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I have been asked by more than a few people why I am so terrified of all of you.  I have given superficial explanations.  Certainly, my adventures in the California Trailer in 2021 (recounted in Episode 124: “Unlocking The Gate”) when the gun appeared, helped to cement the fear that I was trying to overcome.  That, however, is only a small part of my loathing of personal contact with any of you.  I have never had the courage to explain, openly and honestly, what caused me to run in fear, particularly from attractive females.  I have finally been able, with the help of my writing coach who told me to see them as The Three Witches from Macbeth, to write it, so…

This Is Why…

“Well, I did not think

The girl could be so cruel

And I’m never goin’ back

To My Old School…”

— Donald Jay Fagen / Walter Carl Becker, “My Old School” from “Countdown to Ecstasy,” 1973

Hormones certainly played a part.  I was maybe 17 years old, and I was walking home through a tiny stretch of forest between Coconino High School and the street I traveled to get home.  And there were three girls walking behind me.  They were all my age, and they were all objectively attractive.  I had small feelings about one of them.  They had only begun the week before when she smiled at me over her shoulder in Mr. Guay’s Current Events class.  I tried to smile back, but I made a mess of it because my heart started sprinting like it was trying to run the hundred-yard-dash, and she was the prize.  I suspect she knew that.

I want to be clear I don’t think there was any real malice in what happened.  I don’t “blame” them for my condition.  There would be no point in that.  There’s nothing they could do today that would change any of it.  Nevertheless, just putting this on paper makes me want to crawl into my shell and never let anyone see me again.

At this point, I had to leave the keyboard.  I couldn’t come back until I rewrote “When shall we three meet again…” with these three girls as the witches. I had to see them as what they were, even though I don’t like to see them that way.

The girls caught up to me.  That may have been at least partly my fault because when I heard their voices I slowed down.  I think part of me was hoping they would catch up.  Today, I wish I had kept my pace and never allowed it to happen. 

Their names were Dorothy, Alfie, and Louise.  No, those aren’t their real names, but since each of those names means something to me, they will help me to keep their names straight so I can get through this. 

Dorothy was the girl who had smiled at me in class.  I really hoped we would get to be friends.  I had been playing with the idea of asking her out since she grinned at me.  I developed elaborate schemes that would put me in a position where I could do it with something resembling confidence.  None of them ever came to fruition, though. 

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

          Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

          For promis’d joy!

— Robert Burns

Alfie was popular and unreasonably pretty.  She would become Homecoming Queen later.  I think I had her father for a psychology class at NAU several years later, and I remember working extra hard in hopes he would mention me to Alfie.  I have no reason to believe he ever did.  She never even showed up in that class.  For all I know it wasn’t her father, but they shared an uncommon last name. 

Louise was a girl who was ridiculously cute but always had something promiscuous in her eyes.  That made her simultaneously more and less desirable to me.  I got the feeling that even I might clear the bar for her standards, but I wanted to fall in love with her, and I couldn’t imagine her meeting my mother.  There would have been an incalculable number of ways for that to be a natural disaster just south of a tsunami. 

I had fantasized about Alfie and Louise before, but never Dorothy because I was hoping she might actually like me.  If I fantasized about a girl, it always meant to me that I would never get anywhere with her.  45 years later, the rule still holds true… with a single exception. 

And that was a nice night, and the last sexual contact I had with another human being.  It must have been five or six years ago.  Prior to Lisa (I called her Lisa, which is also not her real name, in a previous episode, so I will stay with that here), it had been at least a decade.  We still talk a couple of times a year.  I hope she’s doing well.  Thank you for that one last time, Lisa.  And thank you for being the only female who ever allowed my fantasy to become reality.  I will always be grateful.

“Hi, Fred!”  This was Louise.  She was far too enthusiastic about it to be anything remotely resembling sincere.  I stopped and turned around and they caught up with me in seconds that felt like centuries.  I was hopeful and horrified.  I felt sure they could hear my heart pounding since I was convinced it was echoing off both the trees and the walls of the grocery store a hundred yards behind us. 

Louise was on my left.  Alfie was on my right.  Each of them put an arm around my shoulder.  Dorothy walked in front of me.  To this day I can still sometimes feel their hands on my shoulders.  From time to time, I can still feel Louise’s fingers on my neck.  She was flirting.  I know this.  I didn’t know how to handle it. 

Louise said, “So you were kind of checking Dorothy out last week, weren’t you?”

I looked at the ground. 

Alfie put a finger under my chin and raised my face, so I was looking straight at Dorothy.  I remember how soft and delicate that finger seemed to me.  In my life, that was the only time I ever felt my throat tremble.  I didn’t know that was physically possible.  Dorothy’s eyes reflected contempt, laughter, and mockery.  Mine began to moisten.

“You want to kiss her, don’t you, Fred?” said Alfie. 

I trembled.  My arms were quivering.  My lips dehydrated.  My legs retained only enough strength to keep me standing, and it was more of an effort that day more than 40 years ago than it is even today when I need both hands to stand up.

“You’re pretty cute, Fred,” said Dorothy.  “How come you haven’t asked me out?”

I mumbled a barely discernible response.

