Saturday, March 26, 2011

Be afraid. Be very... well, be at least mildly afraid, and then overreact, possibly by high-fiving for Jesus. (Thinking The Lions)

Anyone who claims they're not afraid of anything is a liar. And anyone who claims they're in particular not afraid of things like spiders, and potentially demons or the devil breaking into their house in the middle of the night or their brain leaving their head, is both a liar and dangerously stupid. Because all these things, and more, are worth being afraid of, because they exist and they might be able to get you, say, by climbing back out of a shower drain to bite you on the foot because you took your eyes off them for a moment after washing them off the wall with the shower and some shampoo.

I took the time yesterday to compile a list of the things that I'm afraid of, and I'm going to share them with you in hopes that (a) you will understand that it's perfectly sane and normal to be afraid of these things, and (b) you will agree that it's also possible to be afraid of these things and be manly, and (c) you will tell Sweetie about point (b) and she will stop making fun of me.

The list, to date, of the things I'm afraid of, reads like this:

The Jeepers Creeper and/or The Devil, who might be the same thing
Carbon monoxide poisoning.
my brain falling out of the back of my skull.

As you can see, spiders hold a special place on that list, and that's not just because spiders are always poisonous no matter what scientists say and not just because spiders are the only bugs which can grow hair -- have you seen a tarantula? My god, they're disgusting -- and not just because spiders have exactly the wrong number of eyes and legs and mandibles, and not even just because if there's one fact in my life that I've had burned into my mind, a fact that I cannot escape and cannot forget, it's this: you are never more than 3 feet from a spider.

... Yes. Think about that for a while, and then look around you, at where you're sitting. Right now, I'm at my kitchen table, up against a window that looks out on the patio where the bird feeder sits, leaning to the right because squirrels have pulled it down and I let them because I like to watch the squirrels. The sun is rising up over the lake off in the distance behind me, and I'm half-sunlit, half-shadowed from the yellow beams of light pouring in our front windows. I have a cup of hot coffee and no chores to do today. It's a beautiful morning that would make a good setting for a Norman Rockwell painting.

And somewhere, not more than 3 feet away from me, is a black spider with scales and claw-toes and a bunch of fangs and those creepy dead eyes, and it's poisonous and it could probably crawl in through a hole in my Crocs and bite my foot and I'm a goner.

Which means that the entire world is tainted. If you're never more than 3 feet away from a spider, then every single thing you've done has had spiders involved. Your wedding, while you kissed the bride? Spiders were there. When your little baby was born and you first held him and thought "My god, he's really loud?" Spiders. That one time after the Prom when you and Sandra snuck off from the rest of the party into Glen's parent's room, where they had a waterbed?

The waterbed was probably filled with spiders.

I'd have more than enough to worry about, then, if all I ever worried about was spiders, but unluckily enough for me, I am aware that there are more things that can kill me and/or make my eternity miserable than simply spiders, and while there are those who say that I might be suffering from an overactive imagination, I can tell those people that they are fools and what I am suffering from, if anything, is an overactive knowledge.

Take, for example, fear number two on the list: The Jeeper Creeper and/or The Devil. The fast that I am afraid of these things (or this thing) you might assume is either a triumph of moviemaking/Catholicism, or proof that I'm an idiot... or both... but it's actually neither. It's a triumph of a fever I had when I was a kid and the fact that I watched The Amityville Horror shortly before having that fever.

It's actually, if you want to be technical about it, a result of the fact that I watched The Amityville Horror twice, the second time having my cousin Joey point out to me something I'd missed the first time, which is yet another reason to secretly resent Joey, who I already resented because he would always... always... call me by my hated childhood nickname, which was "Beady."

I got the hated childhood nickname from my brother, Bill, who I'm not crazy about, either. Family legend has it that a few days after I was brought home from the (secretly-spider-infested) hospital, Bill, my 2-years-older brother, grew tired of having a little brother home. Unable to say the word "baby", he asked my mom "When are you going to take the beady back?" And I was from then on "The Beady" or "Beady" until I grew old enough to hate that nickname and old enough also to punch anyone who dared to call me it, which didn't make them stop but did make my mom and dad eventually decide it was not worth giving us yet another reason to fight, and so they stopped, but my brothers and cousins kept it up and I spent a significant part of my childhood getting into fights about that, too, until my parents stopped talking to Joey's parents one year after a dispute about whether or not it was appropriate for my parents to give Joey a pair of gloves at Christmas even though we'd decided that older kids like Joey wouldn't get presents.

