs forcing me to leap in my invisible Air Jordans as my piercing scream rang out.  Pantsless, I scrambled on top of my bed and danced as if my life depended on grape stomping, slapping my legs and thighs to make sure the thumb-sized millipede was no longer attached to my body.  And I watched in horror as it flew across the room under some furniture. 

One thing was for sure, I couldn’t stay in the room with it, so sans pants, I leapt from my bed to the door and slammed it shut behind me.  Then, like anyone would do, I called my mom at work.  And although my voice shook and I was nearly in tears, I was pretty sure she didn’t fully understand the seriousness of the situation, because she told me to trap it in a cup.  Um, a cup?  Over the course of five minutes, the beast had surely ballooned to the size of my entire hand; it would never fit in a cup, and besides, I wasn’t putting my hand anywhere near that thing.

I hung up in defeat, pantsless and alone.  Hoping to snatch a pair of shorts as quickly as possible, I crept back towards my room, foiled by my own idiocy.  In my feeble attempts to trap the millipede within the confines of my bedroom, I’d forgotten one thing:  there was at least a one-inch crack from my door to the carpeting.  And that’s where I found it, scampering hastily back towards me.

My dog, Buddy, perked his ears up and ran towards it, but I knew what would happen if he did.  He’d get eaten. 

I screamed bloody murder and my dog cowered underneath a table as I ran for the living room, hopping aboard a chair.  I needed a weapon.  So I grabbed the first thing I saw.  Not a shoe or a book.  No newspapers in sight.  Nope, what I held in my hands was likely the deadliest weapon within 50 feet:  an antique decorative iron that weighed at least ten pounds. 

And there I sat, wide-eyed, clutching the iron for at least an hour until my mom came home and found me there.  I’m lucky she didn’t check me into a facility that day.  We never did find the millipede, causing me anxiety and insomnia for at least another couple of days.

We tend to refer to this as “The Incident” or “My Episode.”  In retrospect, I should have let my dog eat the giant millipede, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it wasn’t poisonous or painful or six feet tall.  I let fear get the best of me and without realizing it, I kind of made a promise to myself never to let that happen again.  Mind over matter, right?

These days, although I’m still obviously afraid of many things and have been involved in a number of emergency-type situations, I use my fear.  It snaps me into action.  Like the time that I was working at a summer camp and an older man riding by collapsed on his bike and began seizing.  I immediately called 9-1-1 and gave them all the pertinent information without hesitation.  It’s like the fear tapped into my logic instead.

The same thing happened last night, when my husband called me over and I nearly tripped over my feet to get to him, knowing that something in his voice wasn’t quite right.  Sometime between eating dinner and returning home to rewatch Harry Potter 7:  Part One, his lip had swollen.  My heart beat fast, but we quickly realized he’d taken Motrin for a backache so I kicked into gear and hit the Internet to find the number for the nearest 24-hour pharmacy.  And within about 4 minutes of Greg’s discovery, he was talking to a pharmacist who told him to take Benadryl – already in our cabinet, mind you – which, incidentally, is the first thing I thought of, but wanted to be sure it was recommended by a professional. 

Once that fear had subsided, I turned to find Brody lying in the over-sized furniture foam-filled bean bag chair we know as the Love Sac, his head cocked at an unnatural angle, his eyes glazed over, the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth.  I called his name once…no response.  Oh my G-d.  “BRODY??” 

Thankfully, his eyes focused and he wagged his tail in recognition, otherwise my house would have contained one husband with a fat lip, one dead dog and an unconscious wife.  And that was just really not on my Saturday night agenda.