This is a creative essay I wrote on September 12th, 2018 and have since revised a few times. I hope you enjoy a change of pace for the blog this week. All the art is thoroughly credited and linked, please follow and support the creators. Happy Halloween Month, everyone. -Fallon
I often think back in fondness to the days I feared the dark. Though it is not too far removed from the glory of anxiety we laud and proclaim from our public platforms, there was a certain magic to it, not unlike any other childhood fondness we carry.
Gazing into the patterns of the bedroom carpet, I was shocked at the sight of grotesque eyes that would materialize above slavering maws. Their glares, brimming with unknown malice, were always directed straight at me. I’d swipe away at the fibers to shoo the apparition and then, whether empowered by my triumph or compelled by nervous skepticism, I’d call it back by another inverse passing of my palm. With its return, I would reciprocate the gaze, wide-eyed and contemplative.
My wandering mind finds a foothold could give this demonic rug rise to a tangible power. If the lights burnt out at that moment: my own room, which I had navigated many times with my eyes shut, would betray its own familiarity and give this malevolence permission to consume me. This realization would be what triggered the adrenaline in my growing brain to stir me off the floor in a panic, fleeing toward the safety of distraction. Later that evening, when it would be time to sleep, my synapses would alarm once again the memory of my apparition and I’d ask my mom if I could watch the TV to fall asleep.
I would then grow older with a case of Stockholm Syndrome toward spooky media of all sorts. Casper the Friendly Ghost acted as a liaison on behalf of Scooby Doo, the Addams Family, the ghost house levels in Super Mario World, and, the flagship of all things haunted and frightening, Halloween. Growing older I’d still find a wretched pit in my stomach coming across dimly lit halls or hearing unexplainable groans in the house, but overall it would seem I had made a treatise with the lowest levels of the unsettling forces at work in life.
Entering into my teenage years I would delve deeper into my alliance, now under pressure to impress horror-movie obsessed girls. With that, new affinities for disturbed things arose: the likes of Xenomorphs, zombies, Poe’s House of Usher, and how to combat the ever-present oppression of Hell in light of my newly discovered Christianity. I was constantly finding new contexts in which to bend these forces of fear into a posture of impotence.
Now as an adult, scars of a familiar panic might puff up in moments of 3AM paranoia, but they are quickly deflated by my understanding. The details of a semester-long psychology class have all fleeted, but the one remaining was by far the most practical. Tied to the study of evolutionary psychology, we can infer that fear is an instinctual response to stir up our longstanding natural defense mechanism known as “fight-or-flight.” My human ancestors can still be called that because they would search for eyes gleaming in the black of night, knowing that leaves shuffled nearby could mean certain death by a violent predator, or worse, fellow man. The mere possibility that something murderous could be out there would stimulate survivalist sensibilities and aide my ancient predecessors in making a stealthy escape or arming themselves for defense.
The further the existential camera pans back, it seems the threat of spiritual and primal fear shrinks exponentially with the passing of time and the gathering of knowledge. There is an awareness of a privileged life that sits with me; I have been faced with nightmarish violence, but have far less trauma than many who might say violence defines their reality. They need those elder brain instincts to push forth, often their only reprieve to tend to their bleeding or pay respects to a grave they never wanted to dig.
A tower of anxiety looms at the crest of the long hill much of humanity has climbed in order to overcome “mere survival.” It is maddening to the unbraced mind, reinstating that previously harmless Stockholm Syndrome, making us compliant to the oppression of our limited perception. Now we find comfort and safety in the “tension-into-jump scare” routine during slasher films, as we ritually summon anxiety daily life as if surrounded by its hypnotic triggers. Anxiety is widely celebrated through Internet sarcasm, Friday night binge-drinking, all-day Saturday video streaming stasis. It is taught by frustrated, vindictive parents; cunning, gluttonous industries; the guillotine of success standards decreed by modern society. Survivalism is found once again but at another octave of quickening frequency.
Not unlike the steadfast striving for peace by gurus and saints, fear pervades and adapts throughout time. That is why I long for those hands. The ones that were surely reaching for my heels as I evaded the shadows from the curb, feverishly attempting to take out the kitchen garbage. When fear was theoretical its boundaries were somewhat arbitrary. I hardly ever considered how driving any highway, night or day, was much more dangerous than being alone in the house. There were colorful spirits that told corny jokes, rather than inner voices that devalue self-worth, convincing us that it’s fine to leave the house some other day. At the crux of mystical dread, exorcism was a tried and true defense; now faith is all we have against doubt.
We may cling to hope, tendons tired, nails dug in deep. But we are still clinging.