Monday, October 25, 2010

Heeere's Johnny!

October 25, 2010
It's the time of year when the T.V. channels are filled with the kind of slasher/horror movies designed to tap into the love-to-be-scared-to-death vicarious thrills people seem to seek as Halloween nears. Me, I could do without all of that. I'm a big scaredy-cat who likes her 'spooky' Halloween to be about fluffy black kittens in witch hats and Winnie the Pooh dressed up as a pumpkin. Although I've made peace with the fact that my husband is Mr. Creepy Halloween, I still have to change channels quickly whenever I see a commercial or trailer for a scary movie. Honestly, I was even hesitant to put up the creepy picture of the knife for this post, because I'm sure I'm going to see it come up in my nightmares tonight. So where did this morbid fear of knives come from? As far as I can tell, it all began with Johnny.

No, no, not that Johnny. (And yes, I've gone out of my way to avoid watching The Shining. Just the trailer for that movie is too much for me.) No, I had my own personal Johnny. He was a neighbor kid who lived up the street from me when I was about three years old. My brother Gary was five, and by that age, already showing signs of precociousness. That's a diplomatic way of saying Gary went out of his way to prove he could outsmart and outwit just about any adult he came into contact with. As a matter of fact, eventually he made it his mission to see how quickly he could get our babysitters to quit--he made it a game. At this time, though, he was only just beginning to test out his skills at getting under people's skin.

My parents were both working and going to school, so my mom had hired a young mother to come to our home during the day to watch us. When she was too sick one day to come to work, my mother was left in a bit of a bind. She couldn't miss school or work, so she had to find someone to stay with us. Since it was summer, our neighbor Johnny was home during the day. He was a sixteen-year-old kid who was willing to give up a day to earn a little pocket money, and my mom was desperate. Having never met Gary, he didn't really know what he was getting himself into. Gary, it would turn out, was also a bit out of his element.

You know how when you get in trouble or get scared and you just want someone to be in it with you? How it kind of lessens the fear? Well, Johnny was pretty much a non-factor for me. I stayed in my room playing quietly. But Gary found a way to push Johnny's buttons. I don't know what he did, or what he said, but he eventually went too far. Suddenly, Gary burst into my room where I was minding my own business and playing with my dolls. "Johnny's got a knife and he's trying to kill us!" he screamed. His eyes were wide as saucers and he slammed the door shut, trying to jam a chair under the doorknob. I didn't question him; I didn't doubt him. I heard Johnny banging on my door and yelling, "Come back here, you little brat!" Even though Johnny didn't have any reason to be mad at me, I wasn't processing reason. I was three, after all. When Gary told me we had to jump out the window to escape or Johnny would stab us and kill us, I scrambled after him, abandoning my dolls to whatever fate befell them if Johnny should happen to break down my door.

Gary opened the window and used my bed as the trampoline to jump up onto the window sill. He quickly dropped into our front yard and yelled for me to follow. I struggled to jump up high enough to jump up to the window, hindered by short little limbs and blinded by frightened tears. My heart was pounding as Gary was screaming for me to jump while Johnny continued to bang on my bedroom door. I was terrified, and when I finally made it to our front yard, I was sobbing. Gary grabbed my hand and we ran to the neighbors' house, where the kindly grandma-type let us in to wait until our mom got home. I was inconsolable, and could only feel safe hiding under her bed until Mom came to retrieve me. Neighbor Grandma even tried to coax me out from under her bed by offering me cookies; she eventually left a small plate of them under the bed for me.

When Mom finally came over to get us after she got home from work, she tried to console me. I don't think she actually believed our story, and couldn't believe how hysterical I got. Gary verified the story, but he shook it off pretty easily. Me? I was scarred. When I tried to go to sleep that night, I closed my eyes and saw Johnny with a knife. Now, mind you, I never actually saw Johnny with a knife. It probably wouldn't have scared me nearly as much if I had. As it was, I was free to use my imagination to picture what kind of knife Johnny was chasing us with, and man, it was BIG. And very sharp, and very shiny. In hindsight, I would imagine that the truth of the matter was that Gary smarted off to Johnny, and Johnny probably pulled out a little pocketknife that was ubiquitous among the 'cool' teenagers during that time. Realistically speaking, if sixteen-year-old Johnny had really wanted to hurt an obnoxious five-year-old (let alone a little three-year-old), I'm sure he would have.

None of that mattered, or even occurred to me at the time. All I knew was that there was a killer who lived on our street, and he was after my brother and me. I was afraid of going outside for fear of seeing him during the day. At night I couldn't sleep, and when I did, I had terrible nightmares. I was miserable, and I made my mom miserable, too. She didn't know what to do with me, or how to assuage my fears. She was pretty smart, though, and ultimately, she came up with the solution that allowed me to sleep peacefully again. What did she do? She lied. She lied knowing that I'd fall for it, and that it would work. I was, as I have said, only three. After about the fifth day, she came home from work and told me that she had talked to the police. The police, in turn, had gone to Johnny's house and talked to his mother. And do you know what the police did? They made Johnny move to another street. And for the first time in nearly a week, I slept like a baby that night. Now I don't know what actually transpired between Johnny and my mother--maybe she didn't pay him for babysitting. Or maybe she did. Maybe she never spoke to him about it, or maybe she told his mother that he wasn't mature enough to babysit kids, for future reference. I don't have any idea. All I know is that when Mom told me the police made Johnny moved away, I thought I put it all behind me. Mostly, I did. But knives? The glint of a blade, or a slightly crazed look in the eyes of anyone with a knife in his hand, even in jest, takes me right back to an irrational, instinctive reaction. And in case you're wondering, there's way too much of that right around Halloween for my liking.

So while I don't have to hide my knife block in the kitchen before I go to bed each night anymore, and I no longer leap on my bed from across the room just in case there's a creepy psychotic escaped convict ready to reach out and grab my ankles before I head off to dreamland, I'm still no fan of simulated fear. Real life is scary enough; I can't spend energy going out of my way to find extra fictional ways to scare myself to death.

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