Tag Archives: childhood memories

Bert and Ernie and the Weeping Angels

Warning: This post contains mild Doctor Who spoilers. Just a few out-of-context names and photos of monsters; nothing that would ruin the experience for a newbie. Also, you’ll find some classic Sesame Street spoilers. So if you don’t want to know what comes after the letter B, stop reading now.

Geek peer pressure has led me to some great things.

For example: I am now in love with Doctor Who. It is a wonderful, wonderful show. I should have started watching it years ago, and now I’m catching up with the recent seasons via Netflix streaming. I’m devouring it: I sometimes go through three or four episodes in a day. I waited so long to get started because I was warned that there were monsters and deeply unsettling episodes, and that gave me pause. I’m not good with scary movies at all, and I avoid them altogether. With that in mind, I stepped gingerly, almost reluctantly, into the Doctor Who world. I was unsure what to expect from it, and from myself.

After three seasons, I can safely tell you: I’m not afraid of the monsters. And I think I’ve figured out why. Monsters aren’t real. That means they can’t be a real threat to me. Creatures with teeth and tentacles, wings and claws – they’re completely imaginary and therefore not taken too seriously by my brain. Sure, maybe I’ll flinch a little as they fill the screen, and I’ll fear for our dashing hero and his companion, but monster-filled nightmares don’t keep me up at night.

A monster with wings and screeching and nasty pointy teeth. Image from Tardis Data Core (Doctor Who Wiki)

The things that truly scare me, and leave lingering feelings of anxiety and dread, are people (or things) that have been transformed from something familiar into something terrible. And Doctor Who is full of monsters that are normal people whose bodies have been taken over by demons or telepathic aliens or angry energy-based life forms. Those are the ones that keep me from falling back asleep at night after I wake with a start. Because if the devil can take over someone’s body, how can I know that the shape sleeping beside me is really my husband? (I’ve already warned him that pulling out a raspy “devil voice” in the dark is grounds for divorce, no matter how much it seems like a good joke at the time.)

I realize that it’s a completely irrational fear. And it’s not like I spend every day sneaking glances at everyone for evidence of demonic possession. But those episodes leave me jumpy and agitated for hours, so I’ve had to ask my husband to warn me when one’s coming up. That way, we can wait until a weekend where I can recover properly if I don’t get a good night’s sleep after the credits roll.

This week, I met the Weeping Angels. They’re otherworldly assassins who take the form of angel statues, and who turn to stone if someone is looking at them. Look away, though, and they get you. You can’t even blink.

Weeping angels coming to get you. Image from Tardis Data Core.

It doesn’t help that vicious fangs and claws come out when they’re sneaking up on you, but even without those, the Weeping Angels are statues that move, and that freaks me right out. Inanimate things are not supposed to be animate and are especially not supposed to sneak over and get you while you’re not looking. It’s like possession, but of things instead of people. Just as scary.

My terror didn’t begin with the angels, though. My worry that inanimate objects may come to life started long, long ago, and this episode of Doctor Who woke up some very old and very strong memories. As I watched the angels move with each blink of their victims’ eyes, all I could see was Ernie.

When I was very young, maybe six years old, Bert and Ernie visited the Egyptian pyramids. Such intrepid explorers, wearing their explorer hats and explorer trench coats! Deep in the gloom of the pyramid’s inner chambers, they found statues that looked exactly like them. Ernie, sensibly, tried to turn back and leave these unsettling doppelgangers behind in their tomb, but Bert mocked him. Mocked him and left him alone with the statues.

Of course, what happens next is that the Ernie statue wakes up and bonks Ernie on his head. It happens twice, and both times he calls for help, only to receive sarcasm and ridicule in return. It’s his imagination, Bert tells him, running out of control and creating monsters where there are none. Well, he’s wrong, and it’s all true, and Bert sure as hell isn’t blaming his own imagination when the statue finally speaks to him, terrifying him and sending him running.

Even as a kid, I saw through the superficial message of the episode – control your imagination, and it will take you to wonderful places instead of scaring you – and internalized the darker subtext. There are times when people you trust will tell you something you fear, something you’ve heard or seen in the shadows, is “just your imagination.” And they will be wrong.

I was afraid of my stuffed animals for months.

And now I’m not so sure about statues.

 




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This is the 23rd of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.

 

 

I was addressing Christmas cards last week and noticed how many addresses I’ve had to cross out as friends and family pack up and move to new places. For some who moved almost annually, I started writing in pencil, because I was running out of space on the page for new addresses. I’ve had eight addresses myself, but I hope that the current one is permanent enough to be safely written in ink.

