Atychiphobia


Atychiphobia

(Fear of Failure)

“So, let’s see your report card, and don’t lie! I know you got it today.”

“Yes, dad. But…”

“I don’t want to hear ANY buts. Hand it over.”

Jonathon Fry dropped his backpack to the floor, unzipped the top, and dug around inside until he felt the rectangular cardboard which held his fate. He had looked at the report card at school and his heart fell to his stomach when he saw his grades. He knew that his father, a business contracts lawyer who expected perfection from his only son, would be very disappointed in him. He knew that his grades would earn him a lecture about the need to “buckle down” and “fly right”, and he also knew that any extra punishments would be dependent on his father’s mood.

“One A is not going to get you off easy, young man. A B in English, Math, and Social Studies is totally incomprehensible. A C+ in Physical Education!?! How is that possible? I know that you like sports, but a C+? What, are you turning into a fag now? How can you not get an A in Physical Education? Well?”

“Uh, well, I guess coach is just working us harder and I was sick for those two days last month.”

“Well, you better make sure it doesn’t happen again! Now get up to your room and get your homework done! And you can forget about watching TV or video games for the next two weeks. I want to see every test that you take from now on. If I can pull my grades up to straight As when I was your age, then, damn it!, so can you.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jonathon waited while his father signed off on his report card, put it back in his pack, and went upstairs to his room. Once he was in room and had closed the door, Jonathon dumped the back pack on his bed and, to himself, muttered, “you better make sure it never happens again. Like I have control over my body and can tell myself not to get sick.”. He got out of his school uniform and changed into a pair of jeans and t-shirt, got out his binder and books and sat down at his desk and started to work on his class assignments.

Fifteen years later, Jonathon Fry had graduated from Harvard with a law degree, even though he was not really interested in law. His father, without taking his son’s feelings into consideration, made sure that his son applied himself and made it into Harvard. After graduation, Jonathon managed on his own, to get a prestigious job at the top law firm in New York City. He was still single and not dating anyone because, as his father constantly liked to remind him, “women should not be allowed to be a distraction until you make it to the top”. He remembered his senior year in high school how his father had made him break up with Jayne Lowes because he was spending too much time on dates and not enough time studying. When he told Jayne that they could not see each other any more, she slapped him in the face and ran off crying. He felt horrible because he really did like Jayne and, in fact, had thought about asking her to marry him once they both graduated from college. Thanks to his father, another dream was shattered. In fact, Jonathon got to the point in his life where he decided that dreams were a waste of time.

One August day as he was on his way to the office, Jonathon happened to look up from a case that he was working on when he thought that he saw a familiar face. Normally, he would just close his eyes, pinch the bridge of his nose, and go back to what he was doing, but this time was different. He saw a woman walking down the street whose eyes seemed to look straight into his soul. He had the cabbie stop and, while gathering his things, got out his wallet and paid the fare. Jonathon quickly got out of the cab and looked in the direction that the woman was walking. At first, he was unsure if he should run after her and speak to her, but his self-confidence eventually won and he quickened his pace so he wouldn’t lose her. Just as he was ten feet away from her, he saw her go down a small flight of stairs which led to a basement room which had a neon sign in the window with the words “Psychic Readings, $10”. These words stopped him in his tracks when he saw them. He was confused because he couldn’t imagine a woman who was so beautiful would resort to having her life directed by what he considered as a charlatan. He decided that any person who resorted to psychics were weak-willed and so he turned back to the street and hailed another cab.

When he arrived at the firm, he went to his office, opened his briefcase and took out the file that he had been going over in the taxi. Occasionally, he became distracted when he remembered the woman’s enchanting eyes. Eventually he was called into a meeting and the woman was forgotten.

That night Jonathon Fry had a very unusual occurrence; he had a dream. In his dream, he saw himself walking down the street following the woman who he had seen that morning. Just as in reality, he saw her descend the stairs and enter the psychic’s door, but this time, instead of walking away, he also went down the stairs. He went into the room and squinted his eyes because the only light in the room came from some candles sitting on a table. A woman dressed in outlandish clothes came through a beaded curtain and said,

“How may I help you?”

“I’m looking for the woman who just came in here.”

“There is no woman here. Would you care for a Tarot reading?”

