Fear of the Marketplace

Chapter 1

The Birthday

Fear of the marketplace. That’s what they called it. Decades ago. It’s a Greek word meaning, literally, the fear of being in public. Feeling as if you cannot escape. Panic. Trouble breathing.

They tell me I have agoraphobia now—a complicated word. I prefer fear of the marketplace. It’s a throwback to a time when mental illness did not reside in a large book with a list of symptoms meant to determine your fate. Your life. I can tell you what my life is like. I can try. I wasn’t always this way, strange. I was a child once—just like you.

 My mother tells me that I was a beautiful. I had pink cheeks and chubby hands and feet. I smiled at people, dimpled, content. She dressed me up in pinks and blues, twenty-one years old and still a child herself, she was fascinated with me. Her first child, her last child. Sometimes, I wonder if she wanted another. If my father had been a different man, if he had not left when I was still too young to walk or to ask him when he would be home for dinner, our lives might have been different. I try not to think about it. About dad. About where he might be.

Childhood is strange: I remember it in flashes, like lightening, a memory smacks me in the face and I scribble it in my leather journal with fury: When I was five I had a birthday party; just a few kids from school. Mom baked a vanilla cake and the other children ate it. I tried; I put the spoon to my mouth. It wobbled. I worried about the spoon—was it clean? Yes, sweetheart, it’s clean. It found its way to my mouth.

Six years old, maybe seven, I refuse to put my shoes on. I am certain there is something wrong with them. They don’t look right. They don’t look like they belong to me. If I wear them, I am certain, I will fall.

Ten years old, I decide that I can’t eat dairy products, I have no idea where they come from – who touched them last. My mother decides I’m eccentric. She buys us plastic plates. And then I insist on eating with my hands; washing them after until they are cracked and bleeding from the soap. From the hours at the sink.

I guess that’s where this all started – with a birthday, my hopeful mother, and a vanilla cake.