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My Greatest Fear (short story)

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A young man wanders the woods searching for something... The quiet of the forest forces him to remember what brought him there and reflect on what's been eating away at him...

Drama / Other
Clasificación por edades:

Chapter 1

It’s funny.

Well, I mean, it’s not funny in that “ha-ha” kind of way.

Nor is it funny in the “What a coincidence!” type of deal.

If I had to call it anything, I would have to call it “It’s so heartbreakingly sad that the only possible thing I can do right now is laugh because, if I don’t, I might lose my mind” sort of funny.

In other words, it isn’t a good funny.

I’m currently at the house I grew up in as a child. Normally, a person would be happy to return home for a visit, but this house that I spent my childhood in has been eerily vacant for the past year. I’m the youngest of three brothers, which means it isn’t surprising that both my brothers have moved on with their lives and no longer live at home. Each of them have started their own families and their own adventures, so if they were still living in this house after all these years, it’d be a little strange, if not disturbing.

Putting my older brothers aside, I think the next question to ask is: “Where are your parents, then?” This is an extremely reasonable question to ask. Like most people, I had both a mother and a father, and if I were to pick between them, I might as well start with the more depressing of the two – my mother.

You see, out of anyone in the entire family, she was the catalyst behind this abandoned building that once held so much love in it. It may not be a surprise to some, but my mother has been dead for three years. I did mention that I “had” a mother and father. This would indicate that one is dead or, even worse, both are. For people who have experienced the death of a loved one, I don’t think I have to explain how odd it is to live in a place where they have died.

It’s coated with pictures that constantly remind you of them.

Their closet still has their clothes, and even their smell.

You talk with the expectation that they will respond, only to get silence in return.

It’s torture – because, even after all these reminders, it only hammers in the harsh reality that they are, in fact, dead. Even worse, not only are they dead, but you have all these things that refuse to allow you to forget.

Let me say, you can spend your entire life looking, and you’ll never find two people who are exactly the same – just like you’ll never find two deaths that are the same.

Death has a story, just like my mother had a story.


For the first half of my life, I lived the ideal middle-class dream.

I had the two loving parents. Two older brothers, who, for the most part, didn’t make my life a total living hell. The big yard with the picturesque golden retriever, and when he died, the loving rescue who slept on the corner of my bed.

I look back now and see that I never realized how fragile it all was and how I took it for granted when I shouldn’t have.

It was such a simple argument, so simple, that I can’t even remember what we fought about. Strangely, I remember going to the movies with a couple of friends to cool down. I can even remember the movie.

The Matrix.

Our minds were blown by the special effects and the originality. Sadly, we didn’t know how disappointing the two sequels would be, and I had a smile plastered on my face when I returned home. I knew instantly that something had gone horribly wrong. My dog, Cassie, ran up to me and was whimpering. She was shaking uncontrollably, and I had never seen her act like that before.

That was when I smelled it.

The unmistakable odor of alcohol and vomit. I had never smelled it in my home, but of course, since I was a teenager who had gone to his fair share of high school parties, I recognized it almost immediately. I rushed upstairs with my heart beating nearly out of my chest.

Cassie scrambled close to my feet – almost like she was trying to shield me from what I was about to see. Cassie was such a good dog, and she was right. It was something that no child should see.

My mother was on the ground, covered in vomit, a broken vodka bottle to her side and, finally, an empty prescription bottle in her left hand. My mind focused on everything it shouldn’t have at that moment.

When did my mom start drinking vodka? I always thought she was the Merlot type of girl.

Why is she taking prescription drugs?

What kind of drugs are they?

Where is my dad?

Why is Cassie eating my mom’s vomit?

It must have been a couple of minutes until my body acted on its own. I rushed over to the phone and called 911. I checked to see if she was still breathing, and she must have been, as I vividly recall pulling my mother out of her own vomit and cleaning it off her face. I took the bottle of prescription pills out of her hand, but I had no idea what they were.

The rest of my memory on the subject is rather vague, but my mother did survive her suicide attempt. Her body managed to throw up most of the pills. My father met me at the hospital and told me that my mother had been taking antidepressants for a while – only my father had known about it. Apparently, my mother was bipolar, a fact that they thought I didn’t need to know. I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have fought with her that day if I had known about it – I was a stupid teenager, after all, and teenagers are selfish – but I can say one thing for certain: that was the end of my childhood and, with it, the death of my family.

