Retired Clinical/Legal Nurse and lifelong creative writer who is a forever believer in the power of words... and the sharing of the same.
A Ferocious Fear of Bats
My lifelong fear of that which slithered, crawled, jumped, flew, ran towards, or fell upon me was seemingly never ending. We’re talking decades. I don’t know exactly when those fears matured into full-blown reasons for panic attacks, perfuse sweating and mile high goose bumps, just that there was never really a break in the number of times they occurred. It was my destiny that I’d unexpectedly met up with the live versions of my fear of creatures more times than my nerves could handle on a good day. I know for a fact I had never given off any false sense of wanting to mingle with a single one of them, so where the crossed signals occurred remains a mystery to this day. I tried everything, masking my personal smell to disguise the fact that I was a scared female human. I tried dousing myself with perfume to smell more like flowers, essential oils to smell more like a lavender field or lemongrass, lemon or orange oil to smell more like fruit, or herbal oils to smell more like a spice. I did everything in my power not to smell like a blue light special for a blood buffet or a sack of sorry fears. My latest attempt at trying to inconspicuously roam about the outside, uninterrupted, now includes the use of BENGAY or other muscle rub liniment, tincture, ointment, or creams, which seem to be working in masking my natural and unique pheromones, which I suspect may also play a part in the attraction by creatures of the wild. I implemented this trial after supplemental and dietary garlic failed to mask anything that came from my body’s pores. I was told garlic kills everything. Not true. It does seem, however, there is little interest among creatures (or humans for that matter) with anything smelling like an achy senior citizen. No real meal in that I suppose if that barrier must be penetrated to get to the good stuff. So I maintain that it is the unique odor we each give off as humans to creatures or our unique blood type when it comes to mosquitoes or gnats. I have had my share of stings, but that mostly resulted in my being in the wrong place at the wrong time and because there was no apparent rhyme or reason when it came to bees or wasps or an array of aggressive ground or tree ants. I was just an easy target. I am not sure what applies to the insects or creatures that have no intention of biting you, but resorts instead to terrorizing you, like a game of chicken. Creatures have always just always seemingly made their appearance known and I have always hated that, like the curse from an unknown origin or a bad prank by somebody who probably really wanted to give me an actual heart attack because they could. The problem was that there was never anyone else around when my fear of creatures surfaced and the threat of an encounter became real.
My first face-to-face encounter with a bat occurred in the hallway of an apartment complex where I rented a two bedroom apartment on the third floor. I didn’t want a ground floor (or second floor) apartment because I was newly divorced and my two daughters were very young. I took the third floor apartment out of abundance of caution and for increased safety measures. I was always leery of any windows or balconies accessible from the ground floor. I needed the feeling of complete safety before I could ever entertain the thought of security or sleep. The way I looked at it, is if anyone wanted to enter my apartment, they’d need to navigate three floors of stairwells, pass by peepholes in the doors of the other tenants, and understand that roof access was impossible. Back then, peepholes were like the doorbell alarms with cameras of today, only the human eyeball was the camera lens and the security was a landline to call 911. You had to be home for that monitoring system to work.
