Caged in Fear

*Authors Note- This essay was published in Henderson Impressions 2018 by Henderson Libraries.

Have you ever watched a pet bird? One of my friends in high school had one. He was a blue and yellow parakeet, named puffy, with more blue feathers than yellow. Some of his chest feathers were white and always made it look like he was trying to impress somebody by puffing out his chest. He was an only bird and sadly, nobody noticed. No little girl birds came by the window to whistle at his buffness. Everybody admired his beautiful coloring. The yellow of his wings seemed to fade into the blue seamlessly, no harsh lines from one shade to the next.

I watched Puffy a lot in the countless hours I would spend at my friend’s house. He was interesting. I would always find him on his perch, staring at the living room around him. I used to wonder whether or not he moved. The only sign he did was the dwindling food supply in the bowl. A couple of times, I saw him hop along his perch from one side to the other. The fact that he barely moved fascinated me. Why not move? Let someone witness the wonder of your flight. Let me be that someone. Something else that interested me was that Puffy always looked mad. He looked as if he were, one poke at his cage, away from nibbling a finger off. On one occasion, we took Puffy out of his cage. Within seven seconds his wings spanned, and he took flight around the living room. We chased him as he soared up to the top of the vaulted ceilings. It took  twenty minutes, and a lot of yelling, to get him back in his home- in his cage.

I didn’t know it then, I didn’t  know it after that friend and I went our separate ways. It wasn’t until I had become a full fledged adult, with a husband and a child, before I discovered my own cage. I wonder if Puffy realized he lived in a cage. I wonder if all he knew was being trapped. I wonder why, if that is why, he always looked murderous. 

My cage does not have bars. My cage does not have a cute perch to sit upon or a food bowl. My cage sits in a round room, covered in light brownish blonde hair. On the outside, you will find two brown eyes, a thin nose, and a small mouth that barely contains the loud voice it holds. You will also find a smile on those lips. My cage is the fear inside my head. 

I am afraid of a new bad thing happening in one of life’s storms. Afraid, to the point where I make up scenarios- I messed up, I disappoint somebody- though I actually do nothing at all.  

I am afraid of never accomplishing my goals. I fear not ever achieving my dreams. The fright is crippling. It triggers anxiety-induced thoughts that lead down the awful ‘what if’ rabbit holes. Instead of trying, I do nothing. I cannot fail if I do not try, right? 

One might say that I’m too hard on myself. Another, who also struggles, might tell me that my ‘self-talk’ is too negative. II would them hypocrites and continue not to realize the existence of my own cage.

I am afraid of not being enough- enough of a wife to my husband, enough of a mom to my son, enough of a friend to my friends. I spent most of my younger years giving my all to friends and family who needed more. They always needed more, even when I had nothing else in me to give.

Life Puffy, I was mad. I was one poke away from nibbling off a finger. This fear, my cage, was starting to intrude on my life in ways I did not want. I looked at my son and said that he should see the world as a place with limitless possibilities. A small voice reminded me that I lived in the same world. One day, I caught my husband looking at me in awe, like I impressed him. Me? I thought. There must have been a mistake. Obviously, someone was behind me doing magic tricks. The cozy fear cage had become heavy shackles around my ankles and I was sinking. I decided no more! I started believing in myself and tried to accomplish my mental list of goals. I never said my dreams or goals aloud anymore. Sharing those things used to get me sniggers. I would be asked, “Oh? You sure?” because they did not think I was qualified for those dreams. 

The cage came back. It was a cozy corner in the newest season of life’s lessons. 

My cozy corner quickly turned into a knot in my stomach. It would tug at me from the moment I would awake. Logic would tell me that nobody should have such a high level of stress before  they make their morning coffee.

I thought about Puffy and the day we let him out of his cage, to hold him. I realized that I had an advantage over Puffy. He needed help to get out- someone else had to open the cage. 

I do not. I can open my cage and walk on out. I am not limited by the confines of vaulted ceilings. I am spreading my wings. I am headed for the stars.