My childhood was regularly haunted by screams in the night of, “Spiders! Spiders everywhere!”
If that won’t give you arachnophobia, I don’t know what will.
I never could resist mummifying myself from the neck down and scanning the dark ceiling anxiously as I waited for Dad’s gruff reply to my mother, “There aren’t any spiders! You’re dreaming again. Go back to sleep.”
Mom always took it well. “They’re going to kill us, but fine…fine!”
My sweet mom had night terrors. These differ from nightmares in an important way. During a nightmare you’re likely to cry out with your eyes closed, startling yourself awake. During a night terror you’re likely to cry out, eyes wide open, before you kill someone, startling them awake, in self defense. Or so you say.
Dad’s strategy was to throw his body across Mom’s at that first suspicious movement or sound, locking her in an embrace of iron. This was an important preventative measure because my mother had been known to run full speed through a dark room full of furniture, to brutally wring the cotton out of bath towels and to search for convenient weapons to use against gnomes.
Dad may not have had a choice, but I voluntarily put myself in the crosshairs of Mom’s bad dreams on steroids when I was 14 or so. She had spent a whole day in her room with a migraine. It was a double whammy; she was ill and had been sleeping heavily. Nevertheless, I crept in to say a quick goodnight to my (daytime) saint-like mother, ignoring Dad’s warning to leave her alone. As I entered the room, Mom sat bolt upright in bed. Her large brown eyes were wide in the dim light from the hall and they fixed on me like motion sensing lasers. I halted.
“Hi, Mama,” I said cautiously. “I just wanted to say goodnight.”
I took a step closer but was arrested by her strange query, “Hillary, what do you have in your mouth?”
“Uh, nothing, Mama. I don’t have anything in my mouth.”
“Yes, you do. Come here.”
Fear gripped me. My mom was obviously reliving some incident from my childhood when I used to chew on raw hot dogs as pacifiers and shove half a banana in my mouth at a time, prompting my parents to chant, “Small bites, chew them well!” until I entered adolescence and acquired some manners.
“Mom, I don’t have anything in my mouth!” I cried, attempting to be firm.
“Hillary, come here. Get that out of your mouth right now!”
“What, Mama? What do you mean? All I have is my tongue,” I uttered pathetically. “See…”
As she started to rise from the bed, I quickly pulled my tongue back in and wondered whether I could learn to swallow without it. Back to the wall, I must have managed to squeak out a weak, “Help!” because Dad suddenly appeared and jumped between us.
“Hillary, I told you not to disturb her!” he cried, locking her in his arms. “Now, get out of here now!”
I would never again disturb my mother’s slumber without backup.
However, as I said, Dad didn’t have a choice. Thank heavens he always reacted in time. Except one time he didn’t.
Mom claims she woke up and saw a little man on Dad’s side of the bed. Another menacing gnome, dammit! He was coming toward her and she didn’t have a weapon at hand. She promptly flipped up the mattress to create a defensive barrier.
When he hit the wall and floor, Dad joined the party. The first thing he saw was his wife coming around the bed toward him with that otherworldly gleam in her eye. His yells of bewilderment, outrage and terror didn’t succeed in snapping her out of it, but his consequent mad dash past her did.
We kids were awakened, not by cries in the night, but by an argument in the living room. We wandered out to find Dad sitting imperiously on the arm of the sofa, head back, arms folded, shaking his head adamantly and saying, “Nope. Uh-uh. I am not going back to that bed with you.”
Mom, half giggling, cajoled, “Honey, you know I don’t know what I’m doing. Come back to bed. It won’t happen again.”
To which Dad’s only answer was, “Humph!”
It took her all night to win him back.
And he’s by her side to this day, protecting the world (and her) from a gentle, saintly, lovely woman who on one night every month or so turns into The Incredible Hulk…the one who is afraid of spiders.
Hillary has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and fifty loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.