Last night, while the chicken fried and the corn boiled, I rough-housed with my little boy on the kitchen floor. I gooseled him and he giggled and squealed for more. Delighted with him, I scooped him up and cradled him in my lap; he quickly wriggled free and raced out of the room. I called out, "Stevie, come here – I wanna tell you a secret." He ran back in and leaned near. "I love you," I whispered into his little ear.
He grinned. "Me wanna tell you secwet, too." I leaned over. "Big dinosaur our there – might bite you," he confided, gesturing in the general vicinity of the back yard.
Where on earth do they get these ridiculous notions? I wondered. Stevie ran off to play and I thought about it some more while I buttered the rolls. That very morning, I had found my daughter in bed with me when the alarm went off.
"Brooke, what are you doing in here?"
"I was scared. There's a monster out there."
"Did you see him?"
"What did he look like?"
"I don't know."
"What color was he?"
"Black." (I knew she was going to say that.)
"Oh. What color were his eyes?"
"Green." (I knew she was going to say that, too.)
"Did he have a lot of hair?"
"No, he didn't have much hair. He was bald."(I didn't know she was going to say that.)
"How tall was he? Was he bigger than Daddy?"
"Yeeeeaaahh, he was hunnerds and hunnerds of big."
"Was he taller than Uncle Jeff?"
"Yeeeeeeahh! I already red told you, he was hunnerds and hunnerds tall." (Brooke thinks "already" is pronounced with a second "red" syllable. She doesn't believe it when we tell her otherwise.)
"Was he taller than Daddy standing on Uncle Jeff's shoulders?"
Exasperated with me, she flung her head back down on the pillow and pulled the sheet up, hiding from her silly mother who could not get it through her head that this was one tall monster.
I smiled, put supper on the table and thoughts of monsters and dinosaurs out of my head for the evening. But later, as I crawled into bed myself, I noticed shadows dancing on the walls and was reminded of their fear again.
Was I ever afraid of monsters and goblins and dinosaurs? I don't think so, that's so silly. But wait, think back to when you were four years old. Yes indeed, I remember now, I remember them all. In fact, I had a series of recurring nightmares and I can remember them as clearly as if I had dreamed them last night.
I dreamed of people in black clothes, very fine black clothes, trapped in a white glass pit. I was there, too, and I was the only child. Everyone else appeared to be an adult of unsurpassed sophistication. They did not speak to me or to each other, walking about in zombie fashion with bland expressions painted on their smooth white faces. I now know, from my years of teaching geometry, that the pit was a pyramid truncated by a plane parallel to its base, but at the time, I knew only that it was very, very deep, and that the sides were very, very smooth. I never tried to escape, but the men and women did. I watched as the fine ladies dug their long red fingernails and black spiked heels into the glass and tried to climb the sides. They screeched their way back to the bottom, their beautiful coiffures now wringing with sweat, their exquisite clothes ripped and soiled. The handsome men flung themselves at the wall with a mighty leap, only to come crashing down on their backs. I always stood in the middle of the pit and looked about and wondered if I would ever grow up.
"Daddy, I'm scared. Can I sleep with you?" Daddy reached out without waking and hoisted me into the warm valley between him and Mama. I felt like the pineapple in a pineapple sandwich, my favorite kind. I knew that if anything was going to get to me, it would first have to eat the bread. Nothing could be as big as my daddy. I snuggled down deep and was happy.
In the morning, Mama would talk to me. "You know, there's really nothing to be scared of. We're always here and we won't let anything hurt you." And that night, she would say, "Try to think of something happy before you go to sleep."
"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way." I sang it over and over, but I never went to sleep. When I rolled over, I saw The Golden Statue. It was back! The Golden Statue was gleaming just on the other side of my night stand in front of the window! Again! Oh, no! I had no doubt that The Golden Statue could dismember me without breaking a sweat. It glowered menacingly at me.
"Mama, I'm scared. Can I sleep with you?"
"Rita Faye, I told you there's nothing to be scared of. Go back to your room and go to sleep."
"But, Mama, there's a golden statue in my room and it's gonna get me."
"Young Lady, I said go back to your room right now!"
I left, all right, but just long enough to walk around to Daddy's side of the bed.
"Daddy, I'm scared." He placed me in the Valley of Peace and all was well. Mama grunted.
Along with The Pit and The Golden Statue, there were The Snakes. The Snakes would writhe and wriggle everywhere around me, no matter where I went. Mama would say, "Think of a favorite place before you go to sleep." So, I thought of the recliner at Mema's house. The Snakes just rattled their way from our house through Mema's front yard, right into the recliner with me. They did not bite me, but I could not breathe. I could feel their sliminess on my arms and legs and chest.
"Daddy, I'm scared."
"Come on, Little Reedee. Daddy's gonna take care of you."
Someone was chasing me – they were going to kill me – I was running as fast as I could, but my legs would not work. My knees bent as slowly as if they were made of wood and were connected to my legs by rusty hinges. My legs struggled to push through the thick air. I ran through my next-door neighbor's yard in the direction of my house, but I could not get there. They were catching up! I could not see who they were, and I did not know why they wanted to kill me, but I could hear their footsteps behind me, and I knew that I would soon be shot or stabbed or worse.
"Daddy, I'm scared. Can I sleep with you?"
I was shaped like a bowling pin and was rooted to a spot at the bottom of the hill in my neighborhood. We had snow only once every five winters in Waynesboro, yet here it came, this giant snowball, getting bigger and bigger with every revolution. It gobbled up everything in its path. I could see arms, legs, heads, tree branches, telephone poles, car wheels sticking out of the vast mass of white. The roar as it barreled down the hill was thunderous – and it was headed right toward me! I pulled and tugged with all my might, but I could not wrench free. The snowball came nearer and nearer. It was now bigger than earth. It was only seconds away…
"Mommy, I'm scared. Can I sleep with you?"
I jerked to attention and focused on the small form outlined beside my bed. It was my daughter.
"Brooke, go back to your room," her father grumbled at her.
"Oh, shut up, Jim," I said.
I reached out for her, hoisted her up and lifted her over me into the warm valley between Jim and me. She snuggled down deep and was happy. I made a mental note to fix her a pineapple sandwich for lunch tomorrow.