When I was in second grade, my ballet teacher, whom we simply referred to as “Madam,” came up with a very clever way to inspire us to leap higher and farther. We stood in the auditorium, a mass of 8-year-old little girls in our black leotards, pink tights and pink ballet slippers, in a perfect line while she informed us that what we didn’t know was between “this” line and “that” line was actually a river full of alligators.
And if we did not leap all the way across, well. Everyone knows what happens to little girls who fall into a pit of angry alligators.
No one pretended like I was on my way to auditioning for George Balanchine; ballet class was for discipline, time killing and recitals. But when Madame told us that story and then commanded us to leap, there was no one who made it further across that river of snapping, agitated alligators than me.
The problem was the alligators didn’t only live in the auditorium during ballet class. After school, they moved under my bed, hidden and quiet, but ready to devour me if given the opportunity. I never saw them, as lifting the white ruffled bed skirt would make me vulnerable to their powerful jaws and sharp teeth, but I knew they were there. And so every night after brushing my teeth, I’d stand at my bedroom door, pump my arms hard, get a running head start, and then fly through the air Superman style, eventually collapsing on my bed.
The alligators were always there, but they never managed to get me. In third grade, we moved to another house. It could have been that I grew older, but I prefer to think that the alligators just stayed behind waiting for another little girl to terrorize.
As kids, we all have things that we’re “irrationally” fearful of. I put irrationally in quotes because I promise you that after my brother read me the scene from Stephen King’s “The Shining” about the naked corpse with her floating pubic hair who rises out of the bathtub, I was beyond certain that the one time I didn’t check through the hinged-cracked in the bathroom door, she’d be waiting for me, naked and ready to attack, in the claw footed tub of our London flat.
And don’t even get me started on the Wheelers or the head-exchanging witch in “Return to Oz.”
Because those childhood fears? They’re very real. Which is why we all remember them so vividly. And why they’re also completely hilarious as adults.
Take for example…
I was scared of "FernGully." I've still never watched the whole thing. I also used to have nightmares about those silhouette people from bathroom doors chasing me. And I was extremely scared of the apocalypse. I used to cry and pray that I would get to grow up before the world ended (this was as, like, a 5, 6 year old). Them's the breaks when you're the child of a pastor. Also seaweed and clowns.
I used to be TERRIFIED of that song "The Night the Lights Went out In Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence:
Also, the Vincent Price spoken-word portion of "Thriller."
1. A Halloween poster of a skeleton hiding behind a tree, clutching a knife, and waiting for two happy cartoon children to come down the path by the graveyard -- this resulted in recurrent nightmares for YEARS.
2. "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" -- that stupid movie gave me nightmares for years. I used to dream that killer tomatoes were coming up through our plumbing and chasing me around the house.
3. Herbivorous dinosaurs
Also: Did anyone else ever read a short story about a kid who had an invisible friend but then when he grew up and came back home, the invisible friend had turned into this weird monkey with very sharp teeth trying to get in through the crack in the window?
When I was 5 years old at a New Year's party, someone told me a "scary story" about a little girl who licked red droplets off the sidewalk and then turned into a vampire. It haunted me for a decade -- I wouldn't sleep with the closet door open because I was convinced that a vampire lived on the top shelf and peeped at me when I was sleeping. Kind of funny in retrospect because I'm such a crypto-nerd now. My dad also taunted me by telling me all about La Llorona when I was like 7, and I used to imagine her wandering around the hallways of our house crying.
Also I was desperately afraid of swimming in pools at night for fear of sharks (why).
When I was little my mom let me watch "Crooklyn" and "Tommy" in the same week (she is an amazing really cool mom not sarcastic) and that sparked my major MAJOR fear of drugs when I was little. So much so that in the second grade for Martin Luther King Day we all had to draw a picture of what scared us (I do not know how that is relevant) and I drew a picture of a guy coming in through my window and making me do drugs. I got in huge trouble. Which is MESSED UP.
I never liked flushing the toilet at night because I thought that the noise would mean I couldn't hear someone leaping from the darkness to kill me.
In order of fear quotient:
1. Flushing the toilet at night
2. Wheelers (from Return to Oz)
3. Michael Jackson's Thriller video
OK, also one time my pastor at church told us a story about a boy who stripped down on his bed and asked the devil to come into his body, which OF COURSE HE DID. I don't know why, but I was afraid I was going to somehow accidentally do this. Let's go ahead and just say "Scared of Hell," in general. Also, I was terrified of somehow getting mixed up with the mob and being unable to get out.
Bathrooms, closets or anything dark at night. I was pretty much scared of everything after seeing the movie "It" in 2nd grade.
Ditto on the wheelers/most of" Return to Oz." But definitely had a paralyzing fear of my closet and being kidnapped (somebody told me the Adam Walsh story). Oh, and some movie my sister and I saw like 10 minutes of where a man was holding a struggling woman's eye open while a robot removed her eyeball. Oh, and my babysitter showed me "Aliens" when I was four so that was uncool.
I was (OK still am) terrified that a snake is gonna bite my bum every time I sit on the toilet. NOT THAT I EVER SIT ON THE TOILET, MIND YOU -- I'm a lady. But, like, where would this snake be coming from??
Mirrors at night. I used to take mine off my bedroom wall and put it under my bed at night. I thought if I accidently looked in one in the dark I might run into Bloody Mary. I still prefer not to look into a mirror in the dark.
I also dislike making eye contact with people in mirrors because I feel like I'm actually looking into the eyes of that person's creepy other-dimension alter ego.
All right, you know the drill. We showed you ours; now you show us yours. In a totally non-pervy way, of course. Except, you know, not really.