When I was a little kid I thought a monster lived under my bed. I would run from the door of my room and jump into bed from several feet away so the monster wouldn't get me. No way was I going to walk up to that bed and climb in like a normal person. If I'd done that, I would imagine the monster reaching a hook-like claw from under the bed, fastening around my ankle and dragging me under the bed.
As I got older, I realized there was no monster under the bed. It was okay to walk up and sit on the edge of the bed with my vulnerable feet dangling in front of that dark space beneath the mattress. There was no monster in the closet either. And when I got that prickly feeling on the back of my neck when walking home from a friend's house at night, I was just being scared of nothing.
That's pretty much how it went throughout adulthood. If somebody was late getting home from work, I didn't assume they were lying in a ditch. If I was about to do something that seemed a bit risky such as, say, hitchhiking across the country or quitting my job to freelance or moving to New York without knowing anyone in the city, I'd brush aside worries about disaster. "That's not going to happen," I'd say or think.
And that's generally how it turned out. Aside from the moderate disaster of getting divorced 12 years ago, I've been pretty free of monsters. That all changed when my son took his own life at age 16 on Oct. 2. The monster reached out, got him by the ankle, dragged him under and killed him. It got me too, and dragged me down in the dark and dust. It let me live, but it won't let me out.
I now realize there are monsters under the bed. And in the closet. In fact, they're all around. They live inside the walls and under the floor, separated from me by just the thickness of a carpet or coat of paint. Compared to how it was before, I feel my life now is more like the opening of a Stephen King novel or Alfred Hitchcock film, where a seeming existence of sanity and security is really only a thin screen over unimaginable horrors.
I am living with monsters, just like I did as a kid. Only now they are more than just imaginary. They're real, and their speed and power are completely overwhelming. If they target me or the people I love, there's nothing I can do.
I've read that this sort of understanding of the precariousness of existence is a common outcome of losing someone close. I think one writer put it along the lines of "grasping the senselessness of seeking security," or something like that. I'm not really sure how to take that, or what to do with this new understanding of a monster-filled world.
Do I back off all risky endeavors, double up on insurance and install triple locks? Do I throw caution to the wind and embrace hazards because, after all, it's senseless to seek security? Proceed as before? I can't seem to decode what this understanding is telling me. I can't figure out how to jump over the monster to land safely in bed.
Once I'd gotten in bed as a kid, sometimes I'd imagine the monster clawing its way up through the mattress to get me. This never happened, of course, and I gradually lost my fear of it. Now I'm afraid again and wondering when something hideous and unstoppable is going to pop out and kill me or someone I love. Living with monsters. I guess they've been there all the time but I convinced myself otherwise.
This post originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum and was reprinted with the permission of the author.