I spent the last 2 nights and 3 days with a pit bull, an adorable and loving pit bull rescue. Who knows what situation she was born in to, but now she is living in a loving environment, where her sometimes aggressive behaviour is duly noted by an animal behaviourist. No beatings, starving, or tortures are a part of her daily routine. In addition to caring for this pit bull, I sat for a rat. Rat, as furry four footed rodent. A noun. Calling someone a Rat, is a very old word that is similar to the F word, what I use as a last resort, when extremely flummoxed or angry. The F word, in my opinion is a poor excuse for good English. Not to be mistaken for a creep, someone I know who I can’t stand. Not an adjective, as in Lee is a stinking rat. Not another noun as in “As soon as I get these rats off my back…”

The rat was an unwitting member of my dog sitting gig. It didn’t really need to be cared for, as it came from the wild, having been born under a bridge, and needed a return to any bridge. Thank goodness it didn’t need feeding, which the pit bull did, three times a day. And, thank God, the rat did not require petting, as that would have been unnecessary as, 1) it, being a wild animal, it had never once been petted, and, 2) I would have died on the spot had said rat come begging for a pet.

There are zillions of phobias most likely unknown to man. In fact, I myself am a phobic, many times over. If you want to know which type of phobic you are, go ahead and Google phobias. There are phobias that I’ve never even heard about! Fear of meat, fear of breathing bad air, fear of men, fear of the Northern Lights.

Phobias are learned, as well as taught. Not taught in school, but rather by a family member, or friend who cannot leave her house without unlocking locks 10-15 times. This act, being excessive behaviour, can be learned by a young child as the only way to leave a house. A woman who cannot stop smoking is not coined as being phobic, rather as being an addict to the calm feeling smoking brings. For those who are germphobic, their behaviour is totally outside the realm of normal. Often in germphobic cases, a person will take a 3 hour shower after seeing a “germ” fall in her lap, or never using public toilets.

In my childhood, many phobias were taught to me. I didn’t create them on my own, as everything in my childhood pre-empted a clean slate. My mother was fanatically afraid of driving over bridges. Yes, she liked to travel, and sometimes it was a demand of her job..Did you know that at the Chesapeake Bridge, toll takers were once on hand to drive people over bridges? Fortunately, being phobic of bridge driving was not passed down to me.

But, fear of flying, called Aviophobia, was. My mother was avidly afraid of flying. I remember times when she drank herself into happy oblivion in order to get on board, and other times, sitting stiffly in her seat, she’d be pumping hard at imaginary brakes. This strikes me now as silly, since you could broaden your horizons if you simply boarded a plane. But, in my late teens and early 20s, I too became afraid to fly. I did, and still do, dislike takeoffs, for speed on the runway seemed to determine how high a plane could get quickly. On the flip side, I’m not afraid of landings. I wait to hear the sharp bump of landing gear connecting with terra firma, and know I’m safe.

Nowadays, I still get a flurry of butterflies in my stomach as the plane powers up for takeoff, but I no longer grab stranger’s hands, or whimper. Instead, I put fingers in my ears so I don’t feel bumps in the air as the plane escalates,and close my eyes, a comfortable ruse to use when one doesn’t like what’s happening. And while I don’t exactly like takeoff, I have found a way to keep myself calm. I merely close my eyes, and ears, until the “Fasten your seatbelt” sign goes off. Being airborne, I know there is no escape from ISIS, thunderstorms, or the bogeyman, and that is satisfying enough.

Another way I use to conquer my fear of flying, was to take flying lessons. A neighbor of my parents had license to fly a 2-seater Cessna. My first lesson involved safety rules. But during my second lesson, I was allowed to take the controls from the pilot, and flew solo (while he sat next to me). This exercise helped a lot.

The various techniques my mother and I used while flying, do not however, work with rat sitting. I saw it run past me and make a beeline for under the coffee table. I banged my feet against the top shelf and waited for the rat to emerge in fear. It did not emerge at all. In fact, I think it ran undetected from the coffee table to under the sofa. But what if it had run upstairs to the bed where I would sleep? Upon entering that room,i shouted “GO AWAY RAT!”

To get my overnight case out of the house without possibility of taking said rat home, I literally dumped the case upside down, and then repacked. But I also stored it in my car trunk for two nights. I know of a guy who said he had a rat in his truck that he couldn’t get rid of. That image pretty much stuck in my mind for days. I just couldn’t go there!

My fear of rodents, called Musophobia, began about 15 years ago, while working at a prestigious private school for girls. The rodent invasion started in the summer. That was my busiest time of year, involving 5 large trash cans of paper, mounds of new directories, and office supplies times 10 for every contingency. Mice like paper to build nests in. And, their love of nuts and chocolate is a detail never to be forgotten.

Well, one golden Monday in August, I’d just returned from a two-week vacation, and was powering up my desktop computer, when a mouse ran across my hand. Not the keyboard, but my hand! At first, I thought it would be one incident, but then when multiple mice ran across the floor, and up onto my desk, totally at ease, I realised it was endemic!

Not only was my office infested, but so was the entire school! There was no safety anywhere, anymore. Both I and the secretary 3 flights down, spent at least once a day for weeks, running screaming from our offices! Another morning I arrived at my usual workday time, and was chit chatting with a teacher, when she said, “Em, did you know you have a mouse riding down an electrical wire from the ceiling over your head?”

I have never moved so fast in my life! Students were arriving by then, and I had to tone down my screams, but not without calling Maintenance first, from my personal cell phone, to come help.

Rodents, mice, rats, moles, voles, and squirrels terrify me. If I see a squirrel in the road, I will aim for it. They are really rats with long tails, anyway. I hope that all the lowlife rapists, murderkillers, and child predators are reincarnated as rodents, but I can’t believe it myself. What I can be sure of is that the rodent infestation was dealt with by fall, and not because the school’s employees had a voice in the matter. No. It’s because the cleaning crew could not make any progress in cleaning because the mice would tear up paper (trash) to use as nests, leave droppings everywhere, and were fearless of people. I didn’t quit because I loved the students I grew to know individually, the faculty which 98 per cent of the time were fantastic, and of course, I needed a full-time job with benefits. I also loved Graduation when, as the “Go” girl, I would send them towards the graduation stage with a smile or whisper of how lovely they looked.

My husbands’ phobia is snakes. Some people are terrified of spiders. And, last, but not least, a small fraction of our civilised world are phobic about just living.






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