Leave the Bathroom Light On!

Recently, I found myself out at the local hospital with a bad case of afib. For a time, I wasn't sure what was happening to me. I thought I was possibly having a heart attack. All I knew for sure was that it felt bad and I was terribly frightened. A short time later I found out that my condition was non-lethal and that everyone was pretty sure I'd live to see the sun come up again in the morning. What a relief!!!  I don't know which was better-the medicine they gave me to correct my heart rhythm or the joyful knowledge that I was "OK".

It's really odd the tracks your mind will follow sometimes when you've had a scare. After my initial rush of gratitude for even the most mundane elements in my humble little life, my brain jumped tracks and took me back to childhood where I pondered some fears I had as a tiny tot-fears that were quite pronounced and scared me as much back then as anything that's happened in the present.

Childhood fears are much worse than adult fears. Oh yeah, by far! As an adult you have of course experience to predict likely outcomes to things that frighten you. They may not happen-but they could: My mom works with violent offenders-someone at some time may try to hurt her.  The economy sucks-I'm worried about my job, etc. and so forth.  For the most part its fairly logical reasoning.  If this, then that!

But when you're a kid, man-anything is possible! If you can imagine it-it might happen! I'm talking about the days when Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Peter and the Wolf were enough to give nightmares.  It didn't take me long to assemble my list of the FIVE things that FREAKED ME OUT THE MOST when I was Charlie Brown's age. They are listed roughly in order of FREAKINESS!


I was absolutely HORRIFIED of the dark. Not scared, not freaked-out but completely HORRIFIEDAll children are somewhat afraid of the dark especially if they have a bad dream or they watch a scary show or hear a spooky story before bedtime or something along those lines....but me, oh brother! It didn't matter if it was a dark room, a dark closet, the backyard after sunset or my own bedroom. If there was no light I was in instantaneous blubber mode.

I distinctly remember the four things I was most sure dwelt in the dark: The wicked witch from Wizard of Oz, Zombies, the Devil, and of course, Demons.  What demons? Hell man, just pick one-I'm sure it was there waiting for me to turn out the light. haha. Consequently, LIGHT was my only savior.  A lamp in my room was my first choice of defense. With the light of a lamp I could sleep comfortably knowing that the underworld realms couldn't burst forth from their black prison, snatch me and drag me away to endless torments.

Well, 99 per cent of the time a lamp was out of the question. For some odd reason my dad couldn't be reasoned with at all despite how carefully I outlined the dangers of sleeping in a completely dark room.  The man was incredible! He'd wake up at 3 in the morning just to yell at me for trying to sneak a lamp on in my room. Sometimes during times of extreme duress I would completely bypass my dad and make my case in quavering voice and lots of tears directly to mom.

"Oh for crying out loud! Let's leave the bathroom light on and crack the door open for him," she'd say, "what's it going to hurt?" That always launched a heated discussion about my tv and comic book habits. And if the bathroom light was turned on for me I would have to suffer my dad's withering 1000 yard stare as he flicked the light on and pulled the door closed to a crack.  "Happy now" he'd ask? But, I knew what he was really saying: CRY BABY!! Daddy's little boy is a CRY BABY!! Well, obviously it was easy to be critical of me when he got to sleep with mom and I got to sleep alone and with the worry that I wouldn't wake up in the morning because I'd been dragged to hell by the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz!!


I put this as number two because it was a much more sporadic fear. Darkness would come every single night but the trigger for fear of losing a parent would only come at certain times. I remember this being the worst from Kindergarten to second grade, especially if it was a stormy day. Somehow my fear of losing mom or dad or both of them manifested in fears of fires or tornadoes-or humorously enough-the spontaneous collapsing of our house!! (??) Yeah, I don't know how it came to be that I thought the house would suddenly collapse and kill mom and dad but I remember being freaked out by it.  I remember asking my teacher on several different occasions if she could call my house and make sure mom and dad were ok. She would say, "Now sweetie, what makes you think anything's wrong with your mom and dad?" I would usually respond that it was raining-it was dark outside-I thought I smelled smoke.  Then she would confuse me with, "Well, isn't your mom and dad working? Aren't they at separate locations and not home at all?" To which I would reply that if our house wasn't spontaneously collapsing or on fire or being ripped apart by a tornado then maybe that was happening where they worked. Right now! Even as we talked about it! Talking to the teacher helped though and I'd pop right out of it in a minute or two. I guess I needed confirmation that everything was OK, I don't really know.

