The Fear in Love (and a Ropes Course Adventure).

November 21, 2012

At five years old, little J (who I am convinced is half monkey, half Spiderman) has absolutely no fear. He scales towering walls with alarming speed. He dangles upside-down on his backyard zipline with one leg. He snatches up any moving creature without a moment’s hesitation. He has survived having his stomach pumped, countless stitches, scorpion bites, and accidentally attacking himself in the face with pepper spray. He is basically a miniature Mr. Invincible.

Leave it to me to stumble across the chink in the armor.

It was a long roadtrip with still no end in sight. I was crammed in the middle row with Caleb and Josiah (in a booster seat), and Lauren and Kate were behind us, taunting us with their smelly feet. J man was getting restless and violent as he is prone when boredom strikes. With the sweetest smile on his cherubic face, he would reach behind Caleb and punch me as hard as he could.

The first time, though taken aback, I dismissed it with a warning and a laugh. When it happened again, my warning became significantly firmer. Nonplussed, my threats fell on deaf ears and the punches kept coming, dotted with self-satisfied snickers.

I wracked my brain for the most potent argument I could give to stop the unending onslaught of abuse. Finally, sure that my shoulder was now more bruised than a bottom-of-the-crate old peach, I delivered my ultimatum.

“J, if you hit me again, I’m going to kiss you.” I added, “Then for every punch after that, it’s another kiss. And I’m going to save them up for when you least expect it.”

Testing the intention behind my threat, he ventured to throw a particularly hard-smacking blow.

“That’s one big kiss, J…” I said, planting one on my hand and rubbing it all over his face.

He gagged, balled up his fist, and connected with my shoulder a second time.

“That is two, dude.” I warned again.

Then his father piped up and added, “You know, J, if Big Lauren kisses you five times, you have to marry her.”

He snorted in a mixture of embarrassment, repulsion, and fear, and eventually settled down, but not without keeping a wary eye out should ‘Big Lauren’ decide to ambush him with her slobbery cooties. The horror.

For the rest of the trip, he steered clear from me whenever possible. If I had any opportunity to sidle up to him and give him a knowing smile, he would dash away and hide behind his parents, blushing red hot apprehension. When we returned to Asuncion, he took every measure to stay as far away from me as permissible, visibly nervous and fearful, and traveled with a Nerf gun at all times.

On one occasion at their house, while I was in the kitchen conversing with his mother, J stealthily snuck behind me and scattered an assortment of rocks, twigs, and large seeds at my feet. As his brother explained, it was intended as a booby trap to get me to slip should I step back. This was serious.

Apparently, I had initiated all-out war. It was both hilarious and secretly satisfying to know that I had caught onto his one fear, and maybe a little sad that our friendship would never again be the same.

Then one day, as J’s fear had reached a squirmy and vengeful apex, his father held him down and I planted three good ones on his poor cheek. He guffawed in disgust, wriggling and making quite the effort to escape. In the end, the deed was done and he was absolved of the debt hanging over his head.

That was nearly five months ago. It has since been a high alert journey (for him) of learning to face his greatest fear, particularly considering how frequently I show up at his house. Sometimes, he still requests to be seated on the farthest end of the dining table from me when we sit down to eat, but for the most part, he is slowly starting to dare come near me once again (after all, I have Angry Birds on my phone now).

Several weeks ago, a group of us drove out to an adventurous ropes course full of suspended slacklines and rickety bridges for crossing. J, clearly the smallest (and likely bravest) person ever to step foot in such an adrenaline-inducing location, harnessed up and zipped through like a champ.

Afterwards, I asked him if he had fun and if he had been worried at all.

“No way!” he roared in his characteristic raspy bellow, “Only YOU are scary, Big Lowen! And you have big pants and are bald headed! Bahahahahaha.” He scampered away immediately but not before adding, “No kiss me, big pants baldy!”

There is no fear in love? I beg to differ.

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