Jonathon almost laughed out loud at this, but then he had a sudden urge to know his future. He told the woman,

“Alright.”

“That will be $10.”

Jonathon gave her the money and then sat in the chair that she pointed to. She then set a pack of cards on the table and told him to shuffle them, and when he felt that he had shuffled them enough, he was to hand the cards to her. He did so.

“The first card represents your past. It is the The Emperor, which signifies power and authority, probably your father. The second card is the present. It is The Lovers, reversed, which shows frustration in love, separation. The third card is the future. It is the Queen of Wands, reversed, which shows unstable emotions and obstacles.”

“What does that mean? Will I ever see her again?”

At that moment, the psychic’s face vanished and his father’s replaced it. He said,

“What did I always tell you? Forget about women until you make something of yourself, otherwise you will always be a failure.”

Jonathon was shocked when he saw the psychic’s face turn into his father’s and he jumped up from the table and ran out the door, still hearing his father shouting at him, “Failure! Failure!”. Jonathon woke up then and felt sweat all over his body. He got out of bed, went to the bathroom and took a shower, and while toweling himself dry, kept muttering to himself, “I’m not a failure! I’m NOT a failure!”. After getting back into his boxers, he checked the time. He had two more hours until his regular wake up time. He paced for a while before he decided to go back to bed, but he couldn’t fall back to sleep. He tossed and turned trying to get comfortable but his father’s chant of failure kept ringing in his head. The next thing he realized was that the alarm clock was ringing. He slowly got out of bed, went to his closet and got out the clothes that he would wear that day. After shaving, dressing, and grabbing a piece of wheat toast and freshly-brewed coffee, he picked up his briefcase and caught a cab to work. This morning, however, he was not distracted by the woman that he had become infatuated with yesterday.

Around 1 PM that afternoon, Jonathon’s secretary let him know that one of the law firm’s partners was sending him a new client. Jonathon tended to resent it when this happened because he felt that the time that he had spent at the firm put him above such trivialities. This was something better accomplished by an intern, but he did it anyway, hoping that eventually the partners would be grateful enough to give him more important clients.

“Mr. Fry, Janice Fallowes is here to see you. Shall I send her in?”

“Of course, Denise, send her in.”

His door opened and he almost fell back in to his chair when he saw the woman who walked in. It was her! What were the chances of him being assigned the woman he had been dreaming of? He came around from his desk and pulled out a chair for her. As she was sitting down, he smelled lilacs rising from her shampooed auburn hair. When he sat back down, he stared at her sea-green eyes, then quickly shook his head and said,

“So how may I be of service to you, Ms. Fallowes?”

“Yes, I have never resorted to using the services of a law firm before Mr….Fry was it?”

“Yes it is. Was there something specific that you needed help with?”

“Well, I’m not quite sure. You see, I just recently came into a tidy sum of money and I thought that it would be a good idea to have a prenuptial contract and a will drawn up in case either one became an issue.”

“Well, I can appreciate a woman who thinks of all possibilities. I suppose we should start with the prenup. If I may ask, are you currently engaged?”

“No, I’m not but I’m sure that when I become more socially engaged, the eligible bachelors will be coming out of the walls. I worked as a secretary for a corporation in San Francisco for fifteen years, so I do know how money affects some people.”

“Good, however, I would need a list of your assets and, since you are currently not engaged, it might be a bit premature to draw up a prenup and, for that matter, even a will. It’s not that I don’t want to help you, but I would recommend that you get copies of your financial statements and then we will be able to get things started, Ms. Fallowes”.

“Well, thank you very much for your advice Mr. Fry. I will return when I have decided on an accountant to represent me and then we shall get everything put in order.”

“Very well. I hope to see you soon then, Ms. Fallowes.”

One month after meeting Nona (he had been so infatuated with her, that it wasn’t until their next meeting, that he found out her first name), Jonathon Fry had decided that this was the woman for him. The only problem that he saw was that, to him, it would be unethical to date a client. It was very frustrating to him and he tried to think of a way, without chasing her away as a client, to overcome this obstacle. He was very certain that he would find a way around this, because the thought that he would fail to get what he wanted was anathema to him.

