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30) Comfort In Fearful Things

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.  – H. P. Lovecraft

I was born in 1974, the same year that Stephen King’s first book, Carrie was published and less than a year after the The Exorcist was released. It scared the crap out of my 11-year-old brother and perhaps incidentally propelled his spiritual life, transforming him into a God-fearing conservative Christian. The film broke box office records with millions of people standing in long lines. Many audience members passed out, up-chucked, and left the theater because the subject matter and raw graphics was too horrific to watch. I discovered the film on The Movie Channel, long after my brother left for college when I was 10-years-old. My parents never thought to dismantle the cable outlet…

I became my own parental control and watched anything that was dark, scary, or controversial. By the age of 10, I sampled a glut of R-rated horror films before I set eyes on The Exorcist. My earliest recollection was Blood Beach (an exquisitely dumb B film), then A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cujo, Halloween, Jaws, and Friday The Thirteenth (just in time for the coming of age of the 13th generation, AKA Gen-X). Rather than becoming desensitized from watching movies that most parents would never let their children watch today, it opened up my mind and hunger for knowledge.

Blood Beach Movie Poster

Although, I could not articulate it as a child, I was fascinated by anything that was physically unfamiliar, strange, unexplainable, and ultimately, anything that would horrify my mother or enrage my father. It wasn’t that I was rebelling from their attitudes. I was curious of why certain ideas provoked intense emotions within adults. I wanted to understand their reactions. At a very young age, I had a sense that the world was full of hidden truths behind closed doors, the back of dusty closets, underneath crawl spaces, the bottom of my mother’s purse and amongst the coins in my father’s pocket.

At night, I was afraid to run to my parents’ bedroom; it was too far away on the opposite side of the house. My dad built it that way. To get there, I had to run past a long hallway of tall closets, and my old bedroom where Mom reScary Treead her Bible every morning and night, and the bathroom, turn the corner past the fireplace, the entry way, the living room and kitchen, and finally, the dark ominous opening of my parents’ bedroom.

I learned how to be still, and breath, and conquer my fear of being alone. I grew to love the stillness of night, the rhythm of the moon, and things that moved in the darkness. My imagination was more colorful than reality and I learned to keep my eyes and ears open without fear of the vampire underneath my bed with his red glowing cape, or the Bogeyman outside my window that might pop his grizzly head up, or the wind quivering the finger-like branches of the tall twin pine trees against the full moon’s light.

I watched everything that was on television, if it peaked my interest. I grew to understand that basic fear was a human impulse resulting from a lack of knowledge in that, which is feared. Real fear was primal, the kind that connected to your gut. I learned the differences and the middle ground in between.

As a young adult, my experiences were haphazard, sometimes pushing the edge of what was good for me, but knowing when to lay low or get the hell-out-of-dodge. Most of my real fear in these situations was in direct response to mortal human encounters: relationships gone bad, deceptive adults, and unpredictable human behavior. I learned how to trust myself: my senses, my impulses, and my intuition. In this way, I have always felt unique in my experiences, generationally and spiritually.

I am less afraid of Bigfoot, Extraterrestrials, Chupacabra, UFOs, and Demon Possession, and more afraid of men with guns, blatant sexual urges, deranged agendas, entitled egos, reinforced by political alliances.

I am less afraid of ghosts, haunted places, werewolves, and vampires, and more afraid of political instability, nuclear weapons, social chaos, and natural disasters.

Born and raised in San Bernardino, California, cult capital of the nation and one of the most geologically dynamic places on earth, I was less afraid of the devil and creeping things and more afraid of large rickety building structures and mass gatherings of people. My Atheist/Agnostic father and Seventh-Day-Adventist mother provided a rich contrast of dispassionate mechanical thought vs. constrained fundamental belief for my inquisitive young mind to ponder; a perfect environment for analyzing contrasting viewpoints playing out in a post-Nixon world. It is difficult to imagine the 1970s without the horrors of the time as it metastasized into classic American Horror films on cable TV.

