As I mentioned yesterday, I told my therapist how much I love that she allows me to put my feet on the furniture in her office. That interaction led to a slight rupture that we (luckily) recovered from, offering me the chance to explain more about this particular topic.
Growing up, I was this little monkey kid. I loved to climb and hang off of anything and everything, especially furniture. I loved to sit on the arms of chairs and sofas; I’d hang upside down or climb over the top of recliners and lay in a strange twisted position. My feet are rarely ever touching the ground if I can help it. I don’t like that feeling, for many reasons.
One reason is due to my parents: my father especially hated when I sat on the arm of a chair or sofa, or put my feet on the furniture. My parents could never understand why I flat out refused to just sit normally in a damn chair. I guess I just didn’t want to. It infuriated them and they’d scream at me for it constantly.
So I did it even more.
The other reason relates to a birthday party. When my younger cousin turned seven, her mother chose the movie “Pet Semetary“, based off the Stephen King novel. It’s a terrifying movie. Most notable for myself is a scene where the revived demon child, Gage, is hiding under a bed. When someone kneels down to check under that same bed, Gage reaches out with a knife and cuts right into their achilles tendon, slicing their foot.
It scared the shit out of me. That movie was so traumatic that I had nightmares for months. My older sister and I shared bunk beds during this time. Whenever I struggled to fall asleep because of that movie haunting me, I would simply whisper “Pet Semetary” out loud. She would holler and fuss about how now SHE was thinking about that movie and thus wouldn’t be able to sleep, either. Cruel of me, I know, but at least I wasn’t alone in my fears anymore.
Regardless, that particular scene made me forever terrified of having my feet near any such areas, chairs included. So I far prefer to have my feet raised up, safe from any resurrected knife-wielding children.
Which reminded me of another memory:
When I was only slightly older, this same cousin’s father chose “The Silence of the Lambs” as our sleepover movie. I didn’t understand most of the movie, but it really frightened me, especially the idea that people would EAT other people! Later that same night, all five of us cousins were sleeping in my uncle’s water bed (we’d kicked him out to the sofa). My older sister and I were on the ends and the younger cousins were between us.
At some point in the evening, my much older male cousin snuck into the room. He crept up the bottom of the bed and positioned himself directly over the top of myself and my cousin. He shook us awake and when I opened my eyes, he was making scary sounds and wearing that fucking Hannibal Lecter mask.
I nearly shit myself.
After that, I was terrified to sleep. I would just lay awake, frozen in fear. I eventually told my mother about this. Her response? She (“jokingly”) told me that I should listen carefully at night to the sound of my doorknob jigglinf, because it just may be a hungry cannibal looking to nibble on my ears. She was saying this in that sadistic way adults tell jokes to children that absolutely terrify them.
For the record, I still listen for the sound of my doorknobs jiggling, and I still think about insane humans feasting on my earlobes.
As I was telling my therapist about all of this, she looked shocked and disgusted. She had a lot of questions about who was around, why were these movies selected, where were the actual kids’ movies?!
“I mean, I think we had a sing-a-long movie, too. The kind where the Mickey Mouse ears bounce along with the words on screen. So it was Disney sing-a-long and Pet Semetary.”
She was so appalled she burst out in uncomfortable laughter. I laughed, too.
“This is just my childhood!”
“The first sleepover I had as a “big kid”, my mother offered me “Sleeping with the Enemy” as our movie. I hadn’t seen it yet, but I liked Julia Roberts, so I was like ‘cool!’ Again, I didn’t really understand the plot of the movie, but it made me feel scared and uncomfortable.”
“Isn’t that the movie about domestic violence where she fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband and he stalks her?”
“Yes. And then for another sleepover, we watched “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle“, which has a lot of scandalous stuff in it, but I wasn’t really sure of the overall storyline. What I remember the most is the near-fatal asthma attack the nice woman has in the film. Both of my biological siblings have severe asthma. My older sister had a bad attack when we were little kids and it scared me, so that scene really stood out. That, and the part where the female villain is thrown out a window and impaled by a picket fence…”
My therapist jumped in, “These are a lot of movies about violence. Why did your parents allow you to see these films? Were you just expected to watch what the adults wanted to watch?”
“I know they’re violent. That seems to be the common theme, huh? I mean, I don’t know why they let us watch them. I guess they didn’t think much about the impact. But what’s weird is that I remember when we all watched “Look Who’s Talking“. In the opening credits, there’s a sequence that follows an actual sperm on its path to penetrate an ovum. I had NO idea what that even was, but my mother made my sister and I leave the room until it was over. Even when I watched it a few years later, I still had no idea what it was about. So I guess she drew the line at microscopic images of conception.”
My therapist just looked at me with this bewildered expression.
“I also remember seeing “Ghost” in theaters as a kid. That would have been when I was about seven or eight. My Mom covered my eyes during the scene where they build the clay pot together, which isn’t even very sexual.”
“Was that movie scary to you? Did you have enough of an understanding about death to know what was happening?”
“Nah. Not really. It was weird to watch. I understood that certain parts were sad, funny, scary. But I didn’t really understand all the characters and stuff. What I do remember is when the bad man gets impaled by a broken window that falls onto his stomach; that was awful. And there were these black demon things that came to get the souls of bad people. That was the worst for me. I saw those little black demons everywhere after that, especially at night in my bedroom. I was always terrified they were coming to get me.”
She thought for a second and said, “So the black demons…you felt that you were bad? That they were there to get you because you were bad?”
“Did you ever watch any children’s movies?”
“Yeah sure. Does “Indiana Jones” count? “Temple of Doom” was my and my cousin’s favorite. We also loved “E.T.” and “Annie“, the musical movie. I loved that film so much! I wanted Grace Farrell to adopt me so we could dance around beautiful mansions and go to classy movie theaters where beautiful dancers perform before the shows…”
She tilted her head and smiled a bit.
“…But that was also kind upsetting because Annie is an orphan and then she’s chosen and she gets this great opportunity to go live with Mr. Warbucks, but then her fake parents kidnap her and she almost falls off a really tall ladder.”
“True. But that movie is still made more for children.”
“No, I know. She gets saved by Punjab and lives happily ever after with her new family that makes her name out of fireworks.”
I paused for a moment, exhausted. I don’t know where all of that information even came from. I wanted to tell a simple story about my Dad screaming at me for putting my feet on the furniture and it just unleashed a torrent of memories. Things I hadn’t thought about in years or ever. I don’t even think it was me talking. It was, but it wasn’t. I felt strange. Disconnected. I knew what I was talking about, but I wasn’t sure HOW I knew it.
Dissociation is a bizarre experience.
Then I apologized for going off on this long, irrelevant tangent about scary movies for half the session. I explained that I’d just wanted to explain about the furniture thing and then one thing led to another, led to another, and so on until a lot of time had passed and I couldn’t even remember how this all got started to begin with.
She said, “Yes. And that right there is psychotherapy.”
“I know, but it’s dumb stuff. I don’t even know why I’m talking about this!”
“It doesn’t really matter why. You brought it up because it came to mind. And I think it says a lot about your childhood and about the type of environment you were in; one that did not consider the impact of showing you very inappropriate movies that would frighten and confuse you.”
“True. It just created more things to be afraid of: cannibals, dead children, crazy vengeful women, men who hit their wives, little black demons. And then, you know, there was my very real fear of the people who lived inside my own house…”
“Right. And that’s a lot to hold onto for such a little kid.”