The next day when he came to work, his secretary told him that Nona had called and wanted to set up a meeting with him at her place. His heart started to beat faster and he told his secretary to call her immediately. When Jonathon’s secretary buzzed to let him know that Nona Fallowes was on line one, he took a deep breathe to calm himself and then picked up the receiver.

“Ms. Fallowes, how very nice of you to call. How may I help you?”

“Mr. Fry, hello. Yes, I have something personal that I wish to discuss with you in private. Would you be available to drop by my suite this afternoon, say around 2 o’clock?”

“Of course, no problem.”

“Do you know my address?”

“Yes, I have it on file. I’ll see you at 2 o’clock.”

“Thank you, Mr. Fry.”

As soon as he hung up the phone, he informed his secretary that he would be leaving at one o’clock for a client meeting. She checked his schedule and saw that the afternoon was clear and let him know that this would not be a problem. For the next six hours, Jonathon Fry felt that time was dragging and that the clock would never show one. He tried to eat up his time by going over some files, making phone calls and, at eleven, went to a meeting. By the time that the meeting was over, it was 1:30 PM. He went to his office, grabbed his jacket and caught the elevator to the lobby. Miraculously, he managed to catch a taxi and arrived at Nona’s place with five minutes to spare. All the way over to Nona’s place, he wondered what was so important that she wanted to talk to him in private. He had no idea but he only hoped that it was something that would change his life forever. He knew that that sounded ridiculous, but if not, then if Nona Fallowes confessed to him that she loved him and that they got married, he would also be able to rub it in his father’s face that he was able to have a great job and a beautiful rich wife. That was the one thing that Jonathon always felt held him back from becoming a major success, his father’s constant harping on him that he was a failure. He even told him that if he really wanted to impress him, then Jonathon should start his own law firm instead of being “just another employee”.

Jonathon rang the apartment building bell and entered when he was buzzed through. He took the elevator to the sixth floor and found Nona’s number. A maid opened the door and led him to the living room.

“Madam, will be with you in a minute, Mr. Fry. While you are waiting, would you care for a drink?”

“No, no thank you, uh…”.

“My name is Mindy, sir”.

“Thank you, Mindy”. Mindy then walked out of the room and precisely one minute later, Nona entered. She looked beautiful in the simple white summer dress that she was wearing. Jonathon could hardly keep his eyes off of her and shook his head slightly when he realized that she had said something to him.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Nona gave him a slight understanding smile and said,

“Please have a seat, Mr. Fry. Now I’m sure that you may be curious as to why I called you here for a private discussion.”

“Yes, I admit that I am. Is it something I or the firm has done that has displeased you?”

“Oh no, it’s not quite that. It is, however, of a personal nature and I would feel more comfortable speaking about it here. As I mentioned to you on the day that we first met, I was a secretary for a company. As such, I was privy to some, how shall I put it? Delicate information”.

“May I ask, was this of a financial or private information?”

“Actually, it was a bit of both.”

“I see. Are you in any danger due to knowing this information? If so, I have a very good friend who would be willing to take on your case if I asked him”.

“That’s very kind of you, but I don’t think that that would be wise. My former employer has some…powerful friends, who are not above using a bit of intimidation. For this reason, I have decided that I must move to a different location, somewhere that they wouldn’t be able to find me”.

“I would think that with your financial assets, that might be a bit difficult. A wealthy woman like you would have to make a lot of changes in order not to be recognized.”

“Yes, I know. That is why I have called you here. I would like for you to redo my will”.

“I’m afraid that I don’t understand. What would that accomplish.”

“Mr. Fry, I plan to change my name, hair color, maybe even have some plastic surgery to ensure my own safety. I want you to change my will, so that I, or I should say, the new me, is the main beneficiary. I have made arrangements to have it look like I have been murdered. Once these people are convinced of my death, I shall come to your office in order to collect my “inheritance”. I shall then leave New York and never return. Here is an envelope that I want you to keep safe for me and I request that you don’t read it until after my “funeral”. Is that understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you very much for your help with this, Mr. Fry. I will contact you after my death”.

