The Monsters Beneath Me That's where they were: beneath me...under my bed, actually...the grizzly and ghoulish creatures of my childhood imaginings. But, for a six year old boy, still treading the perplexing waters between fantasy and reality, they were as real as the bed I lay upon. Night after night I would lay rigid in my bed, dreading falling asleep, for I knew that once asleep, my arm or leg would come to dangle over the side of my all-too-narrow bed. And that's when it would happen: some hideous, cartoonish monster, or team of them, would snatch my dangling limb and pull me under the bed, where all manner of horrors awaited me. Fearing what lay in wait for me, I would try to fall asleep laying perfectly still in the middle of my bed, legs together, arms tight to my sides, and hope that somehow I might safely awaken in the morning. Often, I would awaken in darkness and deep dread (did I yell for help?), sweating and shaking. Unconvinced that this was “just” a dream, I would lay there in that fixed, rigid position, trying to stay awake, but failing and falling again into sleep. To my great relief, I would indeed awaken safely each morning -- another treacherous and fearful night, survived. And although I would rise to meet the morning with my childish exuberance -- forgetting the sweat-inducing panic and fear of the night before -- all would return upon bedtime. I am not certain how long this phantasmic phase persisted. The memory is fuzzy, distorted by a lifetime since lived. But it seems to have recurred over many days, or periodically, over a week or two. I don't recall sharing these night terrors with my brothers or ever mentioning it to my dad or mom. I was, even at the age of six, deeply embarrassed by the whole thing. And so I felt rather helpless as well. But, possibly due to some innate stubbornness, or exasperation, this terrifying dreaming would abruptly stop. I can recall only opening my eyes, one morning, peering straight up at what seemed to be a wall of wooden slats pressing in on me. Startled, I lifted my head, banging it hard against the wood, exclaiming “Ow!” as one might expect. What was this? What's going on? A few seconds of disorientation and rousing consciousness passed before I realized what was ‘going on' -- where I was: I was underneath my bed! Somehow, in my sleeping state -- and I possessed no memory of doing so -- I had gotten out of bed, and, blanket and all, maneuvered myself onto the floor beneath my bed -- a tight space with just enough room, plus an inch or two, for one six year old boy. I laid there for some time, awake and marveling at this strange feat of magical transportation. And then, another profound realization came over me: if I was under my bed, then there couldn't be monsters under my bed, too -- there was simply no room for them. I remember smiling, even laughing out loud. That whole day I felt a strange, all-pervading sense of calm and confidence that I had never felt previously. I had, unknowingly, found the solution to my night time hallucinations. I had confronted the monsters where they lived and had emerged the stronger! I had become my own hero. No help from mom or dad or divine intervention. And, something in me had changed, permanently. My view of ‘reality', however limited by youthful inexperience, had been forever altered. I felt, deeply, that my Life was no longer the same. Possibly, I might have spent a night or two more sleeping under my bed (just to be sure), but I distinctly recall the complete vanquishing of those limb-snatching ghouls that were just out of sight, and yet so close beneath me. And, over the months following, whenever a new night time phantasm emerged, I would somehow find a way to thwart or out-smart it, as if now possessing magic powers. Over the years, I would come to confront other fears common to many...such as the ‘panic' of having to speak in front of others and even a fear of hypodermic needles. I remember a nurse rubbing the alcohol-soaked swab on my arm, just moments before being ‘stuck'. I started to feel that familiar panic rising up in me. Closing my eyes, slowing my breathing, I recalled that long-ago morning when I woke up beneath my bed. But now, I felt only an eye blink of anxiety, and then a wave of calm flowing over me as the needle pierced my skin. I think I laughed -- surprising myself, and the nurse. This ‘extinguishing' would ultimately prove invaluable as, only a few years afterwards, my dad developed an acute form of dysplastic anemia and was in need of a familial blood supply for possible transfusions. And, in the ride to the hospital, feeling no little pride, I recalled the vanquishing of those monsters once more. It might seem strange to say it now but I believe I first started ‘growing up' the moment that my six-year-old-self woke up, under my bed, bumped my head, and laughed.
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