Teddy Bears and Darknesses

The dance we learn as we grow up.

I leave my bedroom door open a crack, and my parents leave on the bathroom light just down the hall. It’s comforting. Light streams in to keep away the shadows, and any robber walking by the house would see that there was still a light on, think someone was still up, and move on. Maybe rob the neighbors. But that’s fine, as long as they don’t touch my Sega, or my Apple IIgs, or my family.

Plenty of my friends sleep with the lights on, big macho guys like Brian Peppler and Karl Schoener. I’m not alone. I’m not a wuss. I just have to learn how to be macho. Then the other kids won’t think I sleep with my lights on, with a teddy bear.

What’s wrong with teddy bears? He’s the first gift I remember getting, and he means a lot to me. I don’t care if I’m supposed to grow up when I reach middle school. I’m gonna leave the light on, hug my teddy bear, and suck my thumb … if I want to. I think it’s kinda gross, since I haven’t showered in a few days.

Some guys take showers every day. That must be annoying.

I can sleep peacefully every night, knowing that there’s a 75-watt bulb in the bathroom keep robbers and ghosts away. I’m ready to take on a new, bigger building. New people. New classes. I don’t have any fear.

“Sean, could you come here a second?” my mother calls me in the middle of brushing my teeth.

“Jest a shec-und,” I gurgle.

She knocks on the door quickly before coming in. I don’t understand that: Why does she knock if she’s just going to come right in?

“Sean, your father and I have been talking …”

Not a good sign. Parents talking is never good for you when you’re their son. I wash the Aquafresh off my teeth with some water, swallow, and turn to my mom.

“You’re going on into middle school now. You’re becoming a big boy.” She smiles at that. “And we think you should probably drop some habits to help you grow up.”

“I’m not shutting my door,” I say, instantly knowing what she means. It’s the only bad habit I have. That and my sloppiness. And both of them comfort me; I’m not giving up any comfort. I’m gonna have to deal with enough.

They’re gonna make me change when I’m not ready.

No matter what they teach you in school, no matter what your parents impart to you at home, nothing can prepare you for growing up. Ever. Despite the best efforts of everyone who cares about you, you’re left essentially on your own, to battle the demons and hormones of adolescence.

For me, they were one and the same.

Okay, so I had participated in some odd activities in elementary school. Nothing of “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” magnitude, but there was a random game the guys in sixth grade played during recess, where they would chase girls around the playground trying to slap them on the butt. I participated occasionally.

Not being the most attractive or debonair sixth grader, I usually received a slap in return, so I had quickly refrained, and gone back to imagining worlds on the swings. Imagination was always a safe bet, and girls always meant danger.

Truth is as malleable as everything in life, and I soon found out that the imagination was dangerous as well. With my passage into middle school went a loss of innocence, recess, the freedom to wear sweat pants, and the crutch of a night-light. My parents insisted on the last one. And it became the most horrible, insurmountable difficulty of my young life.

And yes, I did swallow that mouth full of water and toothpaste when I was young. I thought it tasted good; and, more importantly, I thought it was what everyone else did.

Do you think the Boogeyman exists?

I didn’t used to think so. But now that everything’s so dark, he must be hiding inside my closet. Crouched on top of my dresser. If he doesn’t get me, a thief will walk by our house, see our two cars and nice basketball hoop, check to see if there are any lights on, and break in, because my house is completely dark!

Don’t we need to be safer in this dangerous time? My mom always tells me how dangerous the world is, so why does she want to make it even more dangerous? I have to turn on the bathroom light … for my family’s safety.

Determined to help save my mom and dad (and my sister too, I guess), I march across the hall to the bathroom, open the door, and flip the switch. Light streams out into the hallway, across the carpet, and into my room. There. My family is safe for the night. I hope they appreciate this.

Well… they don’t. In the morning, my mom scolds me for going behind her back, and my dad tells me to stop wasting electricity. I guess they don’t care if they get robbed.

Fine. See if I care. I’ll just take my Louisville Slugger from the deck, hide it under the covers, and hide myself, peeking out only to see if someone or something is coming to kill me. I’m a big boy now. I can sleep without the lights on.