That fight between my parents and Joey's parents lasted 10 years, during which they didn't talk and by the time I saw Joey again, he no longer felt like calling me "Beady" because he was a grown-up. I was a grown-up, too, but I would have punched him had he called me Beady because some things you never get over.

Joey was responsible for my not getting over Beady, and he was responsible for my also seeing, the second time around on The Amityville Horror, the pig in the window as the family flees the house. I was about 12 at the time that The Amityville Horror was available to be watched on cable, and I had both read the book and watched the movie, because my parents were the kind of parents who wouldn't let you punch your brother for using a nickname but saw nothing wrong with letting a 12-year-old read a true story about a family that moves into a house which in the basement has a pit of tar that leads straight to Hell.

The book, and the movie, made a big impact on me -- teaching me that the Devil was real, and that the Devil, like "regular" ghosts and demons, would not only try to take you to Hell but would do things like rearrange furniture in the night and have ghostly haunted marching bands in rooms only to make them go away when you entered the room -- but would leave the furniture moved to prove to you that the band had been there. It didn't matter to me, at 12, that it would make no sense for the Devil to do those things, that the Devil probably wouldn't be that into teasing people but would, if he could walk around in someone's house, probably do more things like "stealing someone's soul." None of that entered into my mind. I simply absorbed the basic message that The Amityville Horror book and movie were intended to convey, which was that the devil was able to walk around in our world and was, in fact, doing just that.

That alone didn't bother me so much because the devil was still an incorporeal monster that I couldn't quite picture as being anything in particular, and because he was in New Hampshire or wherever it was The Amityville Horror had happened. Joey, though, took care of the first part of the blissful ignorance that allowed me to not walk around at night fearing the Devil by pointing out to me, on the second watching of the movie, that you could see the pig.

The pig, if you haven't seen the movie, needs some explanation. The family has a little girl who is visited by a friend she calls "Jody The Pig" but who is really the devil and who locks a babysitter in the closet at one point because that's exactly what the devil would do to babysitters, and nobody sees Jody The Pig except the little girl, and the viewers of the movie, who are shown outside her window two little red lights that are supposed to be Devil Pig Eyes but which are clearly just Christmas lights and so are not scary, and my 12-year-old brain absorbed the idea that the devil could appear as a pig but didn't do anything with that knowledge because pigs aren't scary. The only other pig in my life at that time had been the pig in Charlotte's Web, so in my mind, Jody The Pig was kind of like Some Pig and not scary even though he was also The Devil.

Then I saw him, in the movie, in the scene where the family flees the house. There's a part where you can actually look at the window of the house and see this monstrous pig that's sort of heaving or writhing or looming, and I hadn't noticed it the first time I watched it but Joey pointed it out to me the second time and from that moment on, Jody The Pig was real.

I couldn't shake the image of Jody The Pig, seeing it in my mind even during the daytime when we were running around playing guns and Whiffle Ball and trying to figure out how to get our mom to let us go "into town" so we could play video games at the Suburpia Sub Shop, where they didn't like us to go because they thought it was a front for drug dealers. (I only learned that part later; I thought they didn't want us to go because they were mean and hated the videogame "Centipede".) I kept seeing Jody The Pig in my mind. It was like Jody The Pig was never more than 3 feet away from me, either.

The situation got worse when a few weeks after that I got sick and had a fever and was lying in the bottom bunk, delirious and warm and thirsty and miserable and I started to doze off and suddenly woke up screaming because Jody The Pig was outside my window: I'd seen him and knew he was out there -- not the red-eye Christmas lights Some Pig, either but the full-fledged heaving/looming pig was right outside my window.

From then on out, I had to worry about the spiders and the Devil all being constantly around, because while my mom assured me that it was only a dream and a fever dream at that, you can't be too careful when it comes to The Devil, and also I was the product of (at that point) about 1,981 years of Christianity which made a really big deal about how the Devil was always trying to get people to go to Hell, so it made perfect sense to me that the Devil would be after me, especially because, let's be honest, people who will throw a punch over a nickname aren't exactly on the short list to go to Heaven.

The particular way that I continued, as I aged, to fear the Devil shows just how much influence The Amityville Horror had on me, because I didn't worry so much that the Devil would get me for, say, lying to my parents and calling in sick to work to go to a party, get pretty drunk, and then drive home and lie to a cop on the way about whether we'd been drinking. I didn't worry that the Devil would end up nabbing my soul because I pretended I had to work to get out of going to Church, either, or even when I simply didn't pretend anymore and didn't go to Church. I didn't even worry that the Devil would get me when I came up (with my sister's help) of the concept of a "High Five For Jesus," something we'd do whenever my mom would invoke Jesus as a reason why something had happened, or not happened.

