They say most phobias and irrational fears are formed as a result of a traumatic childhood event. Someday I’ll be in therapy, telling this story.
When I was around four years old my whole extended family went on vacation together in Sanibel, Florida. We spent days running around on the beach finding seashells and sand dollars and chasing seagulls. It was magical, as only a week by the ocean can be (when you’re a kid and don’t realize that everything in the ocean can kill you.)
Then one day in the middle of the week my parents bought kites for us kids. By which I mean just for me and my big brother. My little brother was two, and was mostly just excited that my parents weren’t making him wear pants.
I was thrilled. We’d flown kites before at home, but I’d never had one of my own – especially not one with a high-tech hot pink string spool. I knew that I would be a pro at kite-flying. Way better than my brother.
It was a perfect day for kite flying, and mine leapt out of my dad’s hands to meet the sun in a beautiful sky dance. I kept paying out the line, willing it to climb higher.
But then, all of my four-year-old dreams came crashing to the ground. Or rather, blew away.
Because it turns out the end of my kite string had never been secured to my state-of-the-art hot pink spool. And so while I gave my beautiful kite more and more line, eventually it got to the end and then – slipped through my fingers.
And that wasn’t even the worst part. It was a windy day and we’d been flying them over the ocean and so I was doomed to watch my precious kite drift further and further away. Minutes ticked by and I could still see it – the symbol of my failure growing gradually smaller in the distance.
My brother offered to let me fly his. My parents even bought me a new kite. But it was too late. I knew that anything airborne that I touched would inevitably abandon me and float across the sea to some other, more deserving little girl.
For years afterwards I collapsed into a pile of tears if anyone tried to get me anywhere near a kite. This also extended to helium balloons – a distant cousin of the kite. They were traitors too, as far as I was concerned.
It would be the perfect dramatic ending to say that I never, ever flew a kite again. But that’s not true. Over time my subconscious repressed enough of the terror so that I was able to tentatively take up kite-flying again.
I’ve never forgotten the day my kite flew away.
And I’ve never let my parents forget it either.