“Hope is a waking dream”
Sunday, February 12th, 2006.
11.35 A. M.
Kinglake, Victoria, Australia.
“Monsters!” I say absentmindedly as I peer over the top of my dog-eared novel, distracted from my fantasy world by the chatter coming from my geriatric box television. It had always been my intention to upgrade my T.V to something created this century though when push came to shove, I just couldn’t bear to retire old faithful and its unique milky pink picture quality. My television has character, which is undeniable. Unfortunately that is its sole redeeming feature.
“Yes, Michael. Many children of pre kinder age show a propensity to make up stories about Monsters,” Carmen Montague, T.V psychologist extraordinaire says determinedly as her shimmering tangerine dress sends my head dizzy with some sort of mild epileptic fit.
“Really,” Doug Sullivan says as he tries unsuccessfully to display some interest in the topic he has been blessed with today. He can’t help but wonder if a subject such as this is the reason why he decided to take up journalism in the first place. Surely there has to be a more relevant topic for his talents to cling to than this drivel. “Does the research show why this would be the case? Is it simply a matter of growing minds letting their imagination run wild?”
“You would think that would somehow be the case,” Carmen continues as she leans forward, trying to add an air of anticipation before she releases her no doubt extraordinary insight into the inner mechanism of a toddler’s brain. “However, the latest research from Cambridge shows something more deliberate is taking place.”
“How so?” Doug drawls as he too leans forward, as if they are about to exchange some form of massive secret, keeping the rest of the world ignorantly in the dark.
“Well, the latest results are somewhat anecdotal at this point but the researchers are already making some surprising findings.”
That’s code for this is interesting hearsay, I guess.
Carmen continues, “They have discovered that there seems to be a direct correlation between children inventing imaginary monsters and a child’s desperate need to feel loved.”
“So to clarify this for the viewers out there,” Doug says with a cheery grin of disdain towards the camera, “you are saying that young children invent monsters in order to gain some attention when they are feeling lonely or neglected?”
Carmen nods, “That is a little over simplistic but generally speaking you are correct in your assertion. Young children invent monsters as a devious and deliberate way to manipulate parents into spending some time with them………”
My mind begins to drift as their words become unintelligible. Their conversation becomes white noise as I ponder this last statement. I say to myself, “Is that what I did? Was I just seeking attention as a child?”
It makes sense to me now that I am an adult, though there is nothing sensible about imaginary monsters.
“Julie!” I hear a familiar voice call out to me. I pause, considering the validity of what my ears have heard. The notion that he is here is too crazy to even contemplate.
I stare blankly outwards into the room as the weathered novel slips through my careless fingers. A fog descends, blanketing the room. Eventually it becomes disturbed by an unseen breeze. To my surprise the décor has changed. All my furniture is gone, replaced by a single bed covered in all manner of soft toys. As I watch I see a tiny hand reach out from under the bed and snatch a black and white striped bunny with oversized frayed ears, down to the floor and under the bed.
Flopsy! How I loved that bunny to death. He got me through such tough………..what the hell!
I shake my head as I realize I am standing like a ghost in my childhood bedroom, bright pink floral walls and all. I must have been about four or five years old, judging by the toys and décor. I watch, like a ghost as I consider the fanciful notion that it must be a younger version of me under the bed. I recall how that bed had been my fortress, offering me protection from the monsters that would hound me mercilessly back then. Flopsy and I spent many an hour hiding from the creatures of my darkened imagination.
I have little time to consider the insanity of the transformation in front of me. I remain transfixed by the memories held in the relics of this room, relics which are all now well lost to the ravages of time. Even Flopsy has gone to wherever soft toys go when children grow too old to play with them anymore. Two questions scream out in my brain; why have I travelled back in time to this moment? Why am I here?
As if by magic, some semblance of an answer mysteriously appears as my bedroom door opens and a familiar face peers inside. He glances in my general direction as a smile forms on his face. I gasp as I catch my breath.
My father’s attention drifts from me as if he cannot see that I am in the room. He makes his way to the single bed and gently sits down. As he does so, a leg clad in white stockings is pulled to safety under the bed.
“Hey Cupcake,” he says as he stares absentmindedly at the callouses on his hands. There is no reply from underneath the bed, just the rustling of a younger version of me as I no doubt fortify my barricade of soft toys around me. My father tries again, “Hey, you’re gonna miss it Cupcake. This is a special night.”
“What’s so special about it?” I ask from under the bed. It surprises me just how squeaky my voice is at this age. It is amazing the little things you forget as time marches on.
My father smiles, “Well, it’s hard to explain exactly. Why don’t you come out and see for yourself?”
“No!” I sob firmly. “I can’t.”
I stand and walk towards my father. I stop right in front of him, though he fails to acknowledge my presence. I reach out to touch his hand and am shocked that my fingers pass right through his. I sigh as I regain my faculties and shake my head, “I guess this is just a daydream after all. Hell, it seems so real, though.”
I flop onto the floor, resigned to simply enjoy the wonderful daydream for as long as it lasts. I had forgotten just how wonderful, caring and patient my father was. It was such a short time that he was involved in my life. I must have been around nine when he left without trace. Where did he go? I don’t remember. My mother just said he wouldn’t be back again. He either left mother for someone else or he passed away suddenly and, for whatever reason, she felt the need to shield us from this trauma because of our tender age. I suspect the latter is most likely for he hasn’t tried to contact me in my adult life. Though there is always an element of doubt in these things, for I have searched for him on several occasions without success. There must be some record somewhere if he has passed away. There just has to be.
“C’mon Cupcake,” Dad cajoles. “The stars are shootin’ across the sky tonight, lighting up the world in a fireworks show you may never see again. This is something to behold Cupcake, something you may never see again.”
