When I was five I lived in an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York. For some reason I was alone for a few minutes in the apartment. I heard something in the hallway and looked through the peep hole in the apartment door. An older neighbor, in her mid-sixties, was clutching her chest and gasping for air and collapsed on the floor. After a minute or two someone came out to help her into her apartment. She died shortly thereafter.
For whatever reason, I felt like I had seen something I wasn’t supposed to see. Did I do something wrong? Maybe I should have yelled for help and someone might have helped her sooner and she wouldn’t have died. I was thankful that whatever GOT her, did not get me.
And so I never told anyone, until recently. I am now in my sixties. That is a long time to keep a memory that had been forgotten or buried. I think that the fear I felt, a feeling that either I had something to do with her dying, or that something was in the air that killed her, some evil something that sent shivers and shakes through my body and stuck somewhere in my gut, that feeling has been with me all my life. It surfaced a few more times when I was young.
A cousin died of Hodgins lymphoma. She was thirteen. A friend died suddenly of some kind of infection. She was ten. My dad died in his sleep when I was twelve. He was forty-three. And, it was a Friday, the thirteenth of May, 1966.
I heard his wind-up alarm run down, and then heard my mom trying to wake him. I thought someone or more accurately, SOMETHING, had come into the house during the night, and just the way IT had gotten all the other people I knew who had died, IT got him too. I thought IT might still be in the house and was scared IT might get me too.
I never was able to talk about what any of this was like and developed all sorts of avoidance behaviors when I was younger. I finally had the help of a caring therapist in my mid-twenties and again in my late thirties, but I had never really touched the heart of all this until recently when my wife died, a little over a year ago. Therapy is never finished.
I never knew why things in life that scared me evoked avoidance behavior in me. I learned that as a young child, I had unknowingly made an unconscious connection between fear and death.
I carried this buried unconscious fear for a long time. It pervaded many things in my life. If someone had asked when I was young if there was anything that really frightened me but which I had a hard time talking about, things might have been different.
Childhood traumas and adverse experiences come in many forms. This was mine. Certainly, there are many more horrific stories than mine, but nevertheless, this had a profound impact on me.
WE ASKED PEOPLE, "WHAT LIFE EXPERIENCES HAVE MADE YOU RESILIENT?"