the wee hours

My introduction to the dark side of the supernatural was at the hands of my great aunt’s daughters and in the form of Barnabus Collins of Dark Shadows. I was probably six or seven. That stoked my interest in the undead and before long I’d caught the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula on the afternoon Big Show. I don’t think the problems started until a year or two later when an older kid from daycare told me that vampire sightings were fairly common. I don’t remember the particulars but I think my sleep problems began about that time.

When step-dad moved us into the nice new house I was nine. From that time until I was probably 13, or even 14, I would have periods when I’d wake up at night absolutely terrified. The pattern that emerged was that first I’d make sure the coast was clear. I’d peer into the darkness and listen for the slightest sound. Once I was reasonably sure I wasn’t about to be gotten, I make a break for my little sister’s room and crawl in bed with her. I’m not sure how long this went on. Maybe one week. Or maybe many times over a couple of years. At some point though, Mom and Step-dad decided it was unacceptable behavior. I was instructed to come and wake Step-dad up if and when I got scared. That same night I did. He told me all was well and to return to bed. From that point on, unless my fear of the dark overwhelmed my fear of Step-dad’s paddle, I’d lay in my own bed, often for hours, waiting for someone to get up or the sun to rise before dozing for perhaps an hour before time to go to school. On rare occasions I’d still chance sneaking into my sister’s room, but I was afraid she’d tell the other kids. I feared being embarrassed in front of my mates even more than death at the hands of some monster.

When all this started I’m pretty sure I already knew, by day, that there was no such thing as vampires, werewolves, Big Foot, or little green men. But in the dead still and pitch black of the night the terror would frequently come. Terror is, I believe, the correct word. I can’t recall how often, but certainly more than was healthy. I was running on the order to three or four hours sleep, often for days on end. I don’t recall it causing any problems or ever sleeping in class. It seems safe to assume that I wasn’t always at my best

I don’t know what was causing these episodes. I tend to think all the emotional turmoil in my young life, both past and present, had to come out somehow. If I acted out at home I’d get the shit beat out of me. I was something of a trouble maker at school but mostly managed to walk a fine line between class clown and juvenile delinquent. My night nemesis took the form of monsters but was almost certainly something from within that only came in the wee hours.

Periodically I’d have similar problems while visiting Dad in the summer and on occasion even after I moved there for my sophomore year in high school. At Dad’s though, the boogie men were always real. I remember being afraid the Son of Sam was going to travel the 1,000 miles or so south and blow my brains out, and do so as I slept in my father’s house. After I moved to Dad’s I would be terrified at night that nuclear war was about to break out and me incinerated. It’s an odd twist but I think it was certainly a slightly different version of the old pattern.

And at some point, probably just before my 16th birthday, I grew out of it.

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