This article originally appeared on April 26th, 2006 in americachronicle.com.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
When I was a child, I was a scared little boy. I mostly have my older brothers to thank for this. As I think back on those foggy memories, I recall that they used to torment me by hiding around corners and jumping out at me or telling me stories constructed for the purpose of eliciting a scream or gasp. They would then laugh in hysterics when I responded as expected and ran off screaming or crying. Many times I would run to my mom or dad for comfort and my brothers would end up getting scolded. Now, I don’t tell you this to blame my brothers for any of my character flaws or to try to make them sound mean or evil. I love my brothers dearly. These are simply memories I have. Such things happen in a large family. We were all immature children and we acted like it.
As it happens, however, these little episodes of terrorizing a little kid did have an affect on me, or so I believe. For one thing it helped to fire up the overactive imagination I spoke of in my last article. Yet they also helped me to differentiate reality from imagination more clearly. They also helped me recognize when I was being fed a story, or in the modern vernacular, when someone was BSing me. I became suspicious of every shadow. I would check around every corner, making sure nothing was lurking there ready to pounce. I believed I was being cautious, but in fact I had learned to fear things I shouldn’t have to fear.
I remember times when fear would take control. I would be afraid of the dark. I’d be afraid to fall asleep. I’d be afraid to go into my room by myself. It didn’t happen all the time, but when it did it was overwhelming. I’d have to muster up a great deal of courage (for a little kid) just to go into my room, turn off the lights, and go to bed on some nights. There would be nights my paranoia would be so great I’d lay in my bed staring into the darkness just waiting for some scary monster to jump out and snack on me. I can still get the willies just thinking about it.
One morning I woke and my eyes fell upon a box in the middle of my messy room. Inside it, I swear I saw an evil goblin or some such mystical creature hiding. I knew it was waiting for me to get up, that it was going to snatch me as I walked by. I quickly hid under the blankets. After a time I peeked out, half expecting to see its face next to mine. I was in luck. It hadn’t moved. Then it occurred to me that it didn’t know I had spotted it. I would turn the tables on it. I would sneak up and pounce on it. I slithered out of the bed onto my stomach and crawled up to the box, keeping an eye on the creature the entire time. I grabbed at the evil being. I found myself grasping an oversized rubber ball. I was confused only for a second before I finally realized I had let my fear get the better of me.
I grew up quite a bit that day. Fear never affected me the same way since. I conquered my childhood fears and today I write horror novels. Not that any of them were ever published, a near impossibility for new authors these days. (In fact, if anyone reading this is a publisher or knows one looking for a good horror novel, drop me an email).
I’ve learned quite a bit about fear in my life. I’ve learned fear can be fun, if we elect to let it entertain us by watching a movie or reading a book. On the other side of the coin, it can be disturbing if it gets out of control. It can take over one’s life rather quickly and make one act irrational. One can use fear to manipulate another. Fear can be quite debilitating when one knows his big brother is trying to scare him.
A number of years ago, when I was a young father, I allowed my oldest daughter to watch a particularly scary movie. She was maybe five at the time. She spent nearly the entire movie with her face buried in my shoulder. I found this amusing. My daughter is twenty one years old now and she reminded me of this episode in a phone conversation we had a week or so ago. She had once again watched this movie a few weeks back. She told me she couldn’t believe I had let her watch that movie at such a tender age. I explained to her that I was a young, inexperienced father at that time and didn’t know what I was doing. She went on to inform me how adversely that event had affected her, that she’d had nightmares about that movie for years and often times couldn’t sleep or suffered from paranoia. I could only apologize to her.
Thinking about this now, it amazes me how scary images flickering across the screen can affect one’s psyche, how scary monsters can attach themselves to one’s imagination and create a minefield of negativity in one’s mind. Couple these images with a frightening story line and it can change one’s outlook on life. It makes one feel vulnerable and insecure. It makes one wonder if an entire nation could be made to feel vulnerable and insecure using such methods. Perhaps it could if the story was believable and the images especially powerful and horrifying.
I have come to the realization that I am no longer a frightened child. I no longer need a big brother to look after me and provide me with security. I refuse to ever let fear dictate to me how I will live. I don’t think anyone should.