I was eight years old when something scared the holy hell out of my father.
For awhile, we girls were forbidden from even mentioning it.
Before then, I was convinced that nothing on earth could possibly, conceivably scare a man who was scary himself. He had a whole shelf lined with medical textbooks filled with scary photographs of human anomalies, diseases, injuries, and malformities. He had scary stories to share after a day’s worth of scary surgeries. He had a dark sense of humor and said some very scary things (e.g., his favorite greeting to us girls whenever he came home from work was a cheerful “Who wants to die?”).
He had an even scarier temper. Anything, anytime, could set him off. I learned more colorful, creative variations of obscenities than a child should EVER be subjected to. Our bedrooms became a temporarily safe refuge for me and my sisters where we’d huddle together, willing the shouting and the throwing things to stop. Once, two of us ran from our house and stayed put at a neighbor’s until the storm had settled to a growling rumble of thunder in the background.
I had nightmares all the time back then, every night in fact. Most of them involved some horrible faceless entity breaking down my bedroom door and screaming in my face, sucking the air right from me as it did. I don’t need a shrink to tell me why that was happening. Obvious shows obvious.
When I found out my father could be frightened out of his wits as much as we could be, that’s when my regular nightmares came to an abrupt halt. Naturally, I wanted to know what was it that had him terrified so much, that had given him nightmares for a change. Once I found out, not only did my regular nightmares end, I was introduced to a genre that would eventually both excite me and act somewhat as a personal talisman.
The source of my dad’s fear was a movie… and this scene in particular: