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ME AND THE BOOGIE MAN*
29 October 2005
The Boogie Man lived in our neighborhood.
We knew he lived there because my friend Stephen's father told us he did.
He lived in a storage area in the basement of the apartment building where Stephen lived, an apartment building which Stephen's grandparents owned and his parents managed.
The problem was that to get to the small garden, where the huge hydrangeas grew and where you could look out over Coit Tower and Fisherman's Wharf, you had to pass the place where the Boogie Man lived.
We had to walk down a long flight of stairs, then open the big heavy wooden door to the garden, all the while listening for the Boogie Man.
As you passed the door to the Boogie Man's house, you could just see the storage units toward the front, and then the path went off into black nothingness. That's where the Boogie man was waiting for us.
As a little kid, I can remember creeping down those stairs, my heart pounding in my chest, keeping as far away from the Boogie Man's house as possible so he couldn't reach out and grab me. Once Stephen had opened the door to the garden, I could race down the stairs while Stephen shut the door behind us.
We never did wake the Boogie man up, but that's only because we were always v-e-r-y quiet.
When we got older, we became more bold and we actually decided to enter the Boogie Man's house and see if we could find him. We cautiously crept forward into the dark hole, step by step, hardly daring to breathe. But either the Boogie Man had died or moved away because when our eyes became accustomed to the light, we could see that he was no longer there.
But I suspect that the Boogie Man's primary job had been to keep little kids from messing with the things that the residents of the apartment had stored inside his home--and in that, he definitely did his job.
The Boogie Man wasn't the only problem that I had to deal with in my childhood. The problem with childhood is that it is fraught with such monsters and things that go bump in the night. I'm not sure why they like to prey on young kids and leave adults alone. Maybe they are cowards at heart and only prey on things that are weaker than they are.
In addition to the Boogie Man there was the snake that lived under my bed. Lemme tell you, it's very difficult to have a snake living under your bed. The snake had a huge mouth and it waited every night for me to put my feet down beside the bed so that it could reach out and bite me and drag me under the bed with him.
I developed a trick for getting in and out of bed. It was ok going to bed because my mother was there and the snake was afraid of her, so I knew that he wouldn't grab me while the lights were on and my mother was there, so it was safe for me to walk by the bed.
But when the lights went off, the snake woke up and just lay there very quietly waiting for me. I learned to get out of bed by leaping as far away from the side of the bed as possible and then leaving the bedroom quickly.
I wonder how the snake managed to live so long, if he feasted on little girl's toes and was unable to ever get so much as a nibble of my toes.
The last time I slept in that bed I was probably home from college. I hadn't slept in my old bed in a very long time and it felt good to feel the old familiar bed again. But when I woke up in the morning, I very carefully took a big step out of the bed, just in case the snake was still there.
Old habits die hard.
It was bad enough that I had to deal with things in my neighborhood, but celestial bodies were also out to get me.
We had a set of "red books" of short stories from which my parents would read us stories. One night they read the Native American legend of the man in the moon, an old Indian man all dressed in white. I don't really remember all the details, but I do remember that a little child with dirty hands came up to hug the Indian and left handprints all over his bright white robe.
That's why when you look up at the moon, you see a bright white ball with black splotches on it.
Sometime not too long after reading that story, my father was carrying me up the back stairs to the flat above our home, where our landlord and landlady lived. As we got to the landing outside their door I looked up in the sky and the moon was full. I began to scream because I was terrified that the man in the moon was coming to get me.
I really had a very difficult childhood, filled with all sorts of things out to get me. I don't remember my kids ever having such terrors. (Maybe they just didn't tell me.) Too bad; they missed some of the most memorable parts of childhood!
*This has been an entry for the Writing Womyn collab.
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