Things I Was Afraid Of When I Was A Kid

I was reading Open Brackets, and Ms. Armstrong was listing things that children fear. It got me to thinking about my own list of childhood fears. (I think you should credit those who inspire you, and I have no qualms about admitting my own occasional lack of originality). At first, I thought that I didn't have many to look back on, but the more I thought about it, the more they kept popping up.
  • I had this near abject fear of little plastic soldiers. I had no fear of them during the day, and would even set them up alongside my Fisher Price people in the miniature towns I built out of blocks, Lego, and cardboard boxes. During daylight hours, I knew them to be the benign moulded plastic chunks that we are all familiar with, but at night At night, they were no longer benign. They knew that I had discovered their secret - in the dark, when humans were asleep, the little plastic soldiers were freed from their frozen state and could wander freely on their own - and they did not want me to give their secret away. For a period of my childhood, I believed that I was being terrorized nightly into keeping my silence about their true nature. They would march into my room under cover of night. I could just make out their tiny cannons as they dragged them across the floor and their huddled groups as they organized themselves for defensive attack. On one occasion, I swear that I could feel the sting of tiny bullets hitting my calves as I raced on pointed toes out to the hall. A couple of years ago, I read a story by Stephen King in one of his compilations of short stories about a similar scenario, but his little plastic soldiers attacked during the day, so it obviously had no basis in fact whatsoever.
  • I grew to fear the smell of bleach when I was small. To my young nose, which was still a neophyte in the world of scent, the smell of bleach was all encompassing. It seemed to overtake my other senses and would overwhelm my brain. My stomach would start a slow, sickly twist, and my gag reflex would leap into action. My mother always told me that I was over-reacting as I squinched up my face, grabbed at my abdomen, and convulsively stuck my tongue out of my mouth. I thought that my eventual death from the stench was assured. She could die if she wanted, but I was outta there.
  • I had the kind of baby doll that had the opening and closing eyes. I can't remember which relative gifted me with it, but I was sure that they hated me. When her eyes were open, she would stare at me in this penetrating yet blank fashion, and I could not stand the weight of that steady, empty gaze, so I shoved her into my cupboard in the lying down position. I periodically checked inside the cupboard, both to make sure that her eyes were closed and to make sure that she was still there. Her eyes were fickle, and sometimes when I checked on her status, one or both of her eyes would have fallen open. How? How?! As far as I knew, she had not been touched, but there she would be, one lid up, revealing one eye looking almost ponderously into the shadows of the cupboard. It was horrifying. What I really wanted to do was throw her, get rid of her, never see her again, but I was not allowed to throw out "perfectly good" toys, so I did what I considered to be the minimum required to make my bedroom psychologically liveable again. I grabbed my emerald green pencil crayon with my right hand, held her head firmly by the hair with my left, and stabbed at her rapidly fluttering eyes. This grisly act worked, because the left eye was permanently stuck closed and the other was half-open, looking loosely to the left. After that, she continued to live in my cupboard (albeit a less sighted life), and I breathed more easily knowing that I no longer had to feel her burning gaze through its cheap pressboard doors.
  • Ants crawling over carpet were so creepy to me that the vision of them determinedly pulling themselves over and around the carpet's fibres terrified me. Normally, I would allow insects in the house to continue their little insect lives as long as they weren't menacing to me in any way, and this included ants - ants on smooth surfaces, that is. On smooth surfaces, ants travelled smoothly from one place to the next and their movements were predictable, but on carpet their whereabouts were easily lost, and their movements took on the look of a menacing determination. It is akin to those movie and television scenes of ranks of emotionless robots advancing in steady synchronicity. Now that I think more about it, the feeling it gave me was more about repulsion, but fear was definitely a part of that.
  • Now that I have started on the bug thing, I will tell you about an incident that left me fearing cocoons for several years. I must have been four or five years old when I caught a caterpillar in our backyard and kept it in an old peanut butter jar that my mother had cleaned out and scrubbed the label off of (my wanton use of bad grammar appals even me (and "appals", with that single l looks so wrong)). Of course, being so young, I forgot all about my little creature, and the jar somehow ended up at the bottom of some concrete stairs that led to a basement entrance. I don't know how many days had passed, but I saw the jar at the bottom of the stairwell, remembered the fuzzy wuzzy caterpillar that lived in it, and raced down to see how he was doing. I scooped up the jar and then almost immediately dropped it when I saw what was inside. Where there had once been my caterpillar there was now a lumpish, white mass. It looked entirely alien to me. When I told my mother about what had happened, she asked me to bring the jar to her, but I could not bring myself to do it. I stood for a child's eternity at the top of those stairs, trying to convince myself that whatever was in the jar could not get at me through the glass and feeling my heart knocking heavily against my chest and in my hands.

    After that list of things, you must be wondering how this psycho-child managed to grow up and learn how to read and not drool and whatnot. Well, I did, obviously. When I was thinking of my childhood fears, it was the odder ones that stood out in my memory. I had other much more normal (or at least more common) fears as well: balloons (popping them), beds (underneath them in the dark), boys (big ones on the playground), children (other kids freaked me out at times), closets (in the dark), clowns, the dark, dogs (large ones), dying, geese, god (not god, but that I would grow up and find out that the god I’d been taught about wasn’t real), grasshoppers (crawling inside my clothing), horses (I don’t care what people say, those super-intelligent eyes rolling around in their heads freak me out), insects (the biting kinds – bees / wasps / hornets / horseflies), kidnappers, ladies (old), mannequins, mould, the ocean, rock ‘n roll music (I worried that it would put my soul in danger, because my religious upbringing made me think weird shit), Satanists, slivers, snot (other kids’), spankings (my parents were not physically abusive – I think I received two short spankings during my whole childhood), swing sets (the creaky kind – two friends and I toppled one over once, and I got a bloody cut on my leg), teeth (losing them), throwing up, tulips, water beetles, wet things (things that were mysteriously wet when I expected them to be dry), and so on and so on. What did you fear as a child?

    Quote of the day: “…[M]eeting people out in the wild is a risky proposition…” (Christian, 32, from his Friendster testimonial).

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