October 15, 2010
Even from the beginning I thought there was something in the attic. My closet was long and narrow, running parallel to one wall of my room, and at the far end of it there was a door into the attic. Maybe it was the fact that for a long time that door was kept padlocked that gave me the idea. Maybe I assumed the lock was there to keep something in, rather than keeping me out, since I wasn’t interested in going into the attic. For some reason I felt that whatever it was that was in the attic was malevolent, even if I didn’t know its name or what it looked like. Then one summer we took a trip to Texas. My parents went out one night and left me with some complete strangers. I assume my parents knew them and didn’t just call up random strangers asking, “Could you watch our son while we go out for a few hours?” But to me the people were strangers, albeit nice ones who gave me some ice cream and let me watch television. While we were watching television the trailer for a movie called Suspiria came on. The trailer, which you can find online, opens with a woman with long black hair, seen from the back, and a voice singing “Roses are red, violets are blue…” The head spins around, revealing a skull under the hair. I still haven’t seen the movie, directed by Dario Argento, to this day, although I have seen some of his other movies. Some people call him an amazing horror film director, but I can honestly say I’ve seen episodes of Spongebob Squarepants that were more frightening. But as a kid in a strange house the trailer for Suspiria completely freaked me out. I got over it, at the time, thanks in part to the ice cream, and the fact that my parents eventually showed up. The next day there was going to the beach and fishing off the pier behind the house to occupy my mind. Then we came home. The thing in the attic now had a name – Suspiria – a gender – female – and a body – a skeletal creature with black hair and a black dress. I couldn’t sleep. I hated to go up to my room alone at night. I wasn’t even comfortable there during the day. Any time Suspiria might come out of the closet and get me. When I came down the stairs, even in the middle of the day, I could feel her up there watching me. The padlock on the door to the attic didn’t make any difference. She was a supernatural creature, and since when have those been bound by simple things like locks? I wanted more than anything to leave my closet door closed when I went to bed, but I was convinced she wanted it open. Maybe she was afraid of the dark, like me. I’d leave the closet door cracked. One night I dreamt that I got up and started to close the closet door. Suspiria jumped out and hissed at me, “Leave the door open, boy, or I’ll stab you through the stomach!” The dream was so vivid that for a long time I wasn’t sure whether it was a dream or whether it really happened. I never told my friends – I couldn’t tell anyone about Suspiria – but they told me about similar experiences, of dreams that were so vivid they didn’t know if they’d really been dreaming or not. It wasn’t exactly comforting. For one thing I wouldn’t wish the torment I was living with on anyone. For another I thought maybe they really weren’t dreaming – and maybe I wasn’t either. I don’t know why I couldn’t talk to anyone about Suspiria. Maybe that would have just made her even more real. And I’d been through attempts to “cure” me of imaginary fears before. Before Suspiria I’d been afraid of snuckles, weird slug-like creatures that lived under my bed. A friend of my mother’s came and pretended to pull the snuckles out and put them in a shoebox. And it helped, until they were replaced by something much worse. Even if Suspiria could be driven out, what if something else took her place?
Logically I knew that such a thing couldn’t exist, that she was nothing more than my imagination, but the fear was stronger than logic. Since my childhood was pretty normal and happy I’m not even sure what the source of this intense, unreasonable fear was. It was just there. Until I was four we’d lived in another house. My closet there wasn’t attached to the attic, but it did have giant caterpillars. They weren’t malevolent, but I still didn’t like having my bedroom door closed. If there hadn’t been an attic, if we’d lived in another house, I probably still would have found some place for Suspiria to hide and watch and torment me. Or she would have found a place.
As crazy as it sounds I still think of her as a separate entity. Maybe it’s a twisted kind of Stockholm syndrome, or maybe it was just the realization that Suspiria was part of me that makes me want to consider her as a real person, or whatever she is. Even as an adult, even on the last day I visited my parents in that house where I spent most of my childhood, shortly before they moved out of it, I could feel her watching me from the top of the stairs. I won’t say I ever came to love Suspiria, but the fact that we had such a long relationship makes me want to believe she was more than just my imagination playing a prolonged and very cruel game.
She has no place in the house where I now live with my wife. I’ve never sensed her presence there. Even though I’m writing this in the middle of the night in an (I hope) empty house, I feel safe from her. And yet a dream I had just a few months ago almost makes me wish she’d come back. In the dream I met Suspiria again. This time she didn’t jump out at me. We were outside, in a forest somewhere. Dappled sunlight shone down through the trees. And she was no longer taller than me. She was bent over, but even standing upright she would have barely come up to my chin. Her hair was thin and stringy, and there were patches where I could see the pale skull with flaps of skin flaking off of it. Where there had been empty eye sockets she’d grown bulging, bloodshot eyes with tiny dark irises and pupils. She seemed barely aware of my presence. She didn’t speak. I can’t tell if she was dying, but I hope not. Any suffering she caused me doesn’t justify me making her suffer in return. I think it was just her nature, and hating her for making me afraid would be like hating a wasp for stinging me. I think her suffering was my fault. Real or imaginary, I believe she feeds on fear, which means that for years now I’ve literally been starving her. I feel guilty, although, if fear is food to her then sympathy must be poison.
Even in her absence I occasionally think about Suspiria, not so much reminiscing about the times we shared, but really trying to understand what was going on. The older I get the more skeptical I become, and I always come back to the same conclusion: I spent years of my childhood torturing myself. I’m no longer as easily frightened as I was as a child, but I’ve had to admit to myself that I am the monsters I made. That scares me.