Shortly before I turned 10 years old, I developed a fear of people breaking into our house. I’m not sure where this came from or why, other than I likely saw a movie or a TV show episode depicting something like this that left an impression that refused to dissipate. As such, I had a routine every night before I got into bed; look inside my closet to make sure no one was hiding in there and also get down on my hands and knees to peer under my bed just in case a baddie was lurking amongst the dust bunnies and wayward plastic Barbie stiletto shoes. Some nights I was so spooked that I’d repeat this several times. On the worst nights, I’d start fretting that my parents had neglected to lock the front door and would climb out of bed, leave my bedroom, and roam the house checking and rechecking doors and windows. The colder months were better than those tortuous warm nights when windows were left open to let in a cooling breeze.
That summer, my older sister and I went on our usual trip from my mom and step-dad’s house in San Diego, California to spend close to three months with my Father and step-mother, Margot, in Lafayette, Indiana. When we arrived at the house from the airport, Margot had a surprise in store; they’d purchased a sofa sleeper for the TV room so that Ann and I would no longer have to share the bed in the guestroom. Ann, who was 12 and more than ready to have a room all to herself, was elated; I wasn’t so thrilled about it as this meant I’d be alone at night in somewhat unfamiliar surroundings.
Me with Father and Ann Summer 1973
That first night, and many subsequent ones were, frankly speaking, awful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I was miserable throughout the day because I wasn’t. Ann and I had a lot of fun with our companion (not babysitter) Judy during the week, and on the weekends, Margot typically had interesting or entertaining family activities planned. But those nights, those nights I dreaded. I’d start in on the dreading once it got dark, even if I wasn’t actually going to have to go to bed for several hours. Like any kid, I’d try to find ways to prolong bedtime, but my reasoning wasn’t because I really desired to stay up longer, it was because I was terrified.
Once alone in the TV room with the door shut and securely locked, I’d pull out my bed, get the sheets and the blanket put on, and then commence my obsessive compulsive routine of determining that nothing had snuck its way into the room in the time I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth. I’d open up the closet, poke around all the winter coats and sweaters to see if there was a person (or monster) in there; then, look under the sofa bed for the same (this despite the fact that not five minutes before there had been no bed, so how something could have crept under it with me standing right there apparently did not dawn on my 9 year old self).
Then, I had to deal with WC Fields.
My Father was a great fan of that old movie star; although movie star doesn’t exactly describe that scary looking grouchy old geezer who (allegedly but not in actuality) hated children. In any case, someone gave my Father this statue of WC. It was made of something heavy and, admittedly, painted in such a way that it really did look like him; nattily dressed, complete with a very tall top hat. It was about a foot and a half or so tall and was creepy enough looking in its own right, however I’d recently seen a horror movie about dolls coming to life in the middle of the night and killing their owners, so good old WC was not only creepy, he was also a threat.
WC had to go. Of course, I couldn’t actually get rid of him so I did the next best thing, I hid him. In the closet. Which meant that, several times a night before I finally fell asleep, I had to get up and check the closet to make sure he hadn’t become animated; and then, for good measure, look under the sofa bed just in case he’d somehow managed to open the closet door and slide under there and was waiting to burn out my eyeballs with the cigar he was wielding.
The Terrifying WC Fields Statue
So, night after night there I was, terrified of nonexistent evil people hiding in the closet and underneath my bed, and of a statue of WC Fields.
As if this wasn’t enough, one night at dinner my Father said something to one of our dinner guests about never locking the doors to the house. He said it along the lines of, “Well, you know you are always welcome here. Just come on in, we never lock our doors”. And, you guessed it. That very night, after checking that WC was still in his closet, I unlocked the door to the TV room and went out; commencing a very lengthy process of checking the three doors and the multitude of windows in the house.
So this went on for at least a week until during one compulsive sojourn, I happened upon my Father in the kitchen getting something to drink, alarming him and scaring me to no end. The gig was up. He asked me, “What are you doing?” so I told him. After thoughtful consideration, he led me over to the couch and sat me down. He sat next to me, looked me in the face and said something that was not strictly true, but made a big impression on me, regardless, “Amy, there are no G-damned criminals in Lafayette Indiana, and even if there were, they wouldn’t be coming into our house, and even if they did, they wouldn’t hurt us because I have a 22 gauge pump action shotgun that says they won’t”. Say what you will about my Father’s approach to my anxieties, but after that conversation, I was never again quite so fearful while staying in that house.
I even let old WC out of the closet.
What do my childhood fears have to do with a present day count down to my spiritual retreat?