My sister went through the same ordeal recently. Maybe it’s hereditary, this fear of darkness. Maybe it’s the fact that we aren’t in complete control of our surroundings.

It’s a tough time, this Adolescence. You don’t really feel as though you control anything. Your body is exploding in several different colors and directions, your middle school or high school is the largest group of people you’ve ever had to deal with, and you still can’t drive.

You don’t even have permission to swear yet. Why should you do anything anyone else tells you to? You’re already forced to watch your body contort without your permission. Why should anyone have the right to decide what you have to do?

My sister dealt with it by sleeping in my parents’ room, or building a stuffed animal fortress around her. I, however, dealt with it by arming myself and lying in wait until I was too tired to keep my eyes open. This continued for most of the summer, me cowering in fear under the meager protection of a few sheets.

I became increasingly more paranoid; I almost hit my mom over the head with a wooden baseball bat. My cat, too. I tried sleeping with the cat in the room, but she just meowed and scratched at the door after a few hours.

I tried closing the door and sleeping with my lamp on, but it was too blindingly bright. I tried making a tent out of my sheets, so that I could peek out whenever I wanted, but it always collapsed on me. I was assailed by images of the boogeyman, of devils and killer dolls, of murder and mayhem. There was no foreseeable end.

I’m in a dream where my old friend Bret and I are in his house, back in West Chester. We are talking about his brother, then the lights all get dim, and he leaves for the bathroom.

I begin to hear footsteps through the house: Slow ones, the ones meant to scare you. I hide under the bed, but as soon as I do, I see my bat in the corner of the room. After minutes of trying to decide, I finally get up to get the bat, but when I do a man in a hockey mask is there, holding a huge knife. I try to scream, but nothing comes out of my mouth.

And that isn’t even the worst part. I wake up from the dream, thinking that I’m safe, and walk down the hall to my mom and dad’s room. I tap my mom on the shoulder and try to tell her I had a bad dream, but I can’t speak!

The man is there again, on the other side of the bed, and I try to scream and warn my parents but no matter how hard I try, I can’t make any noise.

Then, finally, I wake up. I sit bolt upright, and try to say my name … “Sean Woznicki.”

I don’t think I’ll ever been so comforted by my own voice.

I flop back onto the bed, huddled into the covers. Why can’t I sleep? Why won’t the Boogeyman leave me alone? Why couldn’t he just go away, or go do something fun, like dancing …

Dancing. Maybe a jig or a box step. Or maybe he can breakdance.

My hands had been turning ghostwhite from grabbing onto the sheet, but I let go, and giggle. Imagine a Boogeyman dancing! He’d come out of the closet, do a little fancy footwork, but if he moved around too much, snot would fly off of him in all directions, and he’d blush and turn to me, saying in a voice like a baby’s, “I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” I’d say, “You were only trying to have fun.”

“You really mean it?” His big yellow eyes would widen. “Kids never seem to like me, so I always get mad and scare them, but today I just felt like shakin’ loose … and you don’t mind?”

“No.” I’d smile.

“Super!” He’d clap his hands together, snot making a squishy noise, and he’d start dancing around the whole room. He’d sweep me up off the bed, and I’d see he wasn’t really made of snot, but actually … lemon Jell-O!

I laugh out loud. It feels really good. I’m not afraid of a robber coming to get me because I make a noise, or a monster eating me because I have a healthy laugh. Monsters could dance, too! And so could robbers … one could be dancing out into the hallway, then trip and tumble down the stairs!

I laugh all night, taking all those scary images my brain gives me and turning them into funny ones. I get a little tired of dancing after a while, so I have the Count (the one from Sesame Street) trip over a stone and fall into a mud puddle; I have the man with the hockey mask get hit with hundreds of pucks; I even have Freddy Krueger filing his nails. After I’m satisfied I’ve made everyone do stupid things, I settle down for my first good night sleep all summer.

Middle school is only a week away. And I’ll be ready.

Article © 2002 by Sean Woznicki