When I first saw The Exorcist, I had absorbed large amounts of data through television, reading National Geographic magazines and my mother’s SDA literature and the KJV Bible (I think I was halfway through reading the begets of Chronicles, because my mother insisted we read the Word of God from cover to cover – enough to make one want to barf up green soup). Even though the movie was scary, I couldn’t help but feel a hidden hand moving over the whole thing to increase Church membership and tithe. I began to doubt my mother’s religious ideas early, before I was a teenager. I wanted to believe what she did because I dearly loved her and saw that she desperately wanted to transcend all that was bad, but she couldn’t provide answers that were concrete enough for me to accept them.

The Exorcist proved how powerful religion is over the minds of those too afraid to question things they do not understand. I have no doubt that there are evil ‘things’ in this world. But those ‘things’ tend to be human generated through calculated motivations. True knowledge saturates perceived fear. It provides a clear path for humanity to evolve beyond its own planned obsolescence. I take comfort in fearful things and seeking knowledge to understand them.


The American Nightmare: A Documentary
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown Documentary
Fascinating Facts About The Exorcist
The Movie Channel Commercials – 1980s


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25) Mom Never Liked To Fly

July 14, 2004

I felt a great air inside, a bubble forming. It was rising, first in my stomach, my rib cage and then my throat. I was on the metro in Rome. It was balmy, crowded. I had to get away. I thought I might escape out of the window.

Debbie whispered, “Are you okay?”

I clasped my hand to my mouth and shook my head; afraid the bubble would explode and my body, fold in on itself.

“We’re almost here,” she said.

All around, the kids in my Art History program were staring. I wanted to spoon their eyes out. The train slowed, slowing, slower. Hurry up! Open the door! Voices rattled inside my head, like falling marbles.

Finally, the doors opened. I bolted out, running down an alley behind a market. Debbie was trailing behind. My body melted into the stucco wall.

“I’m, I’m, I’m trying… I can’t, I… I, I.” The bubble obliterated. A long, primal wail pushed out like a screaming train. I became a child, shrinking into the cracked pavement. I felt my stomach push down through to my knees and I stayed in this way for what felt like eternity…

“What happened?” Debbie said moments later.
“I don’t know.”
“What set it off, do you think?”
“Maybe it’s just travel jitters. I’ve never felt like this before.”
“Come on. We’ll get some gelato after dinner,” she said.
“Thanks, Debbie.” I took a deep breath and a step…

I felt better at dinner. Our instructor made a deal with a local restaurant owner to feed us every other night. I loved the olives. We were low in the bowl. Giuseppe came over to refill it.

“Are you sure?” I said.
“Fo’get about it,” he said much to my delight. I slapped Debbie on the knee.
“What?” she said turning around.
“A real Italian in Italy told me, ‘Fo’get about it,’ ” I gestured like he did.
“That’s hilarious!” she said taking a healthy swig of her wine glass.

Across the long table we were engrossed in chatter, laughing over clinking wine glasses, twirling spaghetti in white sauce, dipping soft, doughy bread in olive oil and vinegar.

After dinner, we walked down to the gelato stand several blocks from the restaurant. I had caramel and Debbie, blackberry. We strolled back to our apartment licking gelato, our bellies full of wine and pasta, a soft breeze flirting around us in the oldest city in western civilization…

July 15, 2004

Debbie shook me awake. It was 4 o’clock in the morning.

“It’s your Dad,” she said handing the phone to me in the dark.
“Hello?” I said.
“It’s Dad… Mom is here in the hospital… she won’t be coming out.” His voice was like silk sliding on cotton. Mom was awake, but unable to speak…

July 18, 2004

I was sitting at a dining table in a Red Lion Hotel. My brother was talking to Uncle Bill. I sipped my sugar-coated coffee and wrote down the dollar amounts we would all contribute to bury my mother.