It was the first apartment I had rented as a single mother and I only survived a one year lease due to the vast number of units on the property and along its neighboring borders. It was way more people than I was comfortable living among. I felt like I had to have 24/7 eyes in the back of my head, which meant three sets of eyeballs for all three heads. My children were dependent upon me for their fearlessness. My fear of creatures, initially, had not entered the relocation equation, but my fears of unforeseen dangers to a young single mother and her young daughters did. The complex in the 1970’s was called Warminster West and it backed up to a development called Lacy Park, which during the 1960s-1980’s earned a reputation of being one of the “worst suburban slums” in Pennsylvania, this according to published data I wouldn’t read until four decades later. I was not aware of the dubious history of the neighboring complex until after I signed the lease and moved into my apartment. After a child support check was stolen out of a locked metal mailbox assigned to my apartment and among the others mailboxes of those who resided in the same building, everything changed. I reported the check missing, and when it was located, it was found to have been cashed at the little grocery story within the LacyPark development, a place I had never been. The check had been stolen, my signature forged, and I had to begin the legal process for that, beginning with a forgery affidavit so that a signature analysis could determine I had not initiated my own double dipping scam. It was days later I received a chilling call at home. It was a man from the grocery store, mad because the store owner lost money twice. They paid the criminal who forged my name and cashed the check intended to help pay for necessities for my children, and now they had to pay the money I never received. It was determined that the grocery store cashed the check without asking for proper identification for validation. The phone call to me was a phone threat to drop the allegations, of which I could not, and it scared me. It was a place my children already weren’t allowed to roam freely and were schooled and babysat off site during the hours I worked as a busy hairdresser, but became a place of uneasiness when we were home together. I couldn’t take any chances with the safety of my daughters and was eager for the year to pass and for the lease to expire. I was raised in my own early years living on military bases in both Hawaii and in California, so I lived among a very diverse population and never experienced such uncertainty. I had also never been threatened by a stranger and my fear quickly became about the elevated crime rate and bad name both communities had received before my arrival and prior to my knowledge. Still, it was what I could afford until I could move my girls elsewhere, a stepping stone of sorts. I was more vigilant because it was the first time I was living without the protection of having a man at home to protect us. I would have to learn to live without that sense of security. I was on my own with children for the first time and I was the sole provider and protector now. As it turns out, something even creepier awaited my return home one night, which for me, earned that place an even darker reputation.
I had mastered the time it took for me to ascend or descent the three flights of stairs, for fear of being followed by the person who had threatened me, despite the number of groceries I carried, the kids in tow, or whatever else had to be transported from my car in the parking lot to the door of my apartment. Finding a spot to park near the apartment entrance wasn’t always a viable option which escalated my fears after dark. One night, upon returning home from an outing, and super tired as a result, I half-heartedly thought I saw something dark in the corner of the walls next to the neighbor’s apartment, up high where the wall met the ceiling. It was right across the hall from my door. My daughters were with their father and I had only myself to be concerned about, so when the blurry mass didn’t move, I thought it was something that just needed to be cleaned or taken down, so I blew the thought off and entered the only door in and out of my apartment. The hallways were always kept pretty clean and clear, per the management, so what could there be for me to worry about? I was just unwilling to let my imagination run wild because it was usually only an issue with my eyesight. When I was younger, I formed the habit of only wearing my glasses to drive, a license requirement for my nearsightedness, probably due to the bullying kids who wore eyeglasses endured back in the day. Looking back, the “four eyes” comments pale in comparison to that which the youth endure today. It was during the early years of vanity and I was pretty blind to that which surrounded me as a result. My vision, close-up, wasn’t an issue, but the ceilings in the complex hallways were beyond that range. I locked the door immediately behind me, as I always did. Then I looked through the peephole. I still couldn’t make out the dark mass high into the opposite corner and went to bed without thinking about it again. Peepholes were only designed to identify that which stood in front of it.
The next morning, forgetting all about the mystery dark spot in the hallway outside my door, I rushed out on my way to work only to disrupt and startle the creature that had been attached to that same spot since the night before. It was a black bat that was trapped within the closed hallway that housed the other three apartment doors and two exit doors leading to the stairway, the one I needed to gain access to (to) get the hell out. I completely freaked out, and the bat went crazy, flying around in a frenzied pattern that covered all of the space between us. I can only imagine that we both felt trapped. I had heard that bats only flew at night and sometimes would dive bomb humans messing with their hair, but this was unchartered territory for me and the bat was out of control. The thought the bat could be rabid entered my mind. I felt the bat perceived me as the predator, the threat, and as a hairdresser, I was horrified for anything to land on my heard, where I was sure the attack would begin since I was pretty tall. I ran back into the apartment. I called the management office to report what I had encountered and was treated like the hysterical female I was before, during, and after that call. I was told someone would be out to investigate but wasn’t waiting around to witness that fiasco. I grabbed a hat to cover my head and bolted out the door and down three flights of stairs in record time, a record I was never able to beat without stumbling, in any of the years that followed. I do not remember my feet ever touching any of the three flights of stairs either. Knowing what is suspected today about the possible transmission of COVID-19 originating in bats (Asia) with transmission to humans, I know I’d have never left that apartment before the bat was removed from that hallway, job or no job, paycheck or no paycheck. I never entered or exited any of the apartment building hallways the same after that initial confrontation with a bat. Some things you just can’t un see or forget.
