I’ve talked about my rodent-phobia a few times before on this blog, but for those new here, I’ll just summarize: it’s ugly. Rodents give me panic-attacks. The first time my ex heard me encounter a possum on a dark night, he thought I was being raped because of my screams for help.
I know, I know. It’s a stupid, cliche fear. I’m way bigger than them and they don’t want to see me any more than I want to see them (except for that one possum–the one who decided that even a bruising with a broom wouldn’t budge him)…
But really the rodent-phobia is not about rodents. It’s about the unknown. It’s about something that can live close by and be there even when I don’t know it. It’s about the ability for something to cross my path when I’m not expecting it.
It’s about my vulnerability.
I wasn’t always afraid of rats, and near as I can tell, the fear emerged about mid-way through high school. Right at the same time that I had some fear-producing encounters with men of not-so-good intentions. I knew I couldn’t run away from them. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to fight them. I knew there was no one who could be there all the time to ensure my safety. In short, my fear of small beasties became symbolic of my own inability to protect myself from danger–usually danger in dark or unknown places. About that same time I stopped watching suspense and horror movies, too. I couldn’t tolerate that feeling that something was about to jump out at me from around the corner, from under my bed, from the darkness not lit be streetlamps.
Why I became afraid of rats specifically, I’m not sure. But perhaps it was a kind of mental shorthand for my inability to say that I was afraid of knowing that I couldn’t run or scream or defend myself. Somehow rodent-phobia became mapped to that part of my brain…
On a somewhat related note: on my iPad right now is a book called The Butcher and the Vegetarian (delightful book–I highly recommend it!). The author draws a strong connection between her desire to eat meat and her desire to acquire a kind of masculine power:
Eating meat might be the most normal thing in the world to other people, but to me it feels indulgent, forbidden, deviant…Not only that, meat is total guy food. I’d be lying if I told you that isn’t part of the appeal. Meat comes with a boys’ club atmosphere of testosterone and machismo.
Undoubtedly my turn to eating meat (after more than a decade of vegetarianism) this past year is tied to my desire to become more ‘manly’–the original motivation came from a bodybuilding regimen. I was ready to build some not-so-ladylike muscle. But also comes from a desire to be more strong and courageous through the divorce proceedings. During that time I craved meat, especially beef, constantly–not only did it make me feel satisfied and full far longer than a salad, it made me feel assertive and powerful.
Once, while I was in the midst of living in Pasadena (where I’d moved temporarily while my ex was cleaning his stuff out of our shared apartment) I encountered a mouse one late evening. It’s a long story, and wasn’t pretty. The kids were with me and had to nurse me through a long night of tears and my heart racing so hard I couldn’t breathe well. Although I was terrified of the mouse, it was also probably also the only time that I truly let myself physically express the terror of what was happening to my life. I was so afraid (of rodents and men and love and the future). I felt vulnerable in ways that I never had before. I was panicking about more than a mouse. I was panicking about my life.
So, now, I’m having to face that down again. The day before I was slated to move into my new home, an inspection turned up some rat feces. Perhaps old ones, but it was inconclusive. My insecurities welled up all over the place. Mostly, because I’ve never moved to a new place on my own and I’m carrying a boxload of concerns related to this change. So in some ways, I’m not at all surprised by the rats–it seems like a kind of cosmic justice meted out to force me to face my own vulnerability. Because it’s quite possible that I will encounter one of these creatures when I’m home alone on a night very soon. And it will be just me and just that rodent–there will be no spouse or child or friend to put their arms around me and tell me that I’m going to be okay. And I’m steeling myself for that possibility, for what it’s like to hear those scratches and bumps and creaks in the night and I wonder if they mean a rodent is nearby.
That, and I’m having steak for dinner again tonight, methinks….