There are times that take a country to task, and no matter what your age you cannot be shielded from the desperation of those times. When I was six and the Vietnam War was in full conflict, I would see the news casts and hear my parents talk about it. When you are six war affects you on a visceral level replayed with plastic soldiers and through playing “Rat Patrol” with your friends. There is one specific time I recall sitting and staring at the black and white TV with the family as the Draft Lottery was being televised. My birthday was picked in the top 5, which meant all men of appropriate ages with that birth date were very likely to be drafted into active duty. I knew very little about real war, I knew enough to know what drafted meant, and I knew nothing at all what age group was the target of the draft. For the better part of a year, I silently prepared myself to say goodbye to my parents and siblings to join the US Army in Vietnam, where the only thing more prolific than the bullets was the rain. Thus the first great fear I can remember – war.
Other fears dogged me when I was in the single digits. In Orangeburg, there are plenty of woods to play in and I (along with my brother, Scott Myerson, Steve Arant, and others) explored them on a daily basis. We ran through swamps, through culverts, and fecund places of tall trees, rotting leaves, and the sound of birds and scurrying animals. One thing we did on a regular basis, was climb up a steep embankment to a busy road (it may have been the Old Columbia Road). Traffic permitting, we would place dirt clods across the road, run into hiding and watch cars run over them. These were wild and heady times! Once, a driver stopped and yelled at us. I think my compatriots fled while I stood frozen for the short and loud lecture on how dangerous what we were doing was, and that they were going to call the police. That was all I needed to look over my shoulder for months, expecting to see John Law in hot pursuit – Teever Handal, armed with dirt clods and presumed dangerous.
When I grew into my teenage years, my older brother Chris was still my best friend and the one I followed around the most. To him I owe expanding my taste in popular music to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, and Steely Dan. He also upped my literary game which was firmly entrenched to science fiction, to other genres including horror in the form of Stephen King. If my brother could read Stephen King unscathed, so could I – right! From King’s classic short story collection Nightshift, I was grabbed and grabbed hard by The Boogieman. Not for days, nor weeks, nor months, but for years after reading that tale, I was afraid of the dark, and checked every closet in every bedroom I was to sleep in. Do not ask for whom the bump in the night is for, it is for me.
Moving onto my college years, you would have thought bravery would have cropped up in me somewhere. Just a little bravery, you know, maybe in some small, sheltered corner of my psyche. I don’t think it would be a lot to ask for. But no. The year was 1981 and the movie was American Werewolf in London (a film that now I can watch without the blink of an eye). I was home from Clemson, but none of my friends were around when the movie came to Orangeburg. Having a liking for horror (gosh knows why!), I went to the Cinema Twin to watch it by myself. I knew I could do it. I was a college man after all. Well the movie started and in short order I could be found watching the movie through the crack in the theatre doors, so that I could watch it while standing in the light. American Werewolf in London – An “A” Grade, Mr. Teever Handal – you get “F”.
No collection of my most fear filled moments would be complete without a visit to adulthood (in which, I am ashamed to say, more than one incident can be found). As a husband, father, and dog owner, one would expect testosterone alone would kick my latent bravery into high gear. Sadly experience says otherwise. Several years ago when our son Michael who was living in Denver, brought several of his friends down to Colorado Springs to attend the Pikes Peak Wine Festival with us. A great evening was had by all, but Jean-Marie and I couldn’t hang with the youngsters and we were the first to bail for home. Nestled in our beds, we drifted off to sleep. Unbeknownst to us, Michael had run into an old friend and was going to be out later than his college buddies, leaving them to come back to our house on their own. The trouble was, they didn’t have a key. They tried the doorbell, but our dogs were unresponsive to it, and Jean-Marie and I happily incorporated the sound into our dreams and kept on dozing. One of the guys came around the house and onto the deck outside our bedroom to try and get our attention. All I knew that was in the middle of the night, someone was shaking the bedroom door to the backyard by the door handle. With catlike reflexes, I hid behind my wife and tossed a pillow at the door yelling in my best falsetto, “Go away!” Maybe I should invest in an alarm system.
So those are my top five fear and adrenaline stoked moments in no particular order. They encompass the military, the police, literature, the movies, and benign home invasion. I could have told ghost stories, our family has a few. But those don’t scare me so much as fascinate me. Perhaps I will share them for next year. For now, show me yours, I have shown you mine. Happy Halloween!