Two decades had passed and I thought my fear of bats had been put to rest, until I lived in a rural farmhouse that was over a century old, where I was reunited with one of my worst fear of flying creatures… specifically bats. I shared the unique property with my last husband, who had issues which seemed reason enough for him to be nonchalant about things I tried giving him advance warnings about. Like my fear of bats. Like the dangerous hanging tarp in the barn that held decades of bat guano just above my freshly restored antique Triumph Spitfire convertible parked below the ever growing bulge. The renovation of the car was a project we did together in an attempt to find a hobby besides his drinking and being an irresponsible fool. To show him just how serious I was about doing things together, for me to do things he enjoyed (and working on cars was one of them), I bought the renovation project and stripped it bare mostly by myself. He helped me with the body work and contracted a friend I paid to repaint the car when it was ready. There are some things I will never need, or wish to learn. Turns out we also had to hire a professional to do the electrical wiring, causing the renovation project to backfire. What doesn’t bring you together may very well tear you apart. My husband began to resent the time it took to finish the classic car because it was technically my car and not his. But by that time he’d acquired two DUI’s and a two-seater convertible was not a vehicle I wanted to see him in after losing a boyfriend nearly twenty years earlier in a head on car collision while he was driving a Porsche. He was T-boned and died immediately at the scene of a broken neck. The roads were wet and an oncoming vehicle navigating the same hairpin turn failed as my boyfriend had. So I guess it was more than just a concern. Those are the holes in the heart that never close, and is the loss of love that never fades.
The Spitfire was in worse shape than I’d imagined because I bought it without asking anyone that knew better to take a look at it, like my husband, so that was probably the first domino to fall. Still, it was a beauty when it was finally done and was eventually stored in a large barn to the side of the house to protect its classic origin and the money I had invested into it. When it came time to enter the barn to check on it, or to start it up and take it for a spin, I feared that ceiling tarp would cave in from the weight of the bat shit and fall upon me, the convertible, or both. The hanging visibly large bulge was always the first thing I inspected when entering that barn and was sure would be the death of me. Nobody knew just how many years that old tarp had hung there, either. Though my husband was unaware of my encounter with a bat years prior (I thought that encounter was a one and done) it was just one of many things he was disinterested in hearing about because when it came to the wild, he really didn’t exhibit any fears, one of the things that initially made me feel safe around him but ultimately made me feel unsafe around him when my fears were dismissed. That false sense of security resulted in the fact that that it was the last house I would ever share with him before the divorce that followed the seemingly innumerable insensitivities. If I feel more at risk when in the company of another than I did when alone, that usually became rather significant when bigger decisions were necessary. Like the instinct that creatures must depend on. Maybe I had more in common with the creatures I feared than I imagined. Perhaps the creatures in my life were merely mentors for the life experiences that I would encounter, versus the fear that resulted from the creature encounters themselves. Maybe it wasn’t about my fears but rather the lessons I would learn as a result of them.
I was a nursing student at the time, and knew that there could be respiratory consequences should I inhale the toxins the bat guano contained in the air inside the old musty, dark barn. I did my medical research just so I was able to explain my founded fears to my husband, though listening was not his best character trait but ignoring my concerns were. Sometimes I thought he was more bat-shit crazy than the night-flying insect seeking predators that flew uninhibited while I was sleeping. Terrified more about Histoplasmosis, the respiratory infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus found in bat (and sea bird) droppings (when those spores become airborne) than I feared the actual bats themselves, as an encounter with them seemed far less dangerous than a lung infection from them. I asked my husband to report the health hazard to the property owners so that it could be addressed. The landlords were initially friends of his, and became acquaintances of mine through our marriage and subsequent rental agreement. Due to the danger of disrupting decades of bat droppings caught below the rafters by an old tarp catch of sorts, I’d hoped for a resolution but read too much about the health hazards regarding the removal of bat shit to have faith that the removal of it would be possible. The data was correct, and nobody wanted to tackle it. Due to the necessary precautions and protection equipment expense needed to do so, it would not be a task that would be attempted by anyone for any fee and the matter was quickly dismissed by the property owners (and my husband). I had to live with the fear of spore-riddled air particles in that barn for months on end, and learned to hold my breath and cover my nose and mouth each time I had to enter that barn for fear of lung infiltration. It was like auditioning as an extra for the sequel to the Chain Saw Massacre, the heightened sense of fear always arriving on cue. It was time to sell the classic car. It was the initial plan anyway, to flip the classic for a profit I could use to help me pay off my four year college tuition, and now there was no other storage option I could afford offsite mid-semester. I waved goodbye to the vehicle I hardly enjoyed or drove.
