Curiosity, Catalyst of Panic

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a memoir essay I had to write for class.

Submitted: June 06, 2019

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Submitted: June 06, 2019

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Panic is a sudden, intense fear of an imagined outcome. Usually this outcome, as well as an overwhelming sense of urgency, are greatly exaggerated in the mind. Panic can be a tool used to overcome this outcome, or it can cripple and stop you in your tracks. It can save your life or just save you from embarrassment. It can be the cause of a worse outcome than you imagined or the cause of nothing at all.

At the age of twelve, before the internet began to consume my free time, I spent my boredom outside, looking at rocks or sticks or strange tools and objects my dad may have had laying around. Like a lot of young boys, I was curious and wanted to know the properties of things. Our back porch wasn't much more than two concrete slabs, flush with the ground, one smooth, one rough and gravely.

It was Summer and I was home alone. I checked the TV but nothing interesting was on so boredom nudged me toward the back door, shoved me outside. “There's nothing else in here.” it said, ignoring books, games, and everything else. Outside, we had one of those basketball hoops with the water reservoir at the bottom to keep it weighed down (though no one ever used water, just piled cinder blocks on top). I threw a basketball at the hoop, toward the hoop, in the general direction of the hoop. Not being much of a sportsperson, I missed every shot and lost interest quickly.

My next course of action was rummaging, which yielded a long-reach lighter. I clicked the trigger a few times to make sure it worked and then piled a few dry leaves on the concrete. What are the properties of burning leaves? I examined them but didn't come up with anything satisfying – wilting, blackening, crumbling, boring. I looked around for other things and noticed, off to the side of the slabs, on top of a small desk, a bale of hay or straw just as small. I couldn't imagine why we had it. I associated it only with farm animals and we never had any of those.

I lifted the lighter to a single straw which stuck out from the main bunch and pulled the trigger. Click, click, click, and then it lit and took off like a fuse. Until about a microsecond after it lit, I had not understood how fast dry hay burns. Almost instantly I felt the panic set in. When the fuse was half burned, I had already imagined what might happen if I didn't put it out very soon. The bale would go up and there would be this huge, roiling ball of fire and thick, black smoke. And the neighbors would probably call the cops and the fire department would show up. And I would have to explain to my parents why I set a hay bale on fire in their back yard. People would know that I had been stupid.

In my panic and sudden time constraint, I picked up the nearest thing to me, the basketball, and I threw it at the hay bale. It looked like a direct hit. But the fire had grown and the small bit of flame that wasn't hit continued to grow. I picked up the basketball and threw it again, but still the fire held on and grew. I picked up the ball a third time and started bashing at the bale madly until the fire was finally gone. I scurried inside, embarrassed with myself. I didn't even think to cover up my crime, but no one seemed to notice the patch of burned hay. Or, if they did, they never mentioned it.

This particular panic was benign. It didn't necessarily save me. I would have had just as good an outcome if I had been calm throughout the ordeal, and I can't imagine how it could have made things worse, unless you replace the basketball with a gasoline can. I can think of all the reasons why my panic-induced visions of hellfire were a little over the top. The fire had no way of spreading anywhere else so, in the worst case, I would only have embarrassed myself and revealed my stupidity. But I guess panic and hindsight go hand-in-hand.


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