My brother was almost eight years older than I was. I was a besotted younger sister who thought he could do no wrong. It didn’t matter that his later success as a psychologist had its roots in his manipulation of me; I thought pretty much everything he ever did was wonderful. Even the scary things were okay. They strengthened my character and gave me courage. Or so I like to think.
When I was a kid, we lived in a large house built in the 1920’s for some family that must have had a fetish about being clean. Every bedroom had its own bathroom, and there were two powder rooms besides. My bedroom door was right across the hall from the door to the attic, or rather, a complete third floor. It was built to be a self-contained living space for servants.
I had a room up there I played in during the day, but by night I hated the dark and the seeming vastness of the space. By the time I was six or so, we no longer had live-in help, so the third floor was totally empty. I had a thing about monsters. I was certain they were lurking everywhere, not only behind my closet door, but up in the dark attic, for sure.
My brother was quick to point out that the first place the monsters would go when they came out of the attic, would be straight across the narrow hallway and through my bedroom door, into my room. As a result, part of my nightly ritual was to make sure that door to the third floor was tightly closed.
My brother and I played a game in my room sometimes. We would sit on my bed and pretend to be paddling a boat on a dangerous river. We had to avoid rapids and waterfalls, and yes, crocodiles. It seemed we would play this game for hours. I always had a wonderful time. Perhaps my brother was tiring of the game and sought some way to get me to stop. Perhaps he was just trying to scare me. “Do you know where the crocodiles go at night?” he asked me one day. It had never before occurred to me to think about that.
“No.” I said.
“They are hiding under your bed,” he informed me. I could feel my stomach contract. I hadn’t been afraid of crocodiles before that minute. “When you get up at night to go to the bathroom, you better watch out. They’ll come out and get you before you can get to the bathroom door, or back to your bed. As a matter of fact, they’ll grab your feet the second they touch the ground beside your bed.”
It really didn’t scare me that much, but after that as I switched on my bedside light at night, I fully expected to see crocodile snouts peeking out from under the edge of my bed, or at least two or three crawling around on the floor. I was always a little disappointed that they weren’t. I even hung my head down over the side of the bed to check once in a while. Nothing.
He did scare me terribly one time. He was babysitting for me with one of his friends one night. He let me watch a movie my parents never would have let me see. It was on far past my bedtime. It was called “The Crawling Eye.” It didn’t matter that many years later I watched that movie again and “The Crawling Eye” was an obviously fake, rubbery, octopus-shaped one-eyed toy that moved around a foggy aquarium looking in doll-house windows to find its victims; that thing was 100% real to me at the time. I was petrified. It always got its victims when they were alone.
“You have to go upstairs now and take your bath,” my brother informed me. “Be careful when you do so that one of those legs doesn’t come up the drain and get you,” he said, a particularly evil grin on his face. He and his friend cracked up, snorting and snickering to each other. I went up to my bathroom and put about an inch of water in the tub. I took the shortest bath ever. The drain had a cover, but I knew it wouldn’t hold back one of The Eye’s legs. I was afraid it would see me through the little bathroom window. I ran back downstairs. My brother brought me upstairs to put me to bed.
“Make sure you keep your venetian blinds shut tight,” he said. “You don’t want it to find you after I’m gone.” I got up to double check that the blinds were not only shut tight, but hung down below the window sill, just in case. It was months before I was comfortable leaving my windows open again. I still prefer to sleep on the side of the bed away from windows, or most importantly, closet doors. At some level, monsters still lurk in my nighttime mind.
Decades later my brother and I talked about this. I told him my fear of that movie practically stopped my heart, and for a long time afterwards, too. “Oohhh, Chris,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” We could have a good laugh about these things, then.
My brother passed away ten years ago this coming Christmas. I still miss him.