My fear was still palpable. I knew that the bats flew at night, rid the night air of those pesky bloodsucking mosquitoes and gnats (which I remain highly allergic to), and that they flew between the trees and the barn, reportedly posing no real threat to me, my husband, or my growing step-children that lived with us on alternating weekends, the reason we moved into the big house with the big property in the first place. We both wanted the children to grow up with nature and the freedom to run around the property enjoying all of it. That joy soon overtook my nervousness, and since I didn’t spend too much time outdoors after dusk (due to my allergic reactions to insect bites and the demands of a nursing curriculum), my fear of bat diving attacks subsided, until it didn’t.
One night, while lying in bed, a room with two large walls of shuttered windows, I heard a sound that froze me into instant stillness and caused the blood running through my veins to turn just as cold. I remembered that distinctive unique screeching sound from the barn, best described by science as ultrasonic sound waves which are part of an echo sound system used to locate insect prey and communicate with other bats, sounds that are up to three times the frequency humans are used to, but that which can bounce off structures in a reverb or sound feedback kind of way increasing the likelihood of hearing those sounds, a most eerie and haunting sound if you truly hate bats. It was alarming because the sounds were coming from the other side of the window glass, and it was horrifying. I think I could have fared better with the screaming of neighbors than from bats. Neighbors can’t fly. And they’d be trespassing. Since it has always been more important than my actual fears to investigate the origin of that which should not be present in my space in the first place, I rose out of bed and walked to the window where the sounds originated. The old hardwood floors creaked loudly enough to announce my arrival to the window, and though the sleeping husband didn’t budge, the sounds stopped. I knew the creature making the sound knew I was standing there which added another element of spookiness. That night I was glad I didn’t wake my husband up, insisting he investigate every sound, because they stopped each time I arrived at any of the windows. Tired of playing the cat and mouse game, I opened up the old windows, expecting something to occur, and still, I heard nothing but the normal rural night noise, until I returned to bed, when the creature noise restarted. This went on for multiple nights until one weekend when a friend and my then eight-month pregnant daughter both arrived to visit me at the farmhouse. It was gorgeous outside and we had all gathered to enjoy the beauty of the day. Since it was daytime, I’d assumed that much of what haunted me at night wasn’t present, or so I wanted to believe; neuroses is never an attractive quality.