“I don’t wanna see ‘em!” I squeak. “It is a trick just to get me to come out. I am safe here. I want to stay here.”
I glance out the window through the flimsy lace curtains. I see a comet fly through the sky, bright blue tail of flame before it suddenly evaporates and is gone. My father stands and walks the short distance to the window. I follow. He moves the curtain aside as he calls out to me, “C’mon Cupcake. This is incredible. You can see them as clear as anything from here. You don’t want to miss this.”
“I don’t care. I’m scared to come out. They are still here,” I offer from my hiding place.
I stare out the window as I reach for my father’s hand once more without success. I stare in wonderment at the scene before me. A comet streams across the sky to our left. This one is closely followed by another.
“I don’t remember this night,” I say to myself. “Why don’t I remember this? This was surely one of the precious memories I would hold onto. Why would I forget this? Why?”
“C’mon Cupcake, come out from under the bed. The monsters have gone now. They are scared of me.”
The thought suddenly hits me. I spent more nights than I care to remember hiding under that single bed, safe in my cocoon of soft toys, eyes closed firmly so that I couldn’t see anything. I would even hum a familiar tune in order to block out their noise as they moved around the room. It was a simple defense, but one that worked for me. I stand as an adult now, looking around this imaginary world from my past. There is no sign of monsters of any sort in the room.
“No, they are still here. It is not safe.”
I am beginning to think, this was one of the days that I defiantly refused to come out from my hiding spot. I must have missed what would have been the most incredible night of my life with my father. I shake my head as I consider just how foolish I was as a child. Without considering the stupidity of my actions I begin to move towards the single bed.
“They won’t hurt you Cupcake, not while I’m here. I’m big enough and ugly enough to handle those mischievous ratbags that invade your room. They are nothing but pussycats, all bark and no bite,” my father says in his usual comforting though confused manner.
As I seat myself on the floor next to the bed, I hear my younger self laugh a little between sobs. We both say in unison like we are twins, “Dad, cats don’t bark!”
I lie on the floor and peer beneath the bedspread draped over the bed. I see a pair of glowing eyes blink shrouded in the dim light amongst the toys. To my surprise she flinches backwards a little then spits defiantly, “Stay away from me! Are you one of them? Leave me alone!”
I am dumbfounded that she can see me. I struggle to contemplate how this is even possible. I struggle as I search for the right words, “I am……I am…..I……”
“Who are you? What do you want? Leave me alone……..please…….leave me alone.”
“Darlin’, please little darlin’. I mean you no harm,” I stammer. “I am just a friend, come to help you feel safe.”
A kitten spits in my direction, hidden in amongst the soft toys next to my younger self.
Oh my God! Socksy, dear Socksy. I had forgotten all about you. We were inseparable in our day. How could I ever forget you?
“No!” she whispers as her eyes burn with terror. “You are one of them. You have come to trick me. You are going to hurt me. My heart hurts. I am scared. Please leave me alone.”
I remain focused on the task of reassuring my younger self, though I am concerned by this revelation that she may be in pain, “Are you hurt darlin’? Why don’t you come out and I can help to fix you up? I am your friend. I will make the monsters go away.”
“No,” she whispers as her body shakes involuntarily. She struggles to gasp for breath as she begins to have an asthma attack. She breathes awkwardly for air as she tries to state her case, “they will……come and get me….they…. will grab me……they will hurt me…….they will not leave me…..they hurt me…..they hurt me all the time…….they will……….”
“Hey darlin’,” I implore. “Slow your breathing. C’mon Baby. Breathe slowly and carefully. Focus on breathing in and out. You are safe here. I won’t let anyone or anything hurt you.”
I watch as she tries to control her breathing. She coughs and splutters as she struggles to remain in control. She looks so fragile and scared witless. Was this really how I was back then? Was I so terrified of monsters? Was I looking for attention from my father? Did I feel that deprived of his company? This is surely something more than that. How could something imaginary provoke such terror in someone so innocent? I wonder if there was something else going on. Was there something real that was scaring me senseless back then? Maybe the only way I could explain it was to call them monsters? Were the monsters just adults in my life?
I shudder as I feel sick to my stomach. Was someone hurting me? Was I being abused in some way by someone trusted by my parents? Was it a family member of a friend close to us? What did they do to me? Think, what did they do to me? Was I……?”
A hand reaches out and grasps me by the shoulder.
“What the hell?” I scream as I clamber to my feet, arms flailing out like a thrashing machine.
“Hey, hey, it’s just me,” Peter yells as he stumbles backwards. “It’s just me. What’s going on, anyway? Why are you lying on the floor?”
“I…….I……” My heart pounds vigorously as I look around the room seeking clarity. Everything is normal. My childhood bedroom has gone, so has the bed. Little Julie has vanished. I sigh as I realize my father has gone too, taking with him the wonderful comets I missed seeing as a child. “I……I…..”
Peter laughs as he tilts his head on the side, a bemused expression spreading across his face, “Is that all you’ve got? You’re not making any sense. Do you know that?”
I feel the anger well up inside me from a dark place that I didn’t know existed: a place hidden deep within my being. I push Peter roughly with both hands as tears well in my eyes, “You’ve ruined everything. That is what you’ve done. You’ve ruined everything.”
“What have I done?” Peter asks as I storm from the room. “Hey Sweetheart, what have I done?”
I choose not to answer as Peter’s question sticks in my head, echoing over and over again. I search desperately for a place to run and hide; a place where I can find solitude, a place where I can get my head together, a place where I can find an answer to Peter’s question.
I run from the house, my bare feet skimming over the rough stones leaving a trickle of blood in their wake.
I find no credible answer.
I feel so foolish.
I wish my Dad was here.