Do you remember when you stopped being afraid of the dark? When you no longer needed to check underneath your bed for a dead, creeping thing rotting alongside the dust bunnies and missing Monopoly game pieces?
Do you recall that darkness, the pungent energy punctuating the unknown? That feeling of foreboding in the thundering silence out of which you’re certain you can hear the crackle of leaves or the bemoaning floorboards under the weight of something supernatural. Ghosts. Ghouls. The undead hands that reach for us at midnight – the witching hour…They whisper in the dark, to the rapt audience of a child’s ears.
I used to pull the covers up over my ears, so I wouldn’t have to hear them coming for me through the shadows, chanting silently so they wouldn’t find me, “It’s only make believe. It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real…”
At some point along the path to adulthood, most of us leave that behind. The putrefying corpse dragging its loosening limbs toward us in the velvet blackness of our bedrooms truly does cease to be real because, much like the story lines in the movies, we stop believing, and in retracting our belief in our monsters, we also take their life, their energy, their power to frighten us.
But, what happens if we can’t altogether put the monsters of our youth to rest? What of the ones who carry those monsters with them to adulthood?
Watch a film that scared you into your parents’ bed when you were a child. Does it seem silly now? Cheesy? Hokey? In the light of the civilized afternoon I can claim the same.
…But the truth is, after dark, or when the sun hides behind storm clouds, when it’s just me and the silence, the monsters inch their sunken heads around the corners, out of the shadows, running eyes panning the dark for me.
I’ve tried to leave them in the past, take away their power and let them fade into their places in my memory, and most of the time I feel like I’ve succeeded. That is, until I sit down in the darkened theater to watch one of my old Hollywood tormentors, or the television in my living room turns on by itself at 3:14 am. Just a power surge, right…? Perhaps a neighbor is on the same frequency. Or the batteries in the remote are dying. That must be it…
It’s then that the shadows begin to breathe. I can hear the wet heft of the decaying things sliding across my floor in the night. Coming back out of my childhood, revitalized because I’ve given them back their energy, because I’ve allowed them to be real.
Because I never stopped believing in them. Not really. All this time, I’ve kept them locked in a box. Tended them. Fed them. And some nights, like last night, after watching The Shining, they wake up, and come crawling out of their box…
I can only fathom two explanations for why I’m ever a child at this adult party:
1.) I began watching horror movies when I was very small, maybe a year or two old. I haven’t decided if I will allow my children to do the same. Sometimes I’m grateful for my sturdy anchor to the magic of being a child. In some ways, losing that ability to believe seems like a death. I’m the only adult I know who can still find her way back to that place… that place where the things in my imagination run free and alive – or dead, as it were. We abandon our belief in so many things as we grow up. Maybe this is a gift I have. Maybe my children should have it, too.
Or maybe no well adjusted 31 year old woman should insist on clear shower curtains so that long-dead corpses can’t hide in her bathtub…
2.) In my house, ghosts were real. Movies like Poltergeist and Witch Board were not entertainment, they were cautionary tales. This is another story for another post, but suffice it to say, some of us grew up with the bible, some of us grew up with spirits. We were not to play with or bring into our home any object that might invite poltergeists in, especially Ouija Boards. If you went to church every Sunday as a child, even if you chose not to carry on that tradition as an adult, do you not still believe, even a little, in The Bible, in God, in Jesus, in something? Faith persists. If it’s of our foundation, we carry it with us.
I think October is a good month to explore this further. Stay tuned… And Happy Halloween.