Childhood Fear

When I was eight or nine years old I passed through a period in which I kept thinking about what kind of death frightened me most of all. That is nothing remarkable – people have such thoughts at that age. Life and death begin to be serious topics that one needs to come to terms with. Children are extremely serious creatures. Not least when they reach the age when they slowly take the step that changes them into conscious human beings – conscious of the fact that they have an identity that cannot be changed. Over the years what one looks like in a mirror changes, but behind that mirror image is always the real you.

Your identity is formed when you decide your attitude towards serious questions. That is something known to everybody who has not forgotten all about their childhood.

What frightened me more than anything else was falling through the ice on a lake or a river and being sucked underneath the ice sheet, unable to break through to the surface. To drown just underneath the ice through which you could see the sun shining. Suffocating in the cold water. Being overcome by panic from which no one could rescue you. Screaming without being heard. Screams that froze and turned into ice.

That kind of fear was not so strange: I grew up in the province of Härjedalen where the winters were long and severe.

Around that time, a girl about my age actually did fall through the all-too-thin ice on the Sandtjärn lake. I was there when they recovered her body. The word had spread very fast through Sveg. Everybody came running up. It was a Sunday. Her parents were standing next to the lake where the black water in the hole stood out among all the whiteness of the ice and snow. When the volunteer firemen had dragged out the girl with their grappling irons, her parents didn’t react as they would have done in a film or a book. They didn’t burst into tears. They were completely silent. It was others who wept. Her teacher, I recall. The vicar and the girl’s closest friends.

Somebody vomited into the snow. It was very quiet. The white clouds of breath coming out of everybody’s mouths were like incomprehensible smoke signals.

Henning Mankell, Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being translated by the late Laurie Thompson

(from here) The Guardian

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