Primal Fear

SPOILER ALERT SPOILERS EVERYWHERE

Now that that’s out of the way.

The first time I’d ever heard the phrase “primal fear” was from the mouth of my roommate Daniella sometime during the past school year. She uses it as a shorthand for a certain kind of, well, fear—the kind that cripples a body, that grips the insides of your throat and your chest while sending blazing hot shivers from the tips of your fingers to the pit of your stomach.

That makes it sound a bit like a fever. And to an extent, it is, but it’s a malady originating not from the body, but from the mind. Anyway, the reason I’m bringing this up is because I watched “Star Trek: Into Darkness” again yesterday with my sister, and while the movie was just as good (and yes, just as problematic, but as a film, come ON) as it was the first time around,

during the part where Kirk goes into the belly of the ship to re-align the warp drive (a little bit before that scene with “Because I am your friend”—RIGHT IN THE FEELS),

I remembered those news reports from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, in which it was revealed that workers at the plants that had melted down had willingly risked their lives by going into the plants to try and prevent even more damage from being done, even though it meant irreparably irradiating themselves

—and even though they grew up in a country in which the shadow of the atomic bombs still lingers, and they know from history just how freakishly horrific the effects of exposure are and can be—

and suddenly, a wave of dread flooded my body; my head started pounding, my ears lit up with invisible licks of blood-borne flame, and all I could think of, even as my eyes focused on the lurid fluorescent blue of J.J. Abrams’s lens-flared tableau, was:

Where will I go when I die?

The movie propelled forward, and the feeling eventually subsided, yet when I close my eyes and try to summon up just how existentially petrified I’d been at that moment, my palms perspire, my vision quavers—but I can’t recreate the utter despair I’d felt, how terrifying it was to reflect upon what it meant to actually stop being,

in which I wondered how exactly I, in all and every sense of that word, would end.

Heavy stuff! I don’t mean to suggest that after the movie, or even now, that I searched my soul and found the answer to ~*my life’s meaning*~ or anything, but it’s scary to think about death, even though I sometimes joke about it, even though I say that if immortality were to become a viable option, I’d reject it, even though I’m an atheist so in theory, my idea of death is a sleep from which I will not wake, so I won’t even know I’m not alive anymore (my consciousness will just suddenly fade away like dry ice meeting air),

but right now, I’m young, and while death is all around me, I’m in a position in which primal fear for my life is not my #1 worry from the moment I wake to the moment I finally drop my guard and seek sleep, and I understand that it’s a privilege for me to think that way, just as I understand that I’m lucky that my childhood, my life, has been so sheltered and so safe that I can think of my everyday fears and say things like Heights and Spiders instead of Torture and Disease.

I can treat fear as shock, not state of mind. I can say things like “I hate rollercoasters because they scare the shit out of me” and still get on them (aside: my first ever rollercoaster was Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure, which at its time was the fastest [if not also the tallest] coaster on the East Coast); I can walk around at night with my headphones on.

Maybe I’m testing my luck. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before danger, where fear meets harm, grabs me by the neck and leaves me to choke on my own ignorance.

But until then, I think about the ink on my back, about my struggle still to confront even the smallest, most insignificant incarnations of fear, and I force myself to laugh.

Still… when it hits, it hits.

(Image: Figures of Speech series 2 by Emma Critchley)

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