The fear of losing a parent isn't just a childhood terror though. It came back in High School when I was old enough to understand that life isn't forever. People age, people become sick. People die. Even and especially the ones you care most about. It goes without saying that the thought of losing a parent troubled me greatly. I didn't obsess on it but it certainly weighed heavily on my mind at different times in my late teens.

Ten years ago I nearly lost my dad to a heart attack.  I was scared to death.  You know, one of the things that scared me the most was seeing that HE was obviously frightened as we were making like bandits to the hospital. Dad didn't die, thank god. So, I've never crossed that bridge yet but I can say that facing that fear wasn't anything like I imagined it to be. I just kept thinking "This can't be happening..."


I'm sure that this is tied into the Death of a Parent fear, it's just more simplistic.  When I was a small child I would panic in the store if I was to be separated from my parents for longer than it would take to shoot down an isle or two to look for them. Other triggers that really set me off was if mom or dad were late picking me up from school or if I was left in the car too long while mom or dad ran an errand. That business of being left standing on the curb waiting to be picked up just freaked me the hell out!  It didn't take me long at all to go from "Where are they?" to "THEY LEFT ME!!!!"

I don't ever remember having a precise theory on why they would do that to me-I just assumed somehow that it was very, very possible. hahaha.

4. D-I-V-O-R-C-E!

I grew up in what I thought was a very loving, stable, and strict home. Mom and dad always showed my sister and I lots of love, always treated each other with love and respect. Arguments would come, sure. Voices would raise, you bet! And there were a few times I remember the slamming of doors and the order from mom to "GET IN THE CAR, WE'RE GOING TO YOUR GRANDMA'S!" haha! But, nothing ever lasted more than a few hours and the storm was over. 

It caused me great distress, however, when those arguments would come. I hated to see mom and dad "fight".  The thought of them separating or (gulp) divorcing was unbearable. Mom and dad were a team! They loved each other. Julie and I loved them.  We were all together-a single unit that wasn't meant to be disbanded. What would I do without mom or dad? Who would I live with? How could I take a side? How can you carry on with only HALF of a team? That's impossible...it's WRONG! Mom and dad need to be together like peanut butter and jelly-both are awesome but not nearly as awesome as when they're TOGETHER!

The thought of mom and dad apart-the thought of them not loving each other-the family busted up was terrifying and practically unimaginable to me. What could that be like? Divorce had to be the worst. 

On the occasions that mom and dad would have a big argument I would tearfully ask mom if she was going to divorce dad or if dad was going to divorce mom. Generally I would get my fears extinguished right away.  "Your dad's a complete IDIOT but that hasn't caused me to divorce him yet!" mom would say. Dad would generally agree with that assessment and add that he couldn't live a happy life WITHOUT mom routinely telling him what an idiot he was... and so it would go. Troubling times would come. Troubling times would leave and our family still stood strong.

It wasn't until I was in my 30's and had NO REASON WHATSOEVER TO EVER EVER EVER EVER BELIEVE that mom and dad would divorce-before they DID! That's one childhood fear that has definitely come to pass in adulthood. I can tell you that it was easily much worse and more traumatic than I ever feared it could be as a child, for reasons far beyond the scope of this little blog. Anyways, the world DIDN'T end and the sun NEVER failed to rise again the next morning, despite what I thought as a child or what I felt as an adult. Life continued on its way as it ever does. We're still a (fractured) family.  Mom and dad still love us, we still love them. But, how they could NOT love each other is still a question that's beyond my grasp. I will continue to shake my  head and scratch the back of my neck and mull that one over til the cows come home, I guess.


When I was a tiny tot I got a double whammy of OLD PEOPLE and they scared the holy bologna out of me!!

