Freedom from Fear by Norman Rockwell
I grew up half-believing all the fairy tales I read as a child. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a sprite skip across the morning dew in our backyard or been truly shocked if a falling star brought me a wish. It was a lovely world to live in, but it was also a world without rules. A universe where anything can happen is a universe where bad things can happen. I was very afraid of all those bad things.
So I made rules and adopted rituals. I decided that if I stayed on the right side of my invented laws, then everything else would stay on the right side of me. There were so many pieces to the code and they varied from year to year and fear to fear.
None were relied upon as heavily as my bedtime ritual.
You never knew who might decide to come late in the night to take your heart, your hopes or your very self. I read about giants that could reach into your window and pluck you from your room, monsters that waited under beds and elves with ill intent. And then, caught in snippets on the radio or glimpses on TV, I heard even more frightening tales. They were far more horrifying than the stories on my shelf. I learned that there were men and women that hurt and took and broke, just because they could. I found out that sometimes there were children that didn’t come back, bread crumbs be damned.
So each night before bed, I told myself the angry spirits, those clothed in fable and those clothed in the flesh of men, knew the laws as thoroughly as I did. And if they crept up those stairs and saw I had followed every whit, they would turn away, disappointed but respectful of the code that stood between us.
My checklist was simple, but well-considered.
I slept with the door open. It was a way to show that I knew the "they" (that amorphous term for all the the bad I imagined) could come and was still unafraid. I suppose I thought this made me equal to the things I could not control.
I fell asleep with my face toward the door. When I woke up in the middle of the night turned the other way, I always corrected myself. It was, I reasoned, much more difficult to inflict harm on someone when you could see their face.
And finally, I always slept with my feet covered, no matter how hot the night. Looking back on it, I understand that this was a way to create an armor of my blankets. It was an argument made against the natural vulnerability of sleep. At the time, I just thought the universe and I needed another rule and that one seemed easy enough to achieve.
And then every night before bed, I prayed I would wake up the next morning. And every morning when I woke up, I thanked the air for one more day.
Riley went out of town a few weeks ago. He was gone for five days and the nights alone stretched in front of me. That first night, I thought about my ten year old self, all that wonder and all that superstition. I laughed as I moved from window to window, locking each one. What had I been thinking? Silly, tiny Meg. I smiled as I kissed my daughters, hopeful that they are wise enough to take the magic of childhood while leaving the bogey man behind. I moved from their beds through the dim hallway and into my darkened room. Without thinking, I stopped at the door and then took a running jump onto the bed.
I sat straight up amongst the sheets, looked at the door and the space on the carpet my feet had not touched. I wasn't smiling anymore. Why had I done that?
Because there might be someone under the bed. And maybe, if I had stood next to the bed, he would have grabbed my ankle and pulled me down with him. But, because I had foiled his plan, I was safe. He couldn’t touch me. There were, after all, rules to be followed.
I laid down, turned my face to the door and tucked my feet under the blankets.
And then prayed that I would see the morning.