An Old Childhood Memory

(I was working on an writing exercise.  If fear was incarnated into a walking, talking entity, what would it look like?  How would you react?  This is what came out. )

Fear came to me when I was six years old as a twisted tree, warped and ancient. It lived a half mile away from my house, over the railroad tracks along an old dirt path. I could never bear to go passed it alone, especially after nightfall. Its limbs hung like murdeous hands, stretching out to hurt, to maim, to kill. And it had a face. No other trees had a face. But it was its overwhelming presence that frightened me most. I could feel it looking through me to my very heart and I trembled at the pleasure it took.

It watched me. It didn’t stay locked into place like any other tree. It warped itself. It tiptoed on knarly tree roots down the path to my house. Yes, I was afraid of the shadowy figure who crept and lingererd in my closet, staying quiet except for the occasional creak, motionless, except for the occasional thump, until all the grownups went away and the lights went out. But when the lights went out, I didn’t know whether it would be the dark killer or if it would be the tree. The shadow killer would jump out of my closet to shoot me. I could lock my closet door or at least, I remember a lock. The tree though, it would push itself twisting through all the knotholes in my paneling with skinny knobby arms and jabby long fingered hands and it would rend me apart. There was no way to lock it out. I never slept near any of the walls.

Perhaps its coincidental that the fear of that tree happened around the same time as when my uncle was murdered. Over a five dollar pool bet. Shot five times. Stood over by his killer until he bled out. His wife’s jaw blown off. Their baby temporarily missing. My aunt found lying on my uncle’s grave throughout the night. The grisly details are lengthy even when recited in short sentences and as many times as I heard my mother crying into the phone as her grief spilt out, I knew them. I knew every sentence. I knew them all.

And more sentences came until my mother blended into the dark story and functioned without really being there. Six is so early to try to figure out how to fill in the gaps. How to keep a family together. I had no power. I couldn’t make my mother smile but I could keep from causing her more harm. I kept my feelings to myself. I didn’t talk about my fears. I didn’t talk about my sorrow. I slept on the edge of my bed away from my wall with my closet door firmly shut and locked.

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