"I'm glad I didn't miss that turn, or we'd have never gotten to Uncle Mark's and we'd be lost," she'd say. "Jesus was really looking out for me."

To which my sister and I would reply "High Five For Jesus!" and give each other a high five.

None of that really invoked a fear of the Devil in me. No, what I worried about was the kind of Devil who'd tormented that Amityville familiy: the kind of devil who sneaks into your house late at night and causes problems of a minor nature until one day he decides you're going to Hell forever.

So for years and years, whenever I was alone in a dark house -- my own or anyone else's-- I would begin to fear that the Devil might be around, and might be ready to begin the days, or weeks, of minor torments that would spell the end for me. I would be reading in my bed in my apartment on the bad side of town near the restaurant where periodically the police would do drug raids and haul lots of armed people off to jail, and I would hear a thump or crack or something and I would not think "That's just a neighbor getting home" or even "I hope that's not a drug dealer shooting through my wall" or even "I hope that's not a drug dealer breaking in here" (because why would drug dealers break into a college student's apartment? Were they going after my futon?) I would think: That's probably the devil and I would picture Jody The Pig standing in my living room.

Back then, when I lived alone as a college student with a budget of $20 per week, I could at least handle the periodic visits by the Devil. I would hear the thump and wait, holding my breath for a moment, for the marching band or the closet door to snap shut or whatever it was the Devil was going to do, but I wouldn't have to do anything myself: with only me in the apartment, and sometimes my roommate Dan, there was no need to investigate and see Jody The Pig. I laid in bed and also secretly (when he was around) hoped the Devil might take Dan, instead.

Sorry, Dan, but in these things it's every man for himself.

But once I was married and there were children involved, I began to realize that I not only had to do something, but also that the Devil didn't need to look like a pig, he could look like other things, like a half-man/half-bat/half-lizard, as the thing in Jeepers Creepers looked like, and as I discovered one night when I stayed up late watching Jeepers Creepers by myself while Sweetie and the kids all slept in their beds upstairs, blissfully unaware of just how dangerously they were living, what with the Devil and the spiders and all, and after the movie ended, I turned off the TV and was going to head upstairs when I realized my mistake: there were no lights on between me and the bedroom, and the light switches between the family room and the bedroom were not situated to let me light my way in advance. I'd have to cross through the kitchen to turn on the kitchen light, then turn that off and go down a dark hall to the stairs, where I could turn on the stair light but I'd have to turn it off again because there was only one switch, at the bottom.

It was at that point that I heard a sound in the living room, which was a dark kitchen and a dark hallway away from me, but between me and the bedroom. And for the first time in my life, I pictured not Jody but something else: The Jeeper Creeper, who I was reasonably sure was standing in my living room.

Let me point out that I was, by that point, a 30-year-old lawyer. And also let me point out that that didn't matter.

My usual method of ignoring it and/or throwing Dan to the wolves, as it were, wouldn't work: I had to protect Sweetie and the kids, which meant going to find out what the Creeper was doing in the living room and trying, somehow, to get him out of there, which led to me cautiously walking through the dark kitchen, getting to the light switch and quickly flicking it on and shooting a glance into the front hall and flicking the switch back off before the Creeper could get a bead on me, and then quickly moving to the other side of the hallway where I could get the living room light on and see what was up, which I did, expecting to see the carpet rolled back and the piano moved and other telltale signs of Deviltry.

I was empty-handed -- I knew enough to know that no baseball bat or toilet plunger would matter if facing down the Devil -- and I flicked the light on and stared, and saw... nothing.

So I'd saved Sweetie and the kids that night, and I calmed myself down by going upstairs and taking a DVD of the Disney cartoon Hercules into our bedroom to watch, the bright colors and music helping me get to sleep about two hours later, but that wasn't the end of it. I had to go on through life -- and still go on through life -- knowing full well that when things go bump! in the night, it was almost certainly the Prince of Darkness who was coming to carve my eyes out and sew me into a wall after he locked the babysitter into the closet, and even now, more than a decade later, I'm still responsible for going and checking things out at night with that expectation.

