Our final guest has probably heard that old chestnut “I wouldn’t want to meet you in a dark alley”, a lot more than I ever have (and I’ve heard it enough for one lifetime, thank you very much). I had the pleasure of learning about Lisa Gemino’s life and struggles as a female martial artist on the Real Life Superwomen panel at the 2016 Creative Ink Festival, and the even greater pleasure of being an online friend for the past few years. When I read her submission for this series, it knocked the wind out of me.
I have been afraid my whole life.
Afraid of sharks in the bathtub. Afraid elevator doors would close unexpectedly, crushing me to death. I was afraid that having two Christmas tress meant we would get carpenter ants in the house.
I was–and still am–mocked by my family for that last one. No, I was really afraid I wouldn’t get presents because Santa wouldn’t know which tree to leave them under–or so I was repeatedly told. Despite the fact that I already didn’t believe in him by then; despite my increasingly desperate protestations that my emotion was sincere. My fears were treated as selfish and laughable.
I learned not to tell people I was afraid. I cultivated a tough exterior, cold and unsympathetic. So the adult fears that supplanted my silly childhood terrors grew in the darkness inside my armour, humid and stifling even to me. I had no key though. Someone else was holding it, waiting.
I grew afraid of the dark which had been my haven, of spiders (that I had loved as a child). I grew afraid of people, of emotion. My family taught me that love meant accepting you were a figure of fun, to be diminished and derided. I was taught never to be anything other than some steel statue.
I was alone, but I could pretend I was not afraid.
In my late twenties, I learned to fight. I’d been in martial arts since I was seventeen but it wasn’t until I found my current school and Sifu that I actually knew what I was doing. Now, I’m a stick fighter, a boxer, a wrestler.
Back then, when I started, I had a good bluff front. I had a reputation as a machine, who never stopped and never gave up until I was forced. My instructor saw differently though. In private lessons, just he and I, he saw me turn tail, turn ‘turtle’ (cover my face and refuse to fight), back down, cower. For over a year he would stop when I did that, reset himself and begin again.
Then one day… he didn’t. I covered my head in my hands and ducked away, looking down to the ground.
He didn’t stop hitting me. Not cruelly. I was not afraid I would be injured. He was calm, controlled and patient.
But he wouldn’t stop.
Until I raised my head and fought back.
Something in the back of my head snapped. I remember the world getting wider, and brighter, but I think that’s just a post-incident construction. A lifetime of fantasy novels has taught me revelation should be accompanied by bright lights and angelic choirs.
Maybe thirty seconds later, he ended that sparring session. We went on to other things.
I left the gym unaware that my whole world had changed.
Until that night, when one of the huge wolf spiders British Columbia specializes in walked across my living room floor. Instead of frantically searching for something to trap her with I picked her up with my bare hand and stuck her out in the garage. Later that night I walked through my apartment without turning on the lights, never thinking something lurked in the shadows to harm me.
It was just a living thing smaller than I, who meant me no harm, not a monster. It was just the absence of light, not a weapon of my enemies.
In time I realized what had been stripped from me in that moment, when I raised my head and legitimately claimed the title I had been fraudulently using before then: fighter.
My fear. Not my caution, or my common sense or my self-control but my fear of the unknown, my fear of my own fears. I could look inside my own head and see the spaces they made, the pits of quicksand formed by anxiety and horror of looking like a fool.
I was not reckless or careless or callous. I was just…unafraid. And in losing that amorphous existential terror I was finally able to lift up head outside the gym, in the quiet battle that is everyone’s day-to-day life.
There is no shame in being afraid of things…until the moment that fear turns you away from the path of happiness because it’s dark and full of spiders.
Because the world did get wider. And brighter. And easier to deal with.
And seriously, spiders are neat.
Lisa Gemino is a martial artist with over twenty five years of experience in many different arts, currently training in Kali, JKD Concepts, boxing, kick boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She writes sword and sorcery, high fantasy and stuff involving monsters under the name T. G. Shepherd. Her first novel, As A God, will be published in summer 2016 by ETreasures Publishing.
You can find her author self on Twitter @tgshepherdvan
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