I had begged my husband for about a week straight to please find the origin of the sounds that had keep me up at night, a state of heightened alertness with eyes bigger and more keen that an owl’s, and he began to tire of my asking. Sleep was important to me with my college, work, and parenting schedules, and the lack of caused increased crankiness. It was too hard to let my creature guard down knowing how many bats were probably living in the barn and in the tall old trees that lined the two story house complete with basement and attic. In my mind, that meant there was lots of room for critters to reside undetected if no attention was paid to their influx and residency until their numbers grew until it was too late to easily rectify (like the barn). While we were all gathered outside, enjoying the rural property and all its serenity, I pleaded with my husband one last time to finally put an end to the mystery of the scary night noise, now seemingly near every shutter of every window, and he was more than annoyed by my last and final request. Instead of getting a ladder to check the top floor windows first, where there would be a safe distance between us and whatever was housed behind the shutters, he grabbed a very long, uncut section of PVC piping he pulled out of the van he used for his plumbing business and rushed towards the closest windows to where we stood on the front lawn. Before any of us knew how exactly he’d planned to check behind the shutters, he started banging on the front of them, sending a flurry of unknowing and unprepared bats to the ground. I thought about the stupid phrase of raining cats and dogs while he continued to run from window to window, banging the plastic piping against the shutters at the front of the house and making his way around the farmhouse to do the same. As quickly as I realized there were shocked and screaming bats falling to, and then fluttering on the ground, I realized there were those that did take flight. Suddenly both the ground and the air around us were bombarded with irritated, screaming bats. I had never seen a shrieking bat with its mouth open exposing their pointed vampire-like teeth before, a sight that was absolutely frightening. Those that took flight from the vantage point of the second floor shutters instantly turned the air into a dodge ball of sorts but instead of the traditional balls coming at you, three women were dodging dozens of irate bats. Little did I know that in reality, there were two that fled the scene and I was the only idiot that stood there with my arms flailing about trying to protect myself from making contact with any of the airborne bats, and afraid to move my feet for the number of bats that I saw on the ground and my fear of stepping on them if I attempted to run. I was not alone, my husband was the only other idiot beside me. My daughter and my friend were gone.
I looked up to see that my friend (who chain smoked cigarettes for years), had bolted and was across the back field of the large property within seconds. She stood in the middle of the field just behind the cut grass line. I wasn’t sure if I was more shocked at the number of bats flushed out from behind the house shutters or that my girlfriend had just broken the record for sprinting and wasn’t even out of breath. She was in shock. Where she had stood just seconds before the bat air raid began lay her cigarette pack and lighter. It was as if she dissipated into thin air and left her goods behind. Her adrenaline (and maybe a little nicotine) kicked in and she became an instant Olympian track (short sprint) star in my mind thereafter. My daughter, who was unable to do anything comfortably, or quickly, with one month to go before her due-date, had run past me and jumped into the back of my husband’s van looking like the Flash Gordon character from the 1980’s. Now you see her now you don’t! She took the path of least resistance and my husband, who had left the back doors of the van open to get the PVC piping used as the weapon of choice to surprise the bats and terrorize three women, just stood there looking extremely guilty for causing the creature chaos. He knew he’d crossed the bat line from which there would be no return. All I saw from my side vision was that his van had rocked up, down, and sideways in reaction to the unexpected weight thrust into it. My daughter and unborn grandson were okay, just shaken up a little, and her strained relationship with my husband was none the better for it either.
My daughter was 5’ 10” and was “all baby” (out front), which probably helped propel her forward with such lightening speed leaving only a trail of movement blurriness behind. We began laughing so hard that my fear of bats took a back page for that moment. I returned to the insanity of the event when my attention again turned to the floundering screeching bats that didn’t seem interested in taking flight from the ground up. Turns out bats tend to fall out of their perched positions and then take flight once they become airborne. Like Para troopers freefalling before pulling the parachute cord. Now my fear of bats were not only resurrected and fully resuscitated, I now had to question if two bat encounters would be the end of it. I could have never known it wouldn’t be.
(Story continues below)
The New Bat Cave
Barry the Bat
I moved on after my divorce from my bat-fear insensitive husband about a year later, and nearly two and a half decades after that, found myself in Lake Helen, Florida, a place where my creature stories were fully brought to life without any interest on my part for that to occur. The number of creature encounters on my newly discovered creature sanctuary would turn out to be like camping in the woods as kid who’d have preferred the motor lodge down the road instead. I needed more than canvas fabric separating me from that which lived in the wild. As a young girl, my camping family was once awoken in the middle of the night by a small bear rummaging through our supplies just outside the tent. I have to hand it to my mother. She ran outside banging pots and pans, which did scare the bear away, but in hindsight may have ended badly as my mother did so before my father executed his plan for safety, and nobody questioned the fact that the mother bear may not have been far behind. So perhaps I was conditioned by early childhood to defend myself against the creatures I feared in a reactionary way. But no matter how prepared I tried to be for unexpected encounters by any assortment of creatures vying for the same domain I occupied, I continued to walk smack dab into the encounters that gave me the title of Mrs. Doolittle. It could have been worse, I suppose. The name received could have been Mrs. Noah, and then my fears would have come in twos. I doubt I could ever handle my fears times two… double the trouble and double the consequences.
