I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, until eventually I go into information overdrive and my brain short circuits like a loaded power strip. Instead of dumbing out to re-runs of America’s Next Top Model, I decided to treat myself to a novel. On Sunday afternoon, I rifled through the “to read” pile next to my bed and settled on Every Last One by Anna Quindlen.
While Phoebe napped and Emma ran around out back with the neighborhood kids, I curled up with my book and lost myself in its pages. I literally could not put it down (even when the washing machine started beeping and dinner time loomed dangerously near.) “This is such a treat!” I marveled. “It feels so decadent- better than The Real Housewives of New Jersey! Why did I ever stop reading novels?”
And then I remembered why. It’s because I am a chicken shit.
The book – while not giving anything anyway – took a disturbing turn. I knew I should stop reading…but I couldn’t. I was in too deep; it was too late to turn back. I soldiered on knowing I would pay for it later on. Phil found me huddled in my chair and I practically jumped out of my skin when I finally became aware of his presence. He knew what was up: “Oh great. It’s going to be The Lovely Bones all over again.”
I have always had boundary issues when it comes to disturbing books or movies. My mother would hide invitations for sleepover parties, because she knew whatever movie was shown – inevitably involving a Ouija board or a doll that stabs you in your sleep – would rob me (and her) of sleep for
months weeks. Even though intellectually I knew that these movies were make-believe, I struggled in erasing the images from my mind…and eventually they took on a life of their own.
When I was 10 years old I saw the TRAILER for The Exorcist. That was it for me. While my friends spent the rest of the summer waiting for school to start, I waited for Satan. At night I would lie in bed perfectly still under a heap of “protective” blankets, rivets of sweat collecting in the creases of my knees and elbows. I was convinced that the soft rustling noise I heard was the footsteps of the devil incarnate coming to stab or strangle me. (It was my New Kids on the Block poster flapping in the breeze of the ceiling fan). It became so consuming that my dad suggested I go talk to one of the priests at our church; he would set my mind at ease.
“Father Bob,”(names have been changed to protect the wildly incompetent) I asked. “Do you need to be bad/evil to get possessed, or is it totally random?”
“Random. It can happen to anyone. Nothing you can do about it.”
Awesome. Thanks for that, Padre. I’ll be sure to call you at 3am when I start spewing green vomit.
Sadly, 25 years later, I am not all that different. Captivating books such as Every Last One, The Lovely Bones, or Room prove to be TOO well-written; I can’t seem to separate myself from the characters and the unthinkable tragedy that befalls them. The words fuel my worst fears, and my mind wants to go beyond what was written: “What was (the character) thinking the minute the man grabbed her arm? Could she sense what was about to happen? What were her last thoughts? Did she feel pain? What does death feel like? Did she feel scared or is there a sense of peace?”
Then I begin to castigate myself. Why can’t I just read a book and enjoy it? This can’t be normal.
So I asked my therapist (yes, I am putting this in here for all the people reading this who are thinking “wow, this chick really needs to see a therapist): “What’s wrong with me? Do I have OCD?”
He looked at me with bemused empathy: “No. I think you just have a really active imagination.”
Emma also has the mind’s eye of a Cyclopes. She attends a Catholic school, and bedtime leading up to Easter was a real treat. For weeks she had nightmares about being buried and rising from the dead. Poor kid. As if the Easter Bunny isn’t scary enough.
She and I will have discussions about the differences between fantasy and reality, but we both know these conversations are
bullshit not very helpful. I know that Kevin Spacey didn’t REALLY have Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in that box, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what it looked like.
So what’s the solution? Even though I strictly monitor her media intake, I can’t put her (or me) in a happy bubble where scary things don’t exist. Before I know it she is going to be at a sleepover party watching Children of the Corn, and then what?
A little research led me to some interesting suggestions. Dr. Charlotte Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination, encourages parents to see an active imagination as a gift rather than a curse. She claims that through breathing exercises and creative visualization, Emma can use the positive power of her imagination to reduce fear and anxiety.
The idea is to harness her powers for good and not evil. Use the force.
At first I felt a little hokey trying these techniques out on Emma -the clichéd yoga teacher with her magic crystals and chakra wand. But Emma LOVED it. Not only that, she is really good at it. I bought her a CD called Yoga Nidra for Kids of All Ages that she listens to when she has trouble settling down. Recently, during a long traffic-filled car ride in which Phil had spilled coffee on my legs while scrambling for the EZ Pass, Emma decided that “our energy was too intense.”
“I will now lead us all in a Yoga Nidra,” she announced in a soft yet commanding voice. “Get comfortable…relax your fingers…now your toes. Imagine we are on the beach. Feel your feet sinking into the sand….”
“We not at the beach!” Phoebe interjects.
“Feel the sun on your face, hear the gentle ebb and flow of the ocean…”
“We not at the beach, Emma!”
“Lie down on your towel…feel your body sink into the sand.”
“What? Sand? Emma, we not at the beach! We in the CAR!”
Something tells me that Phoebe will be able to watch Children of The Corn and sleep like a rock.
We fear things we can’t control. The world is full of violence, sociopaths, and tragic scenarios. Having kids makes the existence of these things 100 times more terrifying. But what I am learning is the one thing we do have power over is how and where we choose to use our channel our energy. Seeing the mind as a tool that can be used in a myriad of ways has helped me understand this. You can use a rope to pull yourself out of quicksand or to hang yourself with.
Which reminds me of this episode of Law and Order where this psychopath used a rope to tie up his victims and then…..