I have been afraid of being alone for a long time. When I was very small, I surrounded myself with stuffed animals when it was time for bed, but sometimes they weren’t enough. Then I would get up and go to my parents, who, understandably, tried to get me back to bed. When I’d gotten up one too many times, my mother would send me back to my room and tell me not to come out again for 15 minutes.
This was unfair, I felt, for two reasons. First, I didn’t have a clock in my room, and even if I did, I couldn’t read it. But second, and far more vexing, was the fact that if a burglar were to come, he would have to come within some 15-minute period, so how could my mother be sure it wasn’t this 15 minutes? How would she like it if a burglar came and instead of coming out to get help, I stayed put until he snatched me away?
I have no idea how I came to fear burglars specifically. Our subdivision had had exactly one burglar in its entire history, and he had turned 18 and been arrested and sent away by the time I was old enough for two-syllable words. People left their doors unlocked and still do. But I was afraid a burglar would come, see the fire-department-issued “C” sticker on my windown (for Child’s Room) and decide to break in on the weakest member of the family.
This fear was connected to McDonald’s. Specifically, I had a fear of the Hamburglar and his hamburger-shaped head. The privet outside my window cast a shadow in that awful shape against the curtain, and it filled me with dread.
Except it turns out the Hamburglar never had a hamburger head. All these years, I’d conflated the Hamburglar with Mayor McCheese, putting the head of the latter on the body of the former.
Somehow this seems important. How many of my other childhood fears, still buried deep and leeching their toxins into the soil of my unconscious, are just as nonsensical? To what extent is every hurt and disaster in my life the product of a misapprehension?
As Zen Master Seung Sahn put it, “Only don’t know.”