I’m afraid of a lot of things, but I’ve only got one real phobia. It makes all kind of sense to be scared of falling off a roof or drowning or getting hit by a car, and these things do indeed scare me. Still, I’m able to get on with it.

Not when I’m on a high place with something moving around underneath me, though. I call this “pierophobia” because I first felt it when I’d walk out on a pier over the ocean, look down through the slats and hear the water breaking against the piles. I’d get so scared I couldn’t move. My parents and brothers would try to talk me out of my fear, saying things like, “Come on, those holes are only an inch wide! How do you think you’re going to fall through them?” But that’s the thing about phobias — they don’t much respond to logic.

When I was a kid, there was one place we went regularly on vacation where you had to climb down a rock and wood stairway down a cliff to the beach. We went there every year for a while. Going up the steps wasn’t too bad, but I was scared to death of going down them. As I got older, my fear actually got worse. One time as I was inching down, one step at a time, keeping one hand on the cliff for some sort of security, and I came to a place where snakes were slithering down the cliff face right next to me. After that I always walked a quarter mile down the highway to the beach’s main parking lot, so I wouldn’t have to go near that spooky staircase.

Nowadays the phobia gets me when I’m crossing a bike/pedestrian overpass. I hear the cars under me, see and feel their movement, and sometimes it makes me so scared I freeze.

That’s what happened this morning, on the way to the dentist. I got up the ramp okay, but as soon as I came onto the bridge over the highway I had to get off my bike and walk. It doesn’t matter that there’s no way anyone could fall off. The chainlink goes up far over my head; you’d have to go at it with a sturdy pair of wire cutters for about half an hour before you could possibly make a gap big enough to fall through.

Still, it scares the bejesus out of me. I don’t know why.


2 responses to “Pierophobia

  1. I don’t like things I can see through. When I was a kid I climbed a few flights up the staircase under a forest fire spotter’s observation tower, and was too terrified to climb back down again. The steps had open risers and holes, and that was too much. A few years ago I wrote a poor poem about it, but maybe it will, someday, serve as the raw material for a better one. And at SFMOMA there’s a short catwalk on perforated metal, about three stories above the lobby floor. BTW I loved “Quantum Sestina” on the New Myths website!

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