Column: Fear factors

By CLARK HICKS,

I had three fears as a child. I am not talking about casual trepidation. No, I mean shake you to the core fear, the kind that keeps you up at night, never ceases, and refuses to lose its grip.

Mind you, I was around 5 or 6 years old, had a vivid imagination, and likely displayed early obsessive compulsiveness.

In 1971, our country was in the throes of the Vietnam War and more particularly, the Vietnam War protests.

My family television, a black and white with rabbit ears, stayed dialed to the CBS network, and the Walter Cronkite nightly news.

Body bags, napalm, and grim video footage were the order of the day. Around my house and church, there were constant whispers of a failed war which would never end.

I routinely did the math in my head. In 12 years, I would be draft eligible. What if I had to go to a far away Asian country and die? Coming of age at that time, I heard no talk of a noble cause.

My ears were filled with national doubt and local despair.

Please do not chuckle too loud, but my second fear was killer bees.

Somehow, I latched on the news that Africanized bees had migrated to North America, with large swarms capable of killing cattle.

The stories were dramatic. A farmer wandered into his barn and was found days later, swollen like a watermelon. Scientists had never seen such aggressive bees, and the public was warned to be on the lookout.

Well, I was on watch, peering through my bedroom window, insect can nearby, ever listening for a slow buzz becoming deafening, as the tiny winged killers surrounded their human prey.

My third fear struck in first grade. 

My parents noticed one of my eyes would wander outward every now and then.

Not sure of the cause, they had me visit an ophthalmologist. The doctor was well trained, but handling children was not his forte.

After the initial exam, he bluntly announced I had intermittent exotropia.

What?!

To add another layer of panic, he told Mom not to worry because the condition was not an eye disease.

Rather, the condition was brain related. When I heard those words, “brain related,” I figured my days were numbered.

I could not sleep, kept staring at my eyes in the mirror, and practiced rolling and shifting my eyes to my parents’ bewilderment.

Lazy eye is the common name of the condition, which requires pencil pushups, where you stare at a pencil with both eyes, bring it to your nose, and finish cross-eyed.

I walked around class for about six months, sticking a pencil in my face, afraid that I might need donor eyes.

Fortunately, as I grew older, the fears went away. The war ended, the bees flew on to Canada, any my eye ligaments strengthened.

But, the memories of those days are strong, and I will never forget dread and terror thoughts of jungle warfare, assassin bees, and “brain related” wandering eyeballs.

Clark Hicks is a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg. His e-mail is clark@hicksattorneys.com.