Both my children suffer a fear of the dark. Big whoop, right? Don’t all kids live in constant terror that something is lurking in the shadows?
There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light, I tell them, again and again. Shame on the night. But words, comforting as they may be, don’t make the darkness pass any quicker, especially in the depths of a northern winter.
Besides, I’m not sure they even believe me.
When I was eight, circa 1992, before bed I’d listen to a mixtape, heavy on Metallica and AC/DC, that my buddy’s older brother made for me. When Enter Sandman came around, the little hairs would stand up on end. I would indeed grip my own pillow tight, tucking my head under the covers, and hope some drooling beast wouldn’t crawl out from the depths of my closet to feast upon my flesh.
Years passed, sand trickling ceaselessly through the glass. One afternoon this past summer, my boy and I were driving back from swimming lessons, when a bell tolled out on the radio. The boy’s ears perked up. He was certain it was the tolling of Hells Bells.
Not so, my son. For Whom the Bell Tolls, bud. Rockers, be they Aussie, Bay City, or British, love the tolling of a big ass bell. We cranked the tune up anyway and let it rip. That evening, the boy demanded to hear it again. Noblesse oblige. From there, it was Metallica day in, day out for a couple months.
This isn’t to say I didn’t have my reservations, introducing such a heavy influence at such a young age. The boy was already prone to nightmares. Many are the nights he wakes me, dazed and afraid as the dreams of flying fish, dinosaurs, parents who aren’t his parents but monsters or robots or worse fade to black. I’ll do my best to calm his nerves, ease his mind back into sleep. But as bedtime inevitably rolls around again, and his eyes adjust to the darkness of his room, he’ll clutch at me in horror, convinced the dancing shadows in the corners of his vision were bugs crawling, beasts creeping out of their hiding places, intent on devouring him whole. Enter Sandman’s no Dead Skin Mask. But it’s still deadly.
Meanwhile, baby gal, she’s developed her own independent distrust of the darkness. Shadows are too scary. When I close my eyes there’s nobody else there, she tells me. Except for Ghostie.
Night after night, it’s the same thing. Both children fear they’ll be lost in the dark, never to return. Don’t worry, I try in vain to convince them. But we all do. The shapes the shadows come to represent just change as we age; stand in for that deep gut understanding that each and every one of us are born to die, as we dream, alone. If the Bible, nightlights, and daily mindful moments cannot cure the fear of the dark, perhaps it is just another cross we must each bear. At least until dawn.
Besides, you can’t hide the power of rock from a child. Nor should you. More times than not, they’re stronger than we give them credit for. So fuck it, I figure, crank up the Sandman.
All was well and good until the tape deck started slowly devouring the ribbon, just as Kirk Hammett really starts wailing mid-Sandman. Not only was the tape fucked, but the boy figures the machine’s possessed now too. Maybe it is? A conduit, if nothing else, for the dark powers of rock n roll. Hail, hail…
Sheldon Birnie is a writer, reporter, and beer league hockey player from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Find him online @badguybirnie.