Liam taught me to fly. Not in the literal sense of the word, although he could have if I’d had the courage, as this was his job. Liam was a helicopter flight instructor. The people he gave lessons to were braver souls than me.
As I sat on a sun lounger in my garden I began to reflect. I’d met Liam at a phobia discussion group. I’d been scared of more or less everything; a fear of heights was at the top of the list. I was a tapestry of fear, a tapestry so intricate and complex that I’d feared there was no therapist in the land genius enough to undo my stitches of constraint and sew them in a simpler pattern. I had known that phobias were about seeing things in an illogical way. I had also known that the formula I needed to break free from my anxieties was the key to unlock logic, which would allow me to see life through new eyes. But where did I start?
I had given myself a pat on the back as I’d taken the first crucial step. Fair enough, I admit, the phobia discussion group was online. It was the best I could do as I hadn’t set foot outside my house in three years. I had found myself teetering on the edge of the phobia chatroom, watching as vibrant chat filled the screen, remaining an anonymous name in a panel at the side. I’d called myself ‘Painted Lady’, taking the name of my favourite butterfly to hide behind.
Before my world had shrunk I had delighted in watching the butterflies flutter by while relaxing in my garden. Every plant had been selected with meticulous care to ensure my garden would bloom through every season, flowers had been chosen for their scent or to attract my favourite ‘Painted Ladies’. Fragrant Sweet Peas, Narcissus and deliciously scented roses had been planted alongside Sweet William, Marigolds and Buddleia. I’d missed the sights, sounds and smells of my garden as I’d festered in my self-made prison, watching from the window as my garden had become overgrown and weeds had strangled and suffocated it.
I hadn’t liked to dwell on the reasons why my life had turned inwards; I had understood the reasons many times before. I’d simply needed to know where I was in the here and now. And where I had been was nowhere, that’s how I’d classed my situation.
I remembered how I’d sat and watched the chat grow at an alarming rate on my computer screen, too fearful to join in as my keyboard skills were limited to one finger; I was sure that I would soon drown among my swift fingered phobic friends. Well – they were not friends yet, I hadn’t been sure that they ever would be but I’d dared to be hopeful. I recalled how I’d felt a surge of adrenalin as I’d seen that I had received a private message. With shaking hands I’d clicked on the message, my chance to speak. My potential friend had called himself ‘Fearless Flier’. I knew he was a ‘he’ as the message had read:
‘Hi, how are you? My name is Liam, I was wondering if you would like to chat?’
I’d typed, deleted and retyped a reply countless times before hitting return as my cheeks had burned with embarrassment. I’d allowed myself to feel ridiculous, after all, this was a stranger who couldn’t see me and I was a wreck!
‘Hi, my name is Sopha, no I would like to chat,’ I’d replied.
‘LOL, do you mean Sophie? And was that a yes for the chat?’
My cheeks had flamed and sweat had made my hands slippery as I’d seen my mistake.
‘Sorry, yes it’s Sophie and yes, I would like to chat,’ I’d managed to reply. Presuming that would be the end of the conversation I’d made myself a cup of coffee, my self-esteem in shreds.
I think it was an hour later when I’d returned to my computer, sure of defeat in my attempt to chat to Liam. I’d typed an apology anyway, not expecting a reply.
‘Sorry I disappeared.’
‘Don’t worry, take your time. I know it is difficult. I am here when you feel up to speaking,’ Liam had replied in an instant. I’d felt myself smile, something I hadn’t done in a long time.
Over the next few weeks I had become comfortable with Liam. I’d laughed as I learnt he had a phobia of feathers. Absurd, I’d thought, a fearless pilot terrified of feathers. He’d explained that when he was a small child he had woken from a nightmare one winter night to find himself choking on duck feathers that had burst from his pillow, ever since then birds and their feathers had made him break out in a cold sweat. I told him my long list of fears and had expected him to make his excuses and bid me a fond farewell. Not Liam, no, he’d had faith in me, right from the start.