Not even two weeks ago, I heard something that could have been a loud car stereo going by, only it was about 2 a.m. and we don't live on the kind of street where people just drive by, slowly, and there are no teenagers in our neighborhood anymore anyway, so when I heard this loud car stereo going by slowly, I didn't think stupid teenagers even though teenagers, too, are something that scares me -- I'd forgotten them when I made my list, so let me add:

Groups of 2 or more teenagers, even if part or all of the group is my own kids

but I didn't blame teenagers for the noise at 2 a.m., I blamed the Devil and had to get up and go through each room in our house to see if this was the occasion, heart pounding as I expected, with each light I turned on, to see furniture moved or flames or perhaps that pit of tar that leads to Hell or a roomful of flies or something.

There was nothing, but that doesn't mean it's not going to happen someday. In a world filled with spiders less than a yard away, the Devil could thrive, and I'd worry about that more but I also have to worry about things like heights and my brain falling out of my skull, both of which are real things and things to be actually scared of, and which point out, beyond already the omnipresent Devil and spiders, just how unsafe our world is.

You think, after all, that your brain is pretty securely locked in your skull, which is what the skull is there for, after all, but it turns out that it's not at all secure, that your skull offers little to no protection whatsoever, because not only can tiny little knocks on your skull kill you three days later, but also whenever it wants to, your brain can just fall out of its case and into your neck.

Are you really creeped out now? Because I am.

I read an article, once, about a kid who'd suffered a traumatic brain injury. It was the kind of article you find in Reader's Digest, an "Amazing True Stories Of Medical Miracles" kind of article the point of which was to demonstrate how this little boy had been very lucky, because he lived in Montana or some other godforsaken place where the nearest doctor was six hours away by helicopter, which meant of course that the boy one day tripped while playing a game and hit his head on the corner of a coffee table and went on like nothing had happened only to wake up six hours later screaming and needing neurosurgery, which as I recall had to be performed by an entire team of surgeons operating remotely in six hour shifts.

The boy lived, but that wasn't what I took away from that story. What I took away from that story was "Holy crap, our skulls are so soft that a little tap can kill us?" Think how many times a day you bump your head. Well, maybe not you, but think how many times a day I bump my head.

A lot.

I once bumped my head into a stop sign, but in my defense, the stop sign was a temporary stop sign put there because of road construction, and it was also folded up halfway, and it also was at exactly head height, which seems wrong for a road sign, and also I was walking on a date with Sweetie to go get coffee after work so I was very intent not on looking where I was going but on impressing her with how great I was when I walked, forehead first, into the edge of the stop sign, without ever seeing it, so that the first thing I knew about what had happened was that I was seeing stars and I thought someone had hit me in the head with something flat and metallic, which is almost what happened.

"Are you okay?" Sweetie asked.

"I'm fine," I lied.

"You walked right into that sign," Sweetie said, so mission accomplished on the impressing her goal.

I hit my head probably two or three times a day, because I forget that I left cupboards open or I forget that I'm taller than my car or, on one occasion, I misjudged just where I'd sat down on my bed before I flopped back in exhaustion and whacked my skull against the headboard hard enough -- I was sure -- to have caused some sort of hemorrhage that would require a team of doctors to be working on me for six hours, remotely, and because I read that article, every time I do that I have to then monitor my condition for hours afterwards: am I dizzy? Head-achey? Blurred vision? Tired? to see if I have a Serious Brain Injury that requires MedFlight.

Since I'm almost always tired and headachey, this is a worrisome state of existence that only got worse once I learned that there are diseases which can cause your brain to simply exit your skull and you could get them even without bumping your head, which meant that now I wouldn't even have that little amount of forewarning: I'd just have to worry that one day my brain would be in my spine, or lower, and I'd be dead, that's it, over.

This is a real thing. Not that spiders and the Devil aren't, but this, too, is real. It's called brain herniation and it happens when the brain swells up and pushes out of the only hole it can get out of, which is the base of your skull and it can be caused by diseases, diseases I may not even realize I have because I've promised myself to never ever ever Google symptoms again because some things you'd just rather not know.

In fact, most things I'd rather just not know. Looking back that list, now, I can see that if I'd led a more ignorant life that didn't include picking up little tidbits of knowledge and/or Readers' Digest articles, I might have far fewer things to worry me on a beautiful morning like today. But because I'm dumb enough to have learned things, instead of basking in the sunlight, I have to worry that I'm overrun with spiders and that my burgeoning headache is in fact a medical emergency that can't be fixed by more coffee and/or a bagel, and the only comfort to me is that if one of those things gets me, at least it means that I've beaten the Devil to the punch.


Rogue Mutt said...

I'd make a list of fears but it would be much, much too long.

anna. said...

i hate spiders too ( :