Mom had always said she wanted to be buried near her beloved grandmother in San Bernardino, California. She was the only person Mom truly loved with every part of her being. ‘Gram’ as Mom called her, had adopted her own grandchildren after their father shot his wife.

There was no dispute among us. Mom would be buried in San Bernardino. My brother made the arrangements. Dad was an empty specter. It would cost another $3,000 to fly her to California. None of us had the money and besides, we all agreed, Mom never liked to fly. She would travel in her casket in my brother’s Ford Explorer.

Once we loaded the coffin in his car, it was too high for my brother to see over the top of it on his right side. So, I would follow him; he would signal, I’d get in the right lane – he would look for me in the side mirror and switch lanes. We drove in that way from southern Oregon to southern California.

Like a dark caravan, we drove down Interstate 5 until the sun was low in the sky. We made it to Williams, California and stayed overnight at a Best Western. Uncle Bill’s wife didn’t sleep well. The idea of Mom inside a coffin outside our hotel room gave her the creeps.

The next day we had to be at the funeral home in San Bernardino by 5pm. We didn’t have much time. My brother averaged 90 mph the rest of the way, stopping twice for gas. We pulled into the back of the funeral home five minutes before they closed. It was a good thing to. Mom may not have fared well another night out of a freezer.

I still dream about Rome, how it vanished overnight, the long 10-hour flight, staring at the sun moving through clouds the moment my mother left this world. I still recall the last words I said to her over the phone at 4 o’clock in the morning, “I love you, Mom. I’m coming home. I’ll see you soon.”

Two days after the funeral, I had my 30th birthday. I wrote my mother’s obituary for the local paper where our family lived for many years. I spent $500 of my student loan money to pay for its publication. How tragic one must pay to honor a life.

You never know when someone you love will die. Things just happen. And sometimes you have to drive 1,000 miles to bury your mother with the reassurance in knowing she never liked to fly.


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07) Once, I Was a Mall Rat

In the late 80s, I used to hang out at the Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino with my best friend. We would do anything to get away from our parents. Luckily, her parents would drive us to the mall, drop us off and we would shop, smoke cigarettes, look for cute boys and catch a movie afterwards.

1989 Mall Rat

We bought colored eyeliner and burgundy lipstick at Center Stage. We caressed the sweet smelling leather at Wilson’s Suede and Leather shop, hoping for fringed or zippered jackets with pumped up shoulder pads for Christmas. Sipping on our Orange Julius’s, we inspected the CDs at The Wherehouse, scanned the latest Teen Beat magazine for River Phoenix and Kirk Cameron at Waldenbooks and tried on clothes at Wet Seal and Contempo Casuals.

Taking a break from our mall routine, we would sit in an open area on a bench and smoke cigarettes (you could smoke inside the mall), looking cool with our designer brand bags and blown out hair.

We were 14 and 15, but could pass for 18. We never got carded for cigarettes at 7-Eleven and if we were desperate, we could buy smokes at any vending machine (I hated vending machines since they only came in soft packs, which were instantly mushed in the bottom of my small purse). Cigarette vending machines were found at just about every public place at that time.

If we detected a crop of cute boys, we followed them slowly, talking in British accents about some made-up vacation on a ritzy beach somewhere to peak their interest. We practiced this all the time, pretending as if we were the latest girls of Duran Duran’s, Simon Le Bon and John Taylor.

My best friend had more money to spend and I bought cheap accessories with the hopes that in 6 months to a year, she would be bored of what she bought today and I’d inherit her clothes as hand-me-downs. Since, her wardrobe was ‘way’ cooler than mine, I had no sense of expiring ‘hotness’ when it came to fashion. I trusted her judgment and would wear her clothes until there were holes in them and the bright colors faded to pastels.

She was really boy crazy and the bolder one. I just went along with her, having no real identity of my own. It wasn’t until we got a little older that I would stand up to her and understand how superficial, meaningless and desperate our teen years truly were.

[image from]

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