If I had to describe the rest of my life with my mother, I’d compare it to putting someone on life support. For the sake of an example, let’s call this person Steve. What was even worse, Steve was brain dead with no chance of returning to normal. Steve’s loved ones, however, refused to let it end. They decided to stick it out for the long haul. Steve’s family decided to keep him on life support even though they all knew that he was nothing but a dead vegetable.

So, my family life after the suicide attempt wasn’t the best.

It would take too long to explain everything that happened after my mother’s attempt on her life, so I’ll just skip over to the highlights. My mother and father estranged themselves from my two older brothers, basically cutting them off. They were no longer invited to the house, even for Thanksgiving or Christmas. My father would later tell me it was for their protection.

Funny how my father didn’t think I needed “protection.”

My parents didn’t sleep in the same room for the next twelve years, and they would hardly even talk to each other. My mother lived on the second floor, and my father lived on the first. This meant that when I went to visit them, I practically visited them separately. My mother and I still fought, which means I still hadn’t learned my lesson, but I continued to visit her in the remaining twelve years of her life. She would have her good days. On these days, she seemed like the mother from my childhood. This also meant she had her bad days, where she was nothing but a stranger to me.

On those few good days, it was worth visiting my mother despite all the bad ones, and I wish those were the days I remembered the best.

Why can’t I remember anything but the bad?

Anyway, I think I’m getting sidetracked a little. I need to put the finishing touches on my mother’s story before I continue to my dad and why I’m currently the only one at a house we once called home.

You might have guessed, but my mother ended up killing herself in the end. The beginning of the end happened with the soon-to-be birth of my adorable niece. My mother was at a bad place during this time, and not being in her right mind, she gave my father and me an ultimatum.

“It’s me or your brother.”

Well, I guess, for my dad, it was: “It’s me or your son.”

Needless to say, I did not take the ultimatum very well. I was still very much involved in my brother’s life, and I loved my nephew. He looked exactly like my brother – he even had the same smirk that had driven me crazy when I was younger. I was excited about the arrival of my niece, and I can honestly say I love being an uncle.

However, in one last futile attempt, I decided to try to reason with my mother. I tried to use logic, but I learned far too late that logic doesn’t work on people who suffer from bipolar disorder.

I told my mother that a child should not be brought into the world with so much hate. She deserved to be loved by all her family – especially her grandmother.

I failed, and what was even worse, when I failed, I got angry. The conversation quickly turned into a yelling match and ended with me hanging up the phone on my mother.

The next day, my mother committed suicide. This time, she had somehow gotten her hands on a gun and shot herself in her chest. She shot herself right through the heart.

I figure she was trying to be poetic.

I would find out later that my father had also refused my mother’s ultimatum, and to this day, I’m haunted with the question: “What if I had just lied and accepted to her stupid ultimatum?”

Would a simple white lie have saved her?


Well, imagine that I’ve clapped my hands in a sense of finality, closing the book on my mother’s death as I proceed to my father’s story and why he no longer lives in our home.

Now I need you to imagine something else for me. My father lived with my mother for twelve years after the first attempt on her life. They no longer slept in the same room, and they hardly talked to each other. The question that most people might ask, and the question that I asked him once is: “Why didn’t you divorce her?”

It was a simple answer, although the circumstances weren’t simple. My father was married to my mother for thirty years before she committed suicide. If you do horrible math and add a few more years, that meant nearly half their marriage was spent not talking to each other in that house. However, despite all of that, my father still loved my mother. He knew that if he divorced her, she would have nowhere else to go. If my father had divorced her sooner, she would not have lived for the twelve years after her first attempt. The answer was simply love, and you would do anything for the person you loved.

The death of his wife would have been a good reason for him to leave the house, but it was not the reason.

My father got remarried, and what woman wants to live in a house where their new husband’s wife died?

I admit, the marriage was a little too fast for my tastes, as he only waited for a year after the death of my mother. My brothers and I have theories that they were seeing each other long before my mother’s death. There were obvious clues: how quickly it happened, receipts dated before our mother’s death for pieces of jewelry that were not in the house, a few business trips to tropical islands and Vegas that I thought were strange at the time and while my mother was still alive.

I don’t know if our theories are true or not, but it doesn’t matter. My father was miserable for a very long time. He had to stay at home to take care of my mother. He no longer went on vacation, and his house was more of a cage than a home. My father deserves his happiness, and if his new wife makes him happy, then that’s the only thing that matters.


