“I remember my own childhood vividly…I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them” (Maurice Sendak)
When I was a small child, I was afraid of very few things. I can vividly remember being terrified of fire, but aside from that one phobia I was pretty fearless. My sister, on the other hand, was another story. She was afraid of axe murderers and scorpions, shadows and spiders. We shared a room and a bunk bed, and sometimes I would hang over the top bunk and assure her that everything was going to be fine—before pretending that I saw monsters under her bed and sending her into a panic attack. I was not always the kindest of sisters.
Today things are different. Today I know terrible things, and I am confident there are countless terrible things lurking just outside my sphere of knowledge. These are not really the same things Sendak is talking about in the quote above: they are real-world terrors like disease and starvation, mortgages and mortality. We all have terrible things inside of us that we cannot (and generally shouldn’t) go talking about to everyone. These are the things my sister has gone on to tackle as a nurse and social activist, and the things I lie awake about at night trying to forget.
Really, though, these things are all iterations of the monster under the bed. They aren’t immediately here, nor is there anything you can really do to scare them off for good. Ironically these are also things children deal with better than adults. Why be afraid of dying alone and unknown when the ghost in the closet is so much more tangible? Maybe we would all have been better off if we’d kept on believing in the monsters of childhood.