Monsters inhabited my bedroom when I was a kid. I felt them peering at me from the darkness, waiting for me to nod off so they could creep over and rip the life out of me, or worse.
The worst was Cow Head. It was a tall cadaverous being with the head of a cow. It had a lolling, wart-covered tongue, red eyes and a nose that leaked acid snot.
Note: I have no idea from where my imagination conjured this monster unless it was a slightly distorted image of my third-grade teacher.
Next in the terror lineup was Big Cootie, a skittering, cockroach-looking thing that snuck over the foot of the bed. Reportedly, one touch of its awful feelers could make a kid’s doodle fall off.
Laugh if you will, but Leon and Duncan swore it happened to a kid in the grade ahead of us. As a result, I sometimes wore six pairs of underpants to bed.
For a year or so I was petrified of an elusive night creeper called the Snorter. I never actually saw it, but I heard it a lot. It made a low, wet, gorging sound, like some poor kid having his guts vaccuum-suctioned out. I later found out it was the old man snoring.
My parents had little patience for these nocturnal frights and insisted the lights remain off at night. I was left to deal with the gibbering horrors on my own. Bad idea.
One night, in a last-ditch effort to save my [life], I plugged Big Cootie with a slingshot. But the marble went clear through him and broke a window. I got a night light after that.
As I got older, Cow Head and Big Cootie didn’t come around so much. But there were still monsters in the dark, things that kept me awake and praying they wouldn’t get their filthy hands on me.
Vietnam was a pretty damn scary monster. So too were Drug Addiction, Susan’s Old Man, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Juvenile Detention and Church.
Eventually, I made peace with all those hideous things. If I didn’t deliberately goad them, they wouldn’t hurt me any more than they had to.
Now when I can’t fall asleep it’s almost always indigestion or allergies, picky things more annoying than scary. Most of my night monsters have forgotten about me.
But there is one.
It’s been 12 years since my wife was diagnosed with advanced cancer. We narrowly escaped its clutches, but only after months of her being systematically poisoned and burned alive.
Although technically "cured" or in remission, her genetic history is such that Big C will always be that grisly thing peering at us from the darkness.
Mostly we don’t think about "the bad time," but there are periodic reminders that bring it shambling back. My wife undergoes regular screenings to make sure Big C continues to keep its distance.
During the nights leading up to her screening, those old feelings of something horrible licking its chops in the dark return. I lie there wondering what I’ll do if Big C comes back for good.
We had another screening last week. It came back normal. I can sleep easier now knowing that the darkness has been pushed back for at least another couple of years.
For some monsters there are no night lights, slingshots or enough underpants in the world to keep them away forever.
But I can’t spend the rest of our life together with the covers pulled over my head. I need to enjoy the days we have and let the nights fend for themselves.
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