There was an alley behind my childhood home where stray cats bred like gremlins. Over the years, many chose to move in with us so they could have human minions to serve them. We also had a tortured soul in the shape of a German Shepherd. Though she’d never seen a hard day in her life, she was convinced the world was out to get her. The most terrifying nemesis she faced was a dog toy we brought home from the pet store. You know, as a gift. It was a yellow squeaky ball that was apparently possessed by a demon.
I related to this dog in deep ways. As a child, I was tormented by recurring nightmares. One of them, in which I was strapped into a chairlift on my way down into the fiery pits of hell, got a cameo in The Day She Died. My childhood fears were simple: a clown with dripping red face paint, a bathroom mirror in the dark, a scratching noise on the window. While my adult fears are more complex and gut wrenching, I’m really still an eight-year-old waiting to commune with the thing that lives on the other side of that darkened mirror. And nothing stirs at three in the morning as well or as often as the monsters in my head.
My dog’s strategy was to hide her nemesis in far-flung places. The yellow squeaky ball would disappear for weeks or months, only to be resurrected from the underworld once again. One day it would be lying on her dog bed or on the corner of the couch, just waiting for her to enter the room and die of terror. For the record, I blame the cats. I also blame the humans, because it took us far too long to come up with the obvious solution of throwing that infernal ball in the garbage.
For a long time, I used the same approach as my dog when dealing with the monsters in my head. I’d take my nemesis, stuff it back into a dark corner of my mind, and hope like hell it stayed there. Of course, it never did. Eventually, I developed a more useful strategy. I now grab each fear-monster by the throat and drag it, kicking and howling, into the light. I interrogate it like Tom Cruise does in A Few Good Men. I examine it from all angles, poke its soft underbelly, and demand to know its secrets. Then I write about it. And in so doing, I usually find the exit ramp back to a good night’s sleep.
S.M. Freedman is the author of The Faithful and Impact Winter. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked as a private investigator on the not-so-mean streets of Vancouver, where she lives with her husband and two children. Read more here.