 

The Little House

I grew up next door to my grandmother’s house, in a tiny red house with a wide porch and a huge yard. There was a birch tree that made me sneeze, and a tamarack tree so tall that I had to lie down on the ground to see the very top without hurting my neck. We played outside a lot. So many trees, and so many summer hours spent sending maple helicopters down the winding rivers we made with the hose in the driveway. There was a path through the cedar hedge to my grandmother’s house, and we could run over for a visit anytime. We could walk to the dépanneur next door and pick out white and purple Mr Freezies from the jumbled pile in the slide-top cooler, paying for them with pockets full of piggy bank change.

 

The Big House

We moved to a different city, twenty minutes away, when I left elementary school. It was a split-level style, with a garage, and a huge backyard for Dad to mow and Mom to plant gardens in. Each of the three kids got our own rooms – mine was gigantic – and there were two living rooms to watch TV in. So much space, in such a classy neighborhood. But it wasn’t a happy place. There was too much anger, contempt, and bitterness in that home. Parents on the brink of divorce, and teenage kids feeling the pressure and acting out in different ways. My parents eventually split up and we had to leave the big house behind. I don’t remember very much about the big house, now. The carpets were blue. Mom planted Wisteria by the fence. I cried in my closet a lot.

 

The Loud Apartment

Dad went to live with his mother for a while during and after the divorce. Mom held the rest of us together and found us an apartment that we could all squeeze into. My sister moved out, and then back in when things didn’t work with her roommates. It was a second-floor apartment on a busy street. The downstairs neighbors hated us; they screamed at us through the floor, banging brooms against the ceiling, threatening us with bodily harm. They said we were too loud, but I think they hated us because we spoke English. We kept the TV quiet, went barefoot, and it was never good enough. The apartment wasn’t really big enough for us all, and my sister was sleeping in the living room. I was going to college by then, and I decided it was my duty to give everyone more space by moving in with Dad for a while, until I could get my own place.

 

Dad’s Place

But Dad didn’t have a place. He was still in my grandmother’s basement while he looked for a condo. I was given one of the upstairs bedrooms and I stayed a few months, but everyone’s personalities clashed and I couldn’t stay. Dad let me get a cat, to cheer me up, but it didn’t help. I had to get out, and moms being moms, I found myself immediately welcomed back to the Loud Apartment. I slept in the living room. Mom let me bring my cat.

 

The Nice Apartment

Mom left the Loud Apartment as soon as she was able to. It wasn’t a healthy place to live. She found a wonderful third-floor walk-up on a quiet street, a block away from a bus stop and a grocery store. We had a parking space and a square of backyard big enough for a patio set and a garden. We had big windows with wide sills for the cat to sit on and pretty views of winter sunrises through the trees. The neighbors mostly minded their own business. My brother and I each had a room, and my sister had moved out again, so we had enough space to breathe. We were happier in that apartment. Mom redid the kitchen, put up flower boxes on the balconies. She’s still in that kitchen or on those balconies with her coffee every morning. This is the place that’s brightest in my memory.

 

My First Apartment

When I moved to Maryland, I didn’t do it the easy way by moving in with my boyfriend. I needed my own place, to prove that I could do it alone. I got an apartment near the hospital I’d be working at, and adopted a cat so I could blame the strange night noises on his prowling. I felt safe enough there, despite the loud foreign-language fights in the parking lot at night and the time a drunk guy banged on my door asking to be let into what he thought was his friend’s place. There was a solid deadbolt on the door, and I had a vicious attack kitten to protect me. I set up cable and internet. I paid bills. I did groceries and cooked for myself every night. I dragged laundry down three flights of stairs to the dingy laundry room and wrestled with the coin slots. I did very well there on my own, but I was lonely in between my boyfriend’s weekend visits.

 

The Townhouse

I moved in with Dave when my lease expired. A year on my own was long enough. I loved his townhouse. We were happy there together. Parking was a creative endeavour because of how few spots were available and how many were taken up by assholes who had driveways and garages they didn’t feel like using. We tripped over the three cats or sat trapped under them on the couch while watching TV. I tried to girl the place up by planting lavender outside, but it grew to monstrous proportions, crowding the walkway with purple stems that were so heavy with bees that we were nervous about walking past. I attempted to cut and dry some in the oven… lavender is thus now forbidden from all gardens, all soaps, all candles, and pretty much everything that comes into or near our home for the rest of eternity.

 

Our Home

We chose this house, together, for our forever home. It’s too big, and it’s too old, and it needs too much work, but we love it. I joke that it’s made of bathrooms and built-in bookshelves, with some bedrooms and a kitchen thrown in. We’ve been here almost three years now and we’ve made incredible progress turning it into the home we want it to be. The mint green and burgundy paint is gone. The jungle in the backyard is under control and the sick trees were cut down. The silver wallpaper is gone, and the stained blue carpet is now beautiful hardwood. It’s familiar now, and comfortable. It feels like us. It smells like us. It’s home.