My final encounter would occur while opening up the four corners of my new outdoor gazebo, a structure that really posed challenges, from the necessary concrete base to the hired help to set it up. It was a beauty and I always instantly felt chill seeing it beyond the sliding doors to the outside, beckoning me to step outside and enjoy its comforts. It was inviting, and I worked hard for it. Every second in that protected by mosquito netting haven was one that portrayed total relaxation. No critters, no blood-sucking insects, nothing to fear. Not even the rain. Then one day, I walked up to the outside of the gazebo to tie back the curtains to each of the four corners, for maximum light and air after a windy rain event. I had to first unzip the heavy waterproof fabric sides I always closed to protect the glass wind chimes that were hung from the steel frame dome-shaped top, to prevent the anticipated breakage had I not done so. The pastel colored glass chimes were made by a local artist, and were expensive one-of-a-kind pieces of art that I did not want destroyed. I had another large one hanging under the porch in the front of the house, and the music that came from both was Zen-like, adding to the serenity of the reclusive rural setting by adding music to the wind. While opening the last curtain fold of the gazebo, I noticed there seemed to be an odd lumping that I had not noticed just the day before. My first thought was that it was another frog or toad, as they were always present on that property, but when I spread the heavy fabric wider, I came within six inches of a bat, unlike the one encountered in Pennsylvania in the hallway outside my apartment door. This bat was different. It stood its ground and didn’t move. I was initially pissed off, that now one was hiding within the folds of my Florida gazebo, my personal sanctuary when there were so many other more appropriate places for this bat to be. This can no longer be a coincidence. Two states one thousand miles apart. My fears had followed me and just as the years had minimized my thoughts about them, they struck once again and I was mad that the condition that promoted my PTSD had resurfaced.
This time I ran for my camera, as unlike the things that moved quickly and scared the hell out of me were never photographed for my fear of losing sight of my predator (especially snakes and spiders), this time I wanted proof of the never ending nightmare of epic proportions. Since this was now my third up close and personal encounter, my fear of bats had surprisingly turned a bit to curiosity. This one was so close that I was actually intrigued; I was close enough to see that this bat had fur. Nice fur. It was a beautiful shade of brown with some enhancing hues. Almost like a fur coat I owned back in the cold Northeast, during times when it was not cruelty against animals to do so. Like I do with the creatures that aren’t the death of me, I named the bat Barry. Naming my feared creatures a rhyming moniker allowed me to find the humor in the terror. Barry’s dense covering of fur, however, made the rest of him appear oddly thin and ominous, and I found nothing funny about that. Though cautious, as my fear of the bat flying at my face or hair (or both) was real, I closed in with my digital camera, and two quick snaps later, abruptly left the scene, running into the house and locking the sliding glass doors behind me. Fleeing like I had done at least once before. Since I had already unzipped the curtain and revealed Barry’s hiding spot, all I needed to do now was wait until the darkness of the coming night arrived, so the bat could find another place to hide. It was just like leaving a window open so the bird that somehow flew into your house could fly out, something I also had experience with. As to why these creatures seem to seek me out, I remain baffled. But then again, I walked away from this bat before I could see his teeth or hear him scream, which validated the fact that I was able to do this, to face my creature fears, for better or worse.
The moral of the story is that I learned I could run but never really hide from my fears, as they would continue to present themselves, and that my creature encounters had become so strange that I thought perhaps I needed the photographic proof of them, despite the fact that I myself know that my creature stories were ones I couldn’t ever fabricate; profound creature fear doesn’t work that way. You just can’t make that much scary stuff up unless you are a script writer. All the photographs and frightful experiences led to my creative writing again. The irony is that my fears resulting from my encounters, or my encounters resulting from my fears, became the gift and the stories that were just a way to share the irony and the humor of it all. In some strange way, the bats may have also spared me from a lifetime of unhappiness had I stayed in a marriage where fears and insensitivities to those fears were ignored, so thanks Barry, wherever you are.
Facing My Fear of Bats Head On
© 2020 Janet Vincenti