Jonathon put the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket and left. He was in shock after hearing what Nona Fallowes had told him. He sympathized with her, but at the same time, was disappointed that his dream of a perfect marriage with her was now only an illusion. He had to think of another way to keep Nona safe and not to have her disappear from his life. In fact, he decided, then and there, that that would become his mission and he was determined not to fail. That night, he had trouble sleeping and, since it was the beginning of the weekend, he got out of bed, made a pot of coffee and got out a pad and pen and tried to come up with an alternate plan for Nona. He did not want to lose her and, if he couldn’t think up something, he would feel like the failure that his father always said that he was. He refused to give into his fear.

By Saturday afternoon, Jonathon Fry felt that he had found his alternative plan. He called Nona’s apartment, but didn’t receive a reply. He started to panic and decided that he would go over to her place unannounced. When he got to her building, the sun was starting to go down. He pushed the button to her apartment several times until he was buzzed in. When he got to the door, the maid, Mindy, was standing at the open door, waiting for him.

“Where is she, Mindy? Is she home? Please tell me!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Fry, but Ms. Fallowes has left the city and she did not tell me where she was going.”

“But she will be back, won’t she?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. She only told me to find a place to stay out of the city and that she would contact me later in the week.”

“Please, please, tell her that I have come up with a plan that isn’t so drastic as the one that she wants to use. Please, Mindy, when you talk to her, tell her to contact me.”

“I will, sir”.

Jonathon Fry then did something that he hadn’t done since he was seventeen years old; he went to a bar and got drunk. He sat at the bar and ordered Scotch. He did not fall down crying since his father always said that that was a sign of weakness and that only total failures let their emotions rule their good sense. The bartender sensed that it would be a waste of time to try to cheer this customer up, so he wiped down dirty glasses and poured other peoples drinks. Jonathon only stayed long enough to have three shots then he left a ten dollar tip, in appreciation of the bartender’s silence, and decided to walk home a bit to clear his head. As he raised his head to breathe in some of the cool air to clear his head, he saw a pale blinking of white and red coming from an out door stairwell. He walked over to the blinking lights and suddenly realized where he was. He was at the place that he had first seen Nona. The Open sign was still facing out to the street, so he cautiously walked down the stairs. He entered the dimly lit room and, seeing no one, called out “Hello!”. In a few seconds, a woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties, walked through the beaded curtain. Despite his prejudices, she did not walk into the room dressed as a gypsy. She was wearing a light blue muumuu with a blue shawl on her shoulders.

“May I help you, sir?”

“Yesh, uh, yes. I saw a woman, late twenties, brown hair, about 5’10” come to see you about two weeks ago. I’m trying to find her now.”

“If she is missing, wouldn’t it be wiser to go to the police?”

“Maybe, but she told me that she is in trouble and that powerful people may be looking for her. I want to know why she came to you. What did she tell you.”

“I’m sorry,…uhm”

“Jonathon Fry, I’m her attorney.”

“Well, Mr. Fry, I am, in this case, also like an attorney or a doctor. I cannot give out personal information without my client’s permission”.

“That’s bullshit! You’re just saying that so that I’ll pay you for the information. Now, give!”

“I’m afraid that you appear to be drunk, Mr. Fry, and unless you are here for a reading, then I must ask you, politely, to leave.”

“You don’t understand! I have to find her. I love her and I want to help her”.

The woman stood by the table for a moment, trying to decide how to placate this man without having to call the police. Finally, she sighed and said,

“What is the woman’s name?”

Jonathon felt a spark of hope when the woman said these words. He told her and sat down on the chair that the women pointed to. The woman pulled out a deck of Tarot cards from a drawer in the table and started to shuffle the cards.

“Yes, I do remember her and what her cards told her. They told me about her recent riches, her uncertainty about how to protect her self, and her future card was Death. Now, I need you to understand that the Death card does not always mean physical death. It can also mean transformation or unexpected change. There is also a chance of loss or failure”.

“Failure? Do you mean that her plan will fail?”

“I cannot say. It is in the hands of Fate.”

“Fate? No, I believe that we create our own fate, not some pie-in-the-sky nonsense! I believe that if I can find her, I can save her.”

“Then shall we test that theory? Hold the cards in your hands, concentrate on her, then choose three cards from the deck and lay them down in front of me.”

Jonathon did as he was told, despite his skepticism.

“Your first card is the ten of Wands which shows that in your past, you had many burdens and excessive pressures. The second card is the present. It is the King of Pentacles, which shows that you are a businessman, a man of intelligence and loyalty. The third card is your future. It is the page of cups, which indicates that you will serve a specific goal, but you prefer that the initiative and planning of that goal is to be in someone else’s hands”.

