The power of suggestion

It’s funny the stories we concoct in our youth, ones that seem perfectly plausible to our young minds but that acquire a certain amount of falsehood upon reflection one to two decades later. I have many of these stories adding color and dimension to my childhood.

I had a terrible fear for what seemed like a long time that a monster would come and cut off all of my hair as I slept soundly in my childhood bed. Of course, I had never heard of such an event happening to any of my friends. I don’t believe that I had read about something like this taking place in any storybook. Yet whether or not this fear was well founded did not seem to have a profound impact on the measures I took to ensure this threat never become a reality. Therefore, I took the kind of proper precautions any child might when taking measures into her own hands. I filled the gap between my bed and the wall with stuffed animals, gently placed a beloved German Shepherd stuffed animal just below my feet, tucked in all covers tightly so as to deter any monsters who thought they could sneak in, and slept with the covers pulled up to my nose and another blanket covering my hair and head down to my eyes.

Prior to the hair-cutting nightmare fiasco, I am fairly certain I believed that a lion inhabited the far corner of our living room. My sister had an invisible friend name Brownie, who celebrated a birthday nearly every day. And my stuffed animals were very much alive. They had parties while I was gone from the room but were careful to return to their original positions when they heard me coming.

One quite creative story involved my sister and I deciding that our family had to be part of a Jewish mafia conspiracy because it seemed that nearly everyone in the family worked for uncle Seymour, who had a lot of money and a presence that any self-respecting child would find intimidating. Now, we have not yet been proven wrong on this suspicion, but we also have kept it in our “do not file” list.

Of course, these are all stories created by imaginative minds. The more disturbing stories are those served up to young, trusting minds by the adults in their lives. I can recall a particular story from preschool Gymboree that involved a vault called a “horse” and a pit of blocks of foam. The idea was for tiny children to take a running start and jump off the vault into the foam. Preschool fun. At least, it was meant to be that. My memory involves dread and panic as I hit the foam and immediately began scrambling back toward the vault for fear of falling into the bottomless pit I had been told was located at the far end of the foam. I think it took about two decades before I shared this story for the first time. During the telling, I had to stop mid-sentence as I realized my Gymboree teachers had been putting me on.

I also can recall many times my mom would walk with me from our home to my friend Lauren’s house about a block away. We had to walk briefly on the main road, down a hill, and then a few hundred feet further. At the top of the hill was a hedgerow, within which—my mom decided to tell my young friend and I—lived a number of “bush monsters”. Even as we grew older and were allowed to walk on our own back and forth to each others’ homes, we would still run shrieking past the bush monsters until we had reached a reasonable distance and were assured safe passage.

There is a fine line between story and imagination and an even finer line between imagination and truth. For me, these were truths. Did they become any less true with the passage of time and a decade or so to reconsider?

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