I suppose I’ve always had an acute fear of that scary unknown, those “boogeymen” that are out there. I’ve never liked being alone in a dark house. I feel more secure when my husband is home at night. I can’t read books with grisly murder scenes. You’d never catch me reading Stephen King (except his delightful memoir/writer’s guide, On Writing). And I refuse to watch slasher films—I’m still scared from the movie Jagged Edge, and it’s been over 20 years since I saw it. I can’t look out a back door into the darkness at night without expecting the fist of a maniacal killer to crash through the glass, turn the doorknob, and go on a slaughtering rampage. Even the commercials for these films on late night TV bother me and cause me to slink further beneath the covers. I’m much more of a happy endings kinda girl. I can’t quite pinpoint why I am more fearful of these things than a lot of other people. Heck, even my kids adore movies that leave your peripheral vision in a state of high alert, being mindful of that masked man with an axe who might just be coming around the corner. My kids think I’m a complete weenie.
I attribute part of my neuroses to growing up in a household that didn’t feel particularly stable, with parents who weren’t remotely compatible and in which we all felt the regular fallout from it. That and the Red Scare. Such external-based insecurities provided fertile soil in which my vivid imagination could till and plant and water and feed these fears until they blossomed into something more concrete (albeit illogical!). And as a child of that era in which we were taught at an early age to worry about The Bomb, I thought it was my civic duty to be scared, and I took my fears seriously. A school assembly film about a famous movie theater fire in which people were trampled and burned en masse freaked me out, and from then on I made certain my parents’ ubiquitous cigarettes weren’t left smoldering in ash trays at bed time. A neighborhood girl’s nearby abduction and abuse led me to look over my shoulder any time I was alone on a street or in a parking lot.
But one of the more peculiar manifestations of my anxieties was found in my slight preoccupation with tsunamis. The fear that a tsunami might wreak havoc on my world and destroy all that I knew hung over my childish mind like the worries of a child awaiting punishment from a parent. Now, I grew up in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. A gateway city to the Mid-west. One that was and still is pretty landlocked (but for those famed three rivers that encompass it). The chances of a tsunami annihilating that city were as likely as the Pirates ever making it into the World Series again. Yet I held onto that irrational fear for much of my childhood.
Eventually I outgrew most of my anxieties. But ultimately found newer, bigger ones to supplant them.
My senior year in college, I rented a small room in the gabled attic of an historical home. By day the room seemed charming, quaint—a little retreat from the craziness of school and work. But once I moved in, I had the distinct sense that there was something else occupying that room with me. The house had lots of residents; the entire tennis team lived on the main floor (part of my incentive to live there in the first place!). Several other students lived in rooms on the second floor. But only my little aery was at the top. Often when I went to bed there was still plenty of activity in the house: parties going on downstairs, boyfriends and girlfriends coming and going. But one night I returned home quite late, fell asleep, but soon woke to what I can only describe as an enveloping sense of doom, a presence so overwhelming and so fearsome that I turned the light on and couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. From then on I dreaded nighttime. Something felt so wrong with the place.
After a few repeat performances from my unwanted bad spirit-roomie, I called my mom and told her I couldn’t stay there any longer. I found a room with some friends in which one of the renters had just graduated, my mother came and helped me move, and never was I more glad to get away from a place.
A few years later we stayed at an old inn in the Hamptons for our friends’ wedding. The house was populated with a collection of creepy antique dolls, which looked innocuous enough by day. But I was 8 months pregnant, and as I tiptoed to the bathroom repeatedly in the dark of night, I got so spooked by the wide-eyed, dirt-streaked, frazzle-haired, I-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Summer/Bride of Chuckie porcelain faces of those dolls, I avoided water after 7 p.m. on the following night in hopes of off-setting too many late-night encounters with possessed dolls on the second night of our stay.
I now live in an area rich in history from the founding days of our country. We have friends who live in old plantation farm homes who swear they’ve got ghosts sharing the house. My friend’s brand new house is located near a slave graveyard, and she and her husband (at first a reluctant believer) are convinced their house is haunted. People around town are said to have seen civil war soldiers on horseback leaving nearby barns at night.
I’m just glad my house is new. And I haven’t got any antique possessed psycho dolls displayed around to scare the wits out of us at night. After all while the Red Scare is gone and I know logically tsunami’s aren’t likely to do me in, there are enough big scary things out there that I know are real, plenty of grim things to keep me up late at night, without having unhappy spirits lurking about.
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