I’ll be lying in bed, deep in the middle of the night, and will shift, turn my head on the pillow or roll my body to a new position, and the whole world suddenly tilts on its axis and wobbles there, uncertain of north. Heat washes over me, followed by nausea, and then I’m wide awake, trying to hold my head in a neutral position to make the tilting stop. The feeling is unbearable, so for two nights now I’ve ended up getting out of bed and sitting up on the couch, holding my head so carefully upright, tentatively on solid ground. Tomorrow I’m calling the doctor to get my ears looked at.
I have a fear of heights. I don’t recall any sensation of the world spinning as I looked down from a height, only sweating palms, racing heart, tunnel vision. When I was a child, I visited some family who lived near Niagra Falls in upstate New York, and we went to witness that great spectacle one unlikely icy day. All I can recall of the place is the elevator bank on the blustery observation platform, which I could not bear to step away from, and the high surrounding fence laughing back at me.
We used to go repelling off rock faces up in the wilds of northern Michigan. We’d scramble up the less vertical parts off ’round the side, and I vividly recall that feeling of freezing to the face, incapable of motion either forward or back, up or down, just hanging suspended there in the most hated position, my fingernails dug into some wet clump of moss, patches of lichen shearing away under my Keds.
Well into adulthood to this day I dislike malls with tall escalators stretching into wide open space, follies of some interior designer. I’ll locate an elevator, if I can, despite the swoop that lodges in my stomach—but if compelled to, I will ride those infernal ascents, heart pumping at the yawn of gravity at my back, fingers gripping the rail too hard, eyes fixed on the steps or someone’s back, anything solid, before me.