There Is No Such Thing.
“PAUSE THE MOVIE!! I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!!!”
“WILL YOU COME WITH ME??”
“… To the bathroom?”
“It’s ten steps down the hall.”
“I WANT SOMEBODY TO COME WITH ME!!” He hops, with impressive eight year-old vigor, from one foot to the next, his right hand kinking the low area of his pajamas like a garden house. “COME WITH ME PLEEEASE!!”
“Hey, you’re a big guy, you can manage a trip to the bath–”
“PLEEEEEASE DADDY I REALLY HAVE TO GO!!”
“Ok, ok, I’ll walk with you on my way to the kitchen. But you have to use the bathroom by yourself.”
Despite their best efforts, my children believe in monsters. They won’t consciously admit it, but they do. The four year-old is generally frightened of things that would frighten most four year-olds, but the eight year-old boy’s phantasmagorical fears are more unpredictable. He feins bravery when it comes to choosing books and movies, and he may even be brave during the telling of such stories, but once the story is finished and the bedroom is quiet and dark, he is left to pit those afterimages against his own inescapable imagination, and sometimes he succumbs to the electric childhood dread of what might be lurking around the corner or in some unseen sliver of a familiar room.
These moments sometimes lead to sleepless nights, but usually just result in handheld trips to the bathroom and a prolonged bedtime with lots of nervous chatter and an extra light. It is my job to fight off the monsters, so I do my best to address his jitters as honestly as possible. He asks me if [random spooky thing] frightened me too and I tell him that yes, it did in the context of the story because I was worried about the outcome, but it doesn’t scare me now because it was just a story and I don’t believe in monsters.
One of these days, my kids are going discover that their sensible Dad is also a damned fraud.
They’re going to discover that their own Dad cannot sleep in a room that is too dark, or too quiet. Or that he must always close the closet door before he climbs into bed. Or that he has still not watched The Walking Dead because he is afraid it will keep him up at nights. One day, they will discover that their Dad claimed to believe in ghosts until probably age 25, because of his lifelong conviction that saying There Is No Such Thing As Ghosts was actually the charm that would bring the phantoms rushing into the room, wide-eyed and clothed in death.
I know better now. The world is scary enough without monsters … right?
Last night, our 4 year old crawled into bed with us. She curled up next to me, and was asleep again within seconds. I remain awake as I so often do when woken in the night. Within minutes, I hear her whimper and feel her body give a minuscule writhe. She wakes, her breath quickening beside me.
“Daddy, I had a bad dream.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, about what?”
“Zombies. There were good zombies in our house, and then bad ones. And you died.”
“Ohhh, it’s … OK, love. There’s no zombies and I’m right here.”
I pull the covers up around her shoulders and she snuggles deeper into the curve of me and tumbles back into her 4 year old sleep.
I lie awake, rearranging the shadows. My heart skips a beat as the house creaks, my eyes flicker toward the dark corners of the room.