I have a haunting memory that occasionally creeps into my thoughts and reminds me how fear can haunt a child’s dreams. When we lived at 6833 Lemon Road in McLean, Virginia, we had in our neighborhood a man that would roam the streets. I never knew what his real name was, but we all called him “The Weasel.” He dressed in dark clothes, a trench coat clutched tightly around his small, skinny frame. I don’t recall his face; I just have an image of him walking with his head down, a worn fedora on his head and his coat held tightly against him. It is seared into my soul.
We were told by our moms to stay away from him – but no other explanation was ever given. When we saw him, we would RUN like the wind to hide in the back yard, or in our garages, convinced he would steal us away if he could catch us.
It was at night when I was trying to sleep in the cozy canopy bed my father made me that I would truly fear the weasel. I was convinced that he was lurking in the dark corners of my room and I wouldn’t allow myself to fall asleep.
When I couldn’t take it any longer, I would crawl out of bed, slide across the floor and sneak into my sister’s room. If I was very careful, I could sneak into her bed without her even knowing. . (Fortunately for ME she is partially deaf, and wouldn’t always hear my clumsy attempts.) I was awakened many mornings by her hitting me with her pillow and yelling at me to “I said stay OUT of my room!!!”
I amassed a number of fears those early days, as do many, many children of that age. I was afraid of snakes, going over bridges, being in the dark, sleeping in my own room, lightning, thunder, the Easter Bunny and my closet.
I can’t recall the precise moment I left those fears of youth behind and slipped on that dangerous cloak of invincibility. You know that cloak, don’t you? We’ve all worn it for a time. It renders us fearless during those tumultuous and painful years of adolescence. We try it on when we are perhaps twelve or thirteen, and we grow into it- until finally it fits like a glove.
We wear it when we hop on our bikes and zoom across town, and when we finally earn those car keys and carry the lives of our friends and ourselves in our hands.
As we grow older, a different kind of fear seems to slowly edge into our soul. The fear that every parent, sibling or friend tries to keep buried inside – the fear of unexpected pain and tragedy when something happens to someone we love. It starts as a seed when you watch your child play with their toys, or when they learn to ride a bike and cross the street. You know they will have a scrape or a bruise, and it hurts to see them in pain.
That fear grows as they do, and when instead of a bike you hand them the keys to your car, then you know what real fear is. It’s what we feel when they have donned their cloak, the invincibility cloak. Only by now WE know it doesn’t work.
And that knowledge that grips my heart when I hand over the keys to the car? I swallow it like a bitter pill, and pray that she will be delivered back to me, safe and sound.