Let’s see, I believe that takes care of why both my mother and father no longer live in our home. I only have to explain why I’m here on this specific day.

My father sold the house.

Today is officially the last day we own our home of many years, and it’s my last chance to visit. I don’t have any particularly strong attachments to the house, but I do to the woods behind it, or at least the couple of acres of them that my parents owned.

My mother didn’t want a traditional funeral. She wanted to, and I quote, “Burn me to ashes and flush me down the toilet.”

That’s right.

My mom wanted to be a goldfish.

I was all for it – the rest of my family not so much. Her ashes were spread across the woods behind our house, which is why I now have a dilemma. Starting tomorrow, I will no longer be able to visit my mother. It would be a little too awkward to constantly pester the new owners to come see her.

I wonder if my father told them that he spread my mother’s ashes in their backyard? Would they have bought the land if they knew? If we had flushed her down the toilet, I could at least pretend that the ashes made their way to the ocean, and I could visit my mother there. I could even get a tan while I did it.

And that’s it!

There you have it.

That officially solves the mystery of why I’m the only one at our forsaken home. It wasn’t a long story, but I could have made it longer. There was some more drama that I skipped, but I think there was already plenty of that. More importantly, it was only a story to explain why I am standing here to being with. I’m kind of just wandering around, as my father scattered the ashes when we weren’t around, so admittedly, I don’t have a specific place to visit my mom. So, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to continue until I find a certain place I like and pretend she’s there.


What’s that?

The title?

Ah, I see, you want to know why this is called the “Greatest Fear.” I suppose I did get sidetracked on that one a little. I guess that would tie in the opening of the story. I haven’t explained what was funny. I have told you a story, and yes, it was sad, but by no means does it make me want to lose my mind. There have been a couple of solid years since my mother’s death, and I’ve moved on with my life since her death. In fact, I probably took it the best out of anyone in my family. I said it before: my mother was on life support. It was a strange sensation when I found out my mother had died.

It wasn’t “Oh God, my mother is dead.”

It was “Oh, she finally did it.”

Deep down, I had always known my mother would end her life. Her family does have a history of it. Her younger brother committed suicide about five years before her. Her father a year after that. Her family seems to have a history of committing suicide. I heard stories of her alcoholic abusive father, and maybe that’s the reason behind it all – inescapable childhood trauma.

Or it could be my fear. The answer to the last remaining question. Depression is hereditary; at least, that is what scientists are saying.

Recently, I haven’t been feeling like myself. No matter what I do or how successful I am, I can’t stay happy for long. I have a decent job. My father is happy. My brother recently told me what I good uncle I am. I love my nephew and niece. I have so many good things in my life, yet I feel empty.

I find myself wanting to push myself away from my family. I’m walking through these woods remembering all the suffering my mother’s depression brought to them., painful reminders that I wish I could forget but can’t. I’m thinking about my brother’s children, who are being raised by a loving father and mother, and I want to protect them.

I want to protect them from me.

Should I be selfish, ignore these feelings, and hope for the best?

It could just be my imagination.

Is there any point in fighting it? I wonder sometimes.

Why should I deny the inevitable? Just get it done and over with.

I’ve been in these woods for hours. Truthfully, I’ve been searching for that one answer to save everything that we’ve worked so hard to rebuild.

My nephew and niece are still young. It’d be easy to disappear – and I heard Hawaii is nice. Children don’t break easily, and if they are lucky, they’d forget about me over time.

I feel like I could live through this due to a more selfish reason. The reason being spite, which is always a good motivator. I’d show my mother that I can do this depression thing better than she did.

I’ve racked my brain trying to find what we did wrong with my mother, so I won’t repeat the same mistakes, and you know what?

There is no easy answer. I’m not my mother. During all this time, I could only think of one thing that we did wrong, and it wasn’t necessarily wrong.

My father and mother decided to protect us, and our entire family, by not telling us about her bipolar disorder until it was too late. We didn’t have the time to understand it – to accept it.

I’m going to talk to them. I’m going to ask them for help and get the help that I need. Sure, it’s scary to talk about it, but my greatest fear is hurting them. I know how much it hurts to lose a loved one to suicide – so do they – and I’ll be damned before I let them go through that again.

Or maybe I’ll just talk to them about it tomorrow…

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