I don’t know, maybe I was ten. I was enrolled in a computer class, coding in BASIC, which was at the far north east end of town just outside where all the tract houses had sprung up. It was nearing the end of summer and the end of the classes; I seem to remember that it was cold and overcast that day in Rawlins, Wyoming. The school, an elementary school I think, was deserted. We were several minutes late. The other students, of which there may have been five, were probably all inside sitting at the computers. My mom dropped me off and I started to walk towards the building. My mother drove away. That’s when it hit me, the first time that I can remember something like this happening, where a fear crept up on me and I couldn’t go in. It was a fear of being late and having the attention of others on me. So I turned around, walked down the street away from the school and sat behind an earth mound for the hour and a half of the class. I cried when my mother picked me up and found out that I didn’t go. Boiled down, I think it was a fear of people, people that I didn’t know very well, looking at me with negative thoughts. An Agoraphobia limited to situations where I perceive (imagine) that others will look down on me.
I joined a gym tonight. First time working out in over six months. It was when I walked into the main foyer, with the ten or twenty men sitting at tables out side the racket ball courts, that it first began to stir. When I entered the men’s room and saw two or three old naked men standing around I knew it was going to hit me. I found my locker, spent minutes trying to open it, finally succeeded, changed into my gym clothes, locked the locker and went back outside. I was starting to work up a sweat and I hadn’t touched the weights. I looked down the hall, searching for my wife, and found her standing talking to two other women. It took me at least five seconds. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Then I moved towards them then stood waiting quietly until they finished talking. I then followed my wife upstairs to the weight room. She tried to ask me if I wanted help, but I couldn’t really hear her; I just wanted her to stop talking to me, stop drawing attention to me, anything to take the attention away. Somehow I communicated that I would be fine and that she should go get on a treadmill. I walked slowly through the rows of machines and made my way to a bench by the free weights. There weren’t that many people around, two actually. I grabbed a very light dumbbell and sat down on the bench. I did six reps of eight, only I think I only really finished four before my left arm was needing my right’s help. Then I sat there. I wasn’t sure what to do, where to go next. I sat there until a person left and two more drew near. The only place I could look was the floor otherwise I’d risk making eye contact. Finally I stood up. I walked slowly through the rows of the machines trying to focus on the words written on them that explained what muscle group they worked. Then I started walking towards the stairs. I glanced at my wife, made eye contact and smiled. Then I went down the stairs, overly slow, trying not to run. I went back into the men’s room, more naked old men, got to my locker, dressed, packed my bag, walked out, entered the foyer, made it to the front desk and realized that I had left the key in the locker. I turned around, quickly made my way back to the locker, grabbed the key, locked the locker, walked back to the foyer, handed the woman my key, grabbed my temporary membership card and walked out.
I cried the whole drive home, tears streaming down my face, with this terrible fear, this horrendous realization that I haven’t grown up, that I’m still this ten year old boy frightened by the humanity around him. Frightened of being an idiot, weak, unknowing and unsure. The rational part of me tries to say that it was good, needed to start working out somewhere. And now that I’m in my garage, Thelonious Monk playing away while I smoke my pipe, the rational part of me is free to express itself.