“I didn’t hear you.  What?”  Dorothy was enjoying this.

“I didn’t think you would go out with me.”

By now there was another group in the woods, moving up behind us.  Two football players, a Dungeon and Dragons player who drove around in his Dad’s Corvette, and one cheerleader and one pom-pom girl watched the scene from just a few yards away. 

“Get some, Fred!” yelled out the offensive lineman who played center for the football team. 

“You want him to kiss you, Dorothy?” asked Louise.

Dorothy opened her lips and moved her face closer to mine.  “Just one kiss Fred?”

I moved my face toward her, and she suddenly spit at me.  The entire forest erupted in laughter.  And I made a mess in my pants.  You can guess the nature of that mess, and its cause.  It’s probably exactly what you think.  I loathed it with the same intensity that the rest of the humans I have ever known love it.  To this day, whenever sex comes up, I instinctively cross my legs.  I just noticed they’re crossed as I write this.

“Eww!” cackled Dorothy.  “Gross!  Who would want to kiss YOU?”

Mercifully, the girls walked away without noticing (as far as I could tell) the mess I had made, followed by the crowd, all of them laughing, and tossing individual taunts as they passed me.  I stood facing a tree to hide my shame. 

I know.  It’s nothing.  We’ve all gone through things like this, haven’t we?  Grow up, Fred.  Get over it.  There are real traumas in the world.  People have been physically and sexually abused by their parents.  People have become drug addicts.  People have been raped.  And some mean girls embarrassed you one day four decades ago.  You’ve got nothing to complain about. 

I had a few lousy days that week, but it was already a Wednesday, and by the following Monday, no one talked about it anymore.  I should let it go.

The fact is, I never have.  What I should do is irrelevant.  Just because we should do something doesn’t always mean we can.  I am working on that now.  I understand that I need to see them as they are.  They were more petty than they were pretty.  They were cruel. 

I learned that day that I was never allowed to have romantic intentions toward girls who I found physically attractive.  They would never reciprocate my feelings.  I am gross. 

I have two ex-wives.  I was minimally attracted to either of them, so I could talk to them like people instead of as though they were somehow alien and superior to me.  I often have that in my head. 

There are those who, until I really get to know them, seem so far superior to me that I can be nothing but some pagan kneeling before a deity.  I still feel that way about some of the people with whom I am friends.  I never got beyond it with Snuffy Walden, whose name you may not recognize but whose music has come out of your TV more times than you can count, no matter how hard I tried, and it kept him from ever taking me seriously.  I regret the friendship I have probably lost forever because of that.  To his credit, he tried to help me get beyond it.  I just couldn’t manage it.

My Writing Coach shut that down immediately, the first time I ever talked to him on the phone.  I told him what an honor it was, and he said, “Thanks, that’s great, now let’s drop the fanboy stuff and talk about writing.”  And from that moment on, I was able to see him as an equal, a full, complete human being going through many of the same struggles I have. 

I hoped to get over it with my Rhiannon, (not her real name, but listen to some Fleetwood Mac) who, fortunately, was not in the woods that day.  She was far above me socially.  I think she was the head of the cheerleaders.  If she wasn’t, she was certainly the most attractive of them all.  I’ve written several stories about her in an effort to make her human to me.  (They are the Horace stories on my blog and my podcast.)  We’re Facebook friends, and she’s often kind there.  She still seems infinitely superior to me in my mind, but I’m hoping, someday, to reach the point that I can see her as my equal.  She’s still, more than 40 years later, among the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, second, and only barely so, to Valerie Bertinelli. 

What I’ve learned is that, while I have no love life, I have a life I love.  That’s the only form of revenge that interests me at all.  I don’t know if Dorothy, Louise, or Alfie have lives they love.  The worst part of me, the part I hope someday to excise, sort of hopes they don’t.  I prefer the part of me that hopes everyone is happy, but I’m a flawed human, and it’s important for me to see my flaws as clearly as my accomplishments. 

I’ve seen photographs of them, and the physical beauty they had in high school has been destroyed by the ravages of time.  Dorian Gray’s portrait fared better.  All that is left to them is who they are as human beings.  I like to hope they’re better people as women than they were as girls.  I’m trying my best to be a better person as a man than I was as a boy.  I like to believe I’ve been successful.

History will, I suppose, make that judgment. 

“Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgments.”

– Zefram Cochrane2063 (Star Trek: First Contact)

(Written by Gene Roddenberry, Brannon Braga, and Rick Berman)

I’m doing my best.  I feel like writing this, recording it as well as I can, and putting it into the world is an important step for me.  Now we all know why Fred is so terrified of people.  The reason may be childish and insignificant, but its effects were far-reaching.  I like to believe I’m becoming safer from them today.  I like to believe their power over me is dissipating. 

That said, I’ve never walked through those woods again.  I don’t even know if they’re still there, but if I’m ever in Flagstaff again, I intend to find out.  Perhaps those trees have all been torn down and replaced by new and financially valuable buildings.  Perhaps they are still sitting there, waiting for me to walk through them once again.  Either way works for me.  It’s time to deal with reality, accept it, and move on through those woods with my head up, walking quietly, and much to Teddy Roosevelt’s chagrin, without any sort of stick.