Letting the “Cat” out of the Bag

I’m often overly aware of the distance between me—at the top of a staircase—and the imagined corpse—at the bottom.  Aging, and the fact that I haven’t updated my will in many years, only increase my trepidation.

I’ve wondered for years if this anxiety might be vertigo, but I just don’t seem to have a sufficient constellation of the symptoms.

What I do have is an adjunct fear – that of jumping.

On the very rare occasions when I do jump, or when I fall or, indeed, when I even imagine either one, I get the most curious sensation of little electric eels zipping from my calves to my knees, into my thighs, and travelling north, and deep, into the forest and culvert. If you get my meaning.

Funny thing is, I get this same sensation when others fall or jump.

Now, it’s one thing to entertain the eels during my own quarrels with gravity.  But it’s quite something else to feel them at play while observing others.

So, I decided, finally, to take advantage of the internet to discover what this is all about. It was rather easy to find the information—once I changed the search terms from “tingling sensation–knees and groin–going down” to “fear of jumping.”

Apparently, I suffer from catapedaphobia, a word which does not, I learned, refer, in any way, to cats.

No. Translated into its parts, catapedaphobia  means “down+ feet+ fear”: a fear of jumping from heights, high or low.

Now, if my research is right, my distaste for leaping (and my more-than-empathetic response to the pratfalls of others) may stem from a little spill I took when I was eight.

From the time I was five until I was ten, we lived in a quaint and very small town in Belgium.  By quaint, I mean that, while the municipality, as a whole, had decided that a bit of spit-wipe was necessary upon exiting the dark ages, there were sectors…

Our rented house was two doors away from a hotel/bar.  Well, two doors and an old-fashioned bandstand away.

The wooden bandstand overlooked the hotel’s back alley, a seedy, no doubt rat-infested yard, where potatoes were peeled for frites and garbage was liberally strewn.  A yard accessible via crumbling cement steps from the sidewalk.

The bandstand seldom hosted a musical event, but my friends and I were frequent guests in the castle we imagined it to be. One day (not the day I lit the fire in the corner, but the other unforgettable-day-on-the-bandstand), while dangling my skipping rope over the back wall, I dropped the pink cord into the tall weeds below.

Running off the bandstand and down the first step is the last thing I remember until a nurse came towards me with the hypodermic needle.  My mother’s memory is that the man who owned the garage up the street, grabbed me out of her arms, and sprinted me to the hospital a few blocks away. (“You, remember him, Diane? That nice man whose wet cement floor you ruined by throwing dirt and grass onto it?”)

My hero’s shirt must have been soaked with blood because when I landed on the jagged beer bottle, it shredded a two-inch gash from the middle of my left knee round to the inside of my leg, and thrust perilously close to the muscle.

A doctor wove great black thread through the rags of skin and, before long, I was back on my feet.

Until last night, that event was filed away somewhere between “Belgium anecdote” and “old news.”  But, I’m struck, as I relive the experience here, by its unmeasured consequences.

That an incident so many years ago, from which, by all measure, I walked away unscathed, should so affect my choices as an adult, is a reminder to tred gently in my estimation of the foibles of others.  Who knows where they might have stumbled?

What are you afraid of?

~Lady Di


How do cats survive falling from great heights?

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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