Some fears you are born with. Others take time to develop. Like my brother’s fear of heights, discovered inconveniently at the age of 20, right before we boarded a mountain cable car near Banff. Or my fear of flying, which has developed over the last ten years into a real impediment to the jet-setting lifestyle that I’d envisioned for myself as a child.
My fear of birds started slowly. When other kids would chase after birds at parks with day-old bread, I’d feel compelled to run in the opposite direction. Birds have beady, unblinking eyes, greasy feathers, and webby/bony feet that end in claws both sharp and unsanitary. They move unpredictably, with little forewarning. You’ll think a bird is walking safely away from you when it will suddenly veer off course and charge at you with aggressive neck bobs. I didn’t verify the info on Wikipedia or anything but I think birds are responsible for SARS, avian flu, and chicken pox. Anyway, I don’t like birds. Except for owls, which have a nice look about them. I thought I learned at some point that owls are not actually birds, and perhaps, that they give live birth (??), but when I asked Tom about that he started getting one of those pained and depressed looks he gets when I ask a question not to his liking. Like, are marsupials mammals; does Wisconsin border Kentucky—the kind of question that usually garners this response: “Yoona. You went to COLLEGE.”
Anyway, I go out of my way to avoid birds. So imagine my horror when I recently stayed in a hotel that not only features live birds as part of the décor, but encourages said birds to mingle in spaces that IMHO should be reserved exclusively for humans. The first day, I got lost on my way to the pool and wandered into a bird habitat filled with lazy and unclean swans. The birdshit-strewn path in the habitat wends its way around and ends in a footbridge that crosses a koi pond. Koi rank somewhere between grubs and birds in my regard. They are overgrown, disgusting, and likely riddled with worms, and I know that if I ever have the misfortune to accidentally fall into a koi pond, I will expire immediately from sheer terror.
Between the swans and the koi and the mandals on all the tourists stopped on the path, I found myself in the middle of my own personal nightmare. The only way it could have been scarier is if Gwyneth Paltrow was there. As I sprinted down the path, I got so panicked that I tripped on the footbridge and fell headfirst into the poolside lounge on the other side. Some well-oiled teens in bikinis pointed and snickered. But I didn’t even care about my ignominious spill. Because I was free. Safely delivered from the birds.