Jonathon was a bit startled when he heard this. He was stubborn enough to believe that this last bit could not be true. He knew in his heart that his plan for Nona would succeed. He told the fortune-teller just that, and demanded to know if his plan would succeed. She took the cards away, shuffled them again, and told him, this time, to concentrate on his plan. He laid out three more cards.

“This time, we will ignore the card of the Past and only read the Present and Future cards.”

She then took away the first card and looked at the second card. She slowly shook her head and looked at Jonathon.

“The Present card is the ten of Swords which indicates ruin, pain, and sadness. The Future card is the Two of Cups, reversed which indicates crossed desires, unsatisfactory love, and separation. I will also tell you that these two cards are different than the face cards. These are cards that indicate that you have no control over the situation”.

When Jonathon heard this, he got up from his seat, put a twenty dollar bill on the table and, before leaving, said to the fortune-teller, “We’ll see about that.” Jonathon went to the curb, hailed a cab, and went back to his apartment. For the rest of the weekend, Jonathon Fry sat in his lounge chair, flipped through the TV channels, and waited, hoping that Nona would call him. She didn’t call and by bedtime, he decided that he would give Nona’s plan a shot. The first thing that he would do when he got to the office, was to prepare Nona’s revised will.

For the rest of that week, Jonathon Fry went through the motions while still hoping that Nona would call him and ask for his help. After what the fortune-teller had told him, he was determined not to fail. Two weeks after his last meeting with Nona, he read in the newspapers about her death in a boating accident in Acapulco. Three days later, he received a call. It was Mindy, Nona’s maid. Jonathon asked Mindy if Nona was alright, where was she, would she talk to him? A moment later, he heard silence and then Nona’s voice!

“Nona! Please tell me that you’re alright! Where are you? Can I…”

“Jonathon, please! Listen to me, first. Did you change the will?”

“Yes, yes I did! Who is coming to pick up your inheritance? Where are you? I could bring it to you, if you’d like.”

“Jonathon, please listen! A messenger will be stopping by your office in about half an hour. Put all of the paperwork in a manila envelope and give it to him when he gets there. After he leaves, you may open the letter that I gave you when I last saw you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Nona, I do, but…” Nona hung up the phone. Jonathon was confused, but, despite this, he did as he was told. Thirty minutes later, the messenger arrived, and without saying a word, handed him the envelope. He then went back into his office, went to his secret safe, and took out the envelope that Nona had given him. He could still smell a hint of lilac on it. He sat down at his desk, took his penknife and slit it open. Inside, he found a single sheet of paper written in an elegant script.

Dear Jonathon,

I’m so sorry that I couldn’t tell you the truth. I couldn’t tell you how I really came into so much money. I got it through blackmailing my former boss. You see, he and his wife had been married for 25 years and, I guess you could say that he was feeling his oats, so that when I began working for him, it wasn’t long before we were seeing each other when he could get away from her. His wife eventually found out about us and filed for a divorce. He managed to have stored away enough of his money where she and her lawyers couldn’t get a hold of it. Two weeks after his divorce was finalized, he proposed to me. I then told him something about myself which caused him to break off the engagement and, not wanting to be out on the streets, I told him that if he did not give me $15 million, that I would go to the newspapers and ruin him. I was not proud of myself, but I did it. I grew up poor and I was determined never to be in that position again. Now, this is where you come into the whole mess. That first day that we met, I saw the love in your eyes and I was determined not to let love rule my head. I had gone to a fortune-teller before I met you to find the best way to safeguard my money. She told me that a man was waiting for me in the near future, but that it was up to me on whether to allow either my head or my heart to rule me. As I said, I chose my head and when I saw that look in your eyes, I knew that I would have to let you go. Please, don’t be angry with me. I did love you, but, here is another secret, my daughter was more important to me. Yes, Mindy is my daughter and I, I am now her mother.

Sadly yours,

Nona Fallowes (formerly Alan Guntherson)

Jonathon Fry didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “How could I have not known that she used to be a he!” He could hear his father’s laughter ringing in his head! “I failed in the most stupidest thing in life. I failed myself!”

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