Fight or Flight by Micaela Merryman
There is an innate inclination built into the minds of every individual, a physiological reaction triggered by a perceived fraught incident: the fight or flight instinct. When faced with a stressful event, your psyche taps into your natural response to either flee or face your threat head-on. For years in my childhood, it was an ongoing battle to escape my prosaic life. Somehow in the midst of all my struggle, my instinct to run had become my downfall.
Yuma, Arizona. Population: 91,923. You might recognize it if you travel through Arizona to California or vice versa. It’s a small pit stop on the way, and from an outsider’s view, it’s barely worth looking at. It’s hard to imagine what kind of shut-in hillbilly’s live there if anyone could manage to live there at all. But for 15 years of my life, it was all I knew. Besides Yuma, the only other place I had been to was Compton, where my Dad’s side of the family resides. Between Yuma and Compton, there’s not a lot to look at. Two suffocatingly small towns. Two suffocatingly small mindsets. Every action is dissected, every word laden with poorly masked judgement. For 15 years, that was the spectrum of my view on life. Limited. That didn’t do much for my aspiring dreams as a child.
First, it was a rockstar, then it was a drummer in a band, then a professional dancer, then my dreams became anything that could possibly help me escape my small town. But as years went on, I began to accept the reality of my situation. Like 80% of Yuma’s population, I was going to live and die there. As time progressed, I slowly became comfortable with mediocrity. Three incidences marked the descent into my realization.
Born the runt amongst three sisters, all of which were considered more beautiful and talented than I, my upbringing severely lacked the strong sense of identity my siblings possessed. I vividly remember the moment that separated me from the rest of them, standing in the foyer of one of the few two-story houses in my small town, bare feet standing firmly on the marble tile as I stood spectating the delegations of my mother to us. Her inquisitive dark eyes landed on each one of our faces. To my eldest sister, she spoke Professional Dancer. To my youngest, she spoke Doctor. To the sister six years my senior, she spoke Author. To me, her confidence wavered, lips parting slightly before closing around any words that could encourage me to be more than I was, at the tender age of twelve years old.
“We’ll figure something out for you,” She had told me. I was lost, so I fled.
I had lost myself for the second time later in that year when I tasted death’s cold sting for the first time. A hit and run, 6:52 A.M. in the morning. If the doctors were right, then Mary hadn’t felt a thing, dead on impact. I was too young to comprehend the first death I lived through, it was only a concept for me at the time, never a reality. It all became too real in that moment, the moment it finally dawned on me that I would never see my friend again. It had all fell into place then, how little a stake I had held in my own life.
I was raised fortunate, some may consider it to be spoiled. Whenever I asked, I received. When I didn’t want something, I didn’t have to do it. It was in that moment that I realized that I was not the only one invested in the game that had been my life up until that point. There was an unseen opponent who had me in a constant state of checkmate, because no matter what he threw at me, I was forced to succumb and adapt to it with no counter-attack effective enough to set him astray.
I had no say at all in what I would become, and this realization was nothing less than unnerving.
I ran from it.
It all clicked when the third incident came. My epiphany only held to be further true when I was torn from my home at the age of 14. When news broke that Dad’s job now required him to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona, I was mortified. I had just begun to finally feel like I had belonged somewhere -- people knew my name. I stuck out in the crowd. Soon, I would only become a nameless face to masses of people who did not care about who I was. After fighting for my spot in the front of the herd for fifteen years, the thought of disappearing again was devastating. I ran.
I was losing my game, piece by piece, move by move. As a relatively domineering individual, this trend was unwelcome, and I rebuked it. Who was life to treat me like a ragdoll, throw me through the highs for a few months, and drag me back down to the depths on a simple whim? I sought to surpass the binds of the wicked thing. Since it would not bend to my will, I would change it. I was determined to, I had to.
With instrument pressed to the vellum, an existence I longed for appeared on the pages in front of me. With a simple flick of my wrist, worlds were formed, and with another, I had fabricated a life I could escape to. If the world would not listen to me, then I would change the world, one line at a time. One page at a time.
The natural instinct that made up my being-- I could never elude it--but I could embrace it. Writing was the ultimate escape. As an author, if I could not control the world I lived in, I could write worlds worth experiencing. Even if just for a few pages.
And so I ran to them.
Micaela is a Creative Writing major in her first year at Northern Arizona University. In her spare time, Micaela listens to sad music, writes sad stories, and is probably making your morning coffee at Starbucks. The Tunnels is her first publication, and she hopes she's not a one-hit wonder.