The scary thing about the night––when I was a child––was that everything seemed so safe. However, I knew that just outside my doors, walls, and windows lurked evil that didn’t appreciate the calm and quiet that otherwise seemed ready-made to put me to sleep. There was a night when I was eleven years old, and it was probably a Friday, and my new friend, Josh, was sleeping over for the weekend for the first time. Back then, in the family room––as we called it––there used to be two faux-leather couches pushed up against perpendicular walls, meeting in the corner. The family room was where the TV and VCR and NES were, so it was the natural place for eleven year-olds to set up camp on a Friday night so they could resume their activities early the next morning, free from the memory of spending half of the day in school.
We camped on a couch each, our feet pointing to the corner and we lay swaddled in our sleeping bags staring, in the dark, up at the specks of glitter embedded in the popcorn ceiling. I was raised in this house, so the creaks and thumps of nightly settling were silent to me. If anything, it was a spongy quietude––no sound except for the very occasional passing car seemed to escape into the air––but we weren’t going to let that stop us.
After an evening of playing as 8-bit heroes slaying supernatural monsters and watching movies with actors doing the same, our early conversations floated around that subject. When we exhausted that topic and its surrounding scenarios, all we had left was the personal.
In the pauses, I stared at the ceiling and the thoughts––as they usually did––of the evil men possibly outside my house, walking the streets, driving in cars, shopping in stores in plain sight, entered my mind. There was a reason for this. My mother was the first female correctional counselor at the local medium-security men’s prison, and her early years there––amplified after her divorce from my father––bore much in the way of blatant threats and their associated hardships. These became serious enough that I was trained from the time I began speaking in the ways of making myself known were a man attempting to abduct me. When I had enough strength of limb, I was taught how to get free from unwanted holds or assaults. I was indoctrinated into the mindset of distrust––to stay away from adults I wasn’t related to, who taught me at school, or wore a badge. Those were the noises I heard at night––the threatening sounds of possibility. Possible footsteps outside my window. Possible cars parking across the street and watching. Possible knocks on my windows and walls. My monsters were possible.
In the company of friends––especially in the excitement of a new friend––those fears evaporated and the frightful silence became the comfortable quiet, except in those occasional pauses.
But, eventually, my nerves got the better of me. So, at one point, I asked Josh, “What scares you at night?”
“Normal stuff, I guess,” he said. He held a short breath in thought and added, with an exhale, “Ghosts, mostly.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve read about hauntings and poltergeists. There are a bunch of stories like that and it’s pretty weird, especially if they find out how some of those ghosts died.”
“Totally,” I said, though not really sure of his point.
“What are you scared of?” he asked.
I wanted to say monsters and ghosts, but they were never real to me. That doesn’t make me especially smart or special, my fears were still those of a child’s rather illogical worries. But in the face of the possible, I sorted out that the unexplainable is only possible in imagination––something that can be controlled. So, I told Josh that I was scared of someone breaking in, of taking me and my mother, of being threatened inside the doors and walls and windows of my own home with a gun. He told me that was scary, too. I hope he held my illogical nighttime fears with as much weight as I held his––in the realm of the severely unlikely.
These worries have, for the most part, faded as I’ve aged, but I feared that my mostly illogical childhood anxieties have been reinforced as of late. I’ve realized over time that, because I’m male and white, I actually don’t have much to fear, and I can’t deny that shamefully comforts me––those creaks and thumps have also gone silent because, for some reason, society prefers people that look like me. But these possible monsters that haunted my night’s mind I fear are all too real for too many people, people that don’t look like me, people that care about video games and comics just as much as I do––who have done so for their entire lives––who love the things that kept us apart from the norm for so long. We were all children who loved these things alone, slowly finding others like us and rejoicing in this secret treasure that nobody else knew about. But only if everybody else did know, how different the world would be.
Now, we live in that world where everybody does know and these things from our youth are held up as proud pieces of our culture, and it sickens me to see the treatment that some of us who remember that secret joy receive. It angers me. It frightens me.
It’s scary because these monsters look like me, and, for a majority of their day, are probably good and productive people. But to confront a new point of view with the threats of murder, threats of rape, threats of doing harm to them and their family, to post heir personal information publicly against their will and to do it anonymously––that’s monstrous, much more frightening than any creature of myth or imagination.
So, I wonder how many people––people that may look different or hold different views, values, or predilections than I––will go to bed tonight and, in the silence ready-made to put them to sleep, will instead be afraid of the possible evil outside their houses, walking the streets, driving the cars, shopping in stores in plain sight.
And I’ll try to sleep knowing that––this whole time––there have been monsters among us, and I hope that one does not lurk inside me.
Happy Halloween, everybody. Be good to each other because we're all just people in the end.
To lighten the mood, here is a drawing I did of a spooky creature I had a dream about a few years ago. Let it haunt your dreams, too.
|A spooky shadow creature from a dream. Brush pen, 2012.|