Night Intruders

by Ted Gargiulo — When I was little, I was terrorized by nightmares.  I tell you, they were doozies! Rarely about anything specific: no plots, no messages, mostly bizarre, surreal images and sensations. Like bad acid trips. Some were so traumatic, I wouldn’t to go to sleep unless my mom assured me I wouldn’t have any. What a spineless weenie! Every night, I’d subject her to the same interrogation. 

Promise I won’t have nightmares tonight?
I promise.
Are you sure?
I’m sure.
Are you positive?
Yes, I’m positive.
You swear?

Did this ritual keep me from having nightmares? Not entirely. It wasn’t as though the woman had a gift of prophecy, or could cast a protective spell over my dreams. Nevertheless, her willingness to placate me gave me sufficient peace to drift off. If my subconscious went awry afterwards, I at least had enough sense not to blame her.   

Years later, when I was in my teens, our apartment was invaded by waterbugs. (Our landlady denied responsibility—claimed they emigrated from the house next door. Right!) They typically appeared at night, after my mom and I had retired, and we never knew when we might encounter one en route to the commode. Dang, they were the vilest, most loathsome creatures on the planet! Like cockroaches on steroids! Whereas nightmares had made me afraid to fall asleep, these hellish insects made me afraid to wake up.  

My mom was even more creeped out by them than I was. This same woman who, not long ago, had comforted me at bedtime, would now come knocking timidly on my door during the wee hours, begging ME for help. “Ted-eeeeee!” she’d wail pathetically. “There’s a waterbug in the bathroom!” That was MY cue to play the hero and hunt the bastard down. 

Usually it was an easy kill, but sometimes the crazy thing darted into the closet before I could apprehend it. That meant switching on the light, and pulling stuff from the closet piece by piece, while my mom watched and whimpered from the sidelines, then waiting for that rascal to run back out so I could smash it with the broom. The fateful showdown was as farcical as it was frenetic, with me lunging madly, whacking, missing, trying to stab it with the hard bristles, often lopping off a leg or an antenna in the process. Finally, I’d sweep the remains into a dustpan and pray that Moby Bug stayed dead till I flushed him down the toilet. Yecch!

I hated, with all my heart, doing battle with these critters. But there was no way either of us could go back to sleep until the enemy had been neutralized. Besides, my mom depended on me, and I couldn’t let her down. For once in my unspectacular existence, I was a mensch. 

Some warriors prove their valor by slaying dragons. With me, it was facing down giant bugs. Amazing, how much courage this squeamish little pee-pee face could muster when a loved one needed him! What’s more amazing is that shortly after I began standing up to these nocturnal invaders on a semi-regular basis, the night terrors of old no longer posed a threat. In fact, once they realized that I was in control, they petered out altogether and never darkened my mind again.

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