(*There was no way I could come up with a better title than this, which Bill Watterson used for one of his Calvin and Hobbes collections. Thank you.)
Irrational. A normally-nourished child of five or so will not slip between the planks of the Balboa pier, plunging to the churning sea beneath. An image lingers of stumbling, of the wayward foot once caught on the splintery board, managing - unaware - to pry itself an opening sufficient to permit the nightmare drop. It is nearly dusk; lights along the pier can't illuminate the ocean below. Vigilance, caution, and slow, slow progress, board by board, may carry me the distance. Someone - grandmother, grandfather - takes my hand without scolding or impatience. I am more sure of foot with their help. To this day I watch every step on a weathered, wooden pier. The water remembers me.
Childhood fears - loathings is a whole separate category - may come from something (the lizard in the shoebox left on top of the trash can at the curb) or nothing identifiable, i.e. malevolent piers. I know I wasn't in an altered state when I rode the Skyway AND the Cyclone coaster during the last questionable glory of Pacific Ocean Park. Both the Skyway gondolas and the roller coaster followed the pier out over the water and neither gave any indication of having been scrupulously maintained. The Diving Bell - read elevator dunked into a tank of sealife, harmless and not - leaked; we stood ankle-deep in water and I imagined all the seams and windows giving way. At Marineland of the Pacific, viewing the creatures from a lower ramp gave me a foreboding of glass cracking and tourists swept away along with the attractions. THAT particular dread manifested, years later and not in my presence, when one of the performing whales gave the window a great whack as he prepared for his leap.
I'll call this Part One - that seems to be turning into a pattern - to be continued.