My mom cooked in the nursing homes and at that time my dad was training to be a minister which meant he got to do a lot of nursing home work such as conducting nursing home bible studies, nursing home music services, etc.  So, I spent a lot of time on the nursing home circuit.

Old people were scary looking-like a cross between a mutant baby (in the face) and something that crawled out of a crazy zombie movie, man.  They always had crap leaking out of their mouths-they babbled to people that weren't there.  They cried, they called out-they were always reaching for me-I assumed they were hungry for my brains. I didn't know how they planned on eating my brains though since like 99% of them had no teeth! Old people always reeked of urine, bleach, and diapers. Sometimes they would slump over in their chairs, their mouths all gaped open, a dull expression in their eyes and I would just know for a certainty that they were temporarily dead. Zombies never die die ya know! They just stop moving for a while when they're hurt so as to fool you into getting close enough for them to latch on to ya!

Some days I'd go out to the nursing home with mom.  She would serve out breakfast before taking me to school. I'd stand in the kitchen in abject terror and peak out through the kitchen doors as bored orderlies lined them all up for whatever food mom was serving. My heart would almost stop when mom would make me sit out in the dining room with a glass of milk and some cereal.  Nooooo, don't leave me alone with the ZOMBIES! I won't live long enough to finish my cheerios! MOM, COME BAAAACK!! hahahaha.

The thing with my dad was on a whole different disturbing level. He would teach about Heaven, sing about heaven, speak about hope beyond this life and the more cognizant folks would cry.  Sad really.  Many were abandoned by their families and just waiting to die. Of course, I didn't understand their tears then. I thought they should have been happy to go ANYWHERE besides the confines of bleached floors and white walls. I would ask my dad what was so sad about heaven that made old people cry.

The effect nursing homes had on my tiny tot brain were long lasting and far reaching.  In high school I remember writing a very popular short story about a demonic cult...in a nursing home. Hah! I'll have to find that story and read it again. I'm sure it's a hoot.  I havent thought of it for years and years!  Several years ago I wrote a vampire screenplay mostly for my own amusement (which, to my credit I DID get a few low budget movie directors/writers to look at and critique) that has a prominent character living in a nursing home. He's the "obi wan kenobi" type of character that sets my protagonist on his journey. Anyways, its just amazing how tiny seeds planted in your mind in childhood bloom in various and strange ways throughout your life.


I was absolutely certain that clowns were somehow evil.  I hated them.  Now that I work with clowns I know for SURE that they're EVIL!!!!   ;)

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Iknowmyassishot said...

Hey Charles, great blog! Please dust off the demonic cult in the nursing home story and post it! I think it sounds great! Now, on to my usual analysis of the Pratt mind; recall a Northern Exposure episode with the African American "brother" of Chris Stephens in it. Joel is suffering existential angst. Bernard (the "brother") confronts him with the Zen Buddhist precept that the "identity of the self as distinct from the universe does not exist", and he tells him in that soft, kind and gentle way he had that "Joel, you are afraid of only one thing and that is the void", Joel sarcastically responds "no, I am not afraid of anything..you tell me to sit here for five minutes while you are boring your eyes into me and I do not like it...I am not afraid of a void...what void?". Bernard calmly replies "the void of your existence my friend..you will be free from fear and anxiety if you confront the fact that your existence has no meaning you are born alone and you die alone, and there is nothing but the emptiness...accept it and live in today...be happy and at peace". Joel just looked at Bernard, and Bernard got up and left.
In Zen, Taoism, or related schools of Eastern thought, as well as in existential psychology, what you are referring to in all of your fears is in fact the same fear. I too recall being afraid of such things. It is amazing to me that you are able to recall your childhood thoughts and feelings so vividly! That is a neat ability that you have always possessed. It is a shame that your dad made fun of your comics and the need to leave the light on. I saw a rare early edition of a Batman comic go for over $30,000 once on eBay. It was in the news at the time. Also, I read once that General Patton and General MacArther as well as President Lincoln all slept with the light on. Feel free to share that with your daddy-o. Thanks for telling me about your blog; I think I have my connection set so that I will get notified when you post one, but let me know next time too just in case. I really like the way you have your blog page laid out...need to work on mine!

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