I remember how I used to be a fraidy cat when I was a little girl; how I’d run to my parents’ room and beg my Mom to let me sleep in their bed “just one last time” every time I heard our neighbor’s dog howl in the middle of the night. In the Philippines, we believe that the howling of a dog signals the presence of a ghost, and I’ve heard a lot of ghost stories from elders enough to scare the wits out of a gullible child like me.
I was six or seven when Mom decided it was time for me to sleep in my own room. How I dreaded having to sleep there alone. With lights turned off, all I could see were the shadows on the wall ready to seize me. I always thought there was something or someone lurking under the bed and it was going to pull my legs or drag me to a place my parents would never find me.
There was a big window above my bed which was left open most of the time. I didn’t like that window, because I felt like I was being watched. When the wind blew, I would imagine a ghost entering my room. I’d close my eyes, bury my head in a pillow and under the blanket, I’d chant: “Make them go away, make them go away,” until I fall asleep.
I used to have nightmares, too. I had recurring dreams of a scary-looking pig and it woke me up panting, sometimes crying. Every time I ran to my parents’ room, Mom would tell me to go back to my bedroom. She said I would get used to sleeping alone, that I was a big girl, and big girls sleep in their own rooms. She told me to pray before going to bed, so bad thoughts and bad dreams wouldn’t bother me… and that’s what I did. I’d pray when I was afraid until I wasn’t afraid anymore. Soon the nightmares stopped coming, and I could sleep in my own room… but I was still a fraidy cat. There were times when I couldn’t sleep after watching a scary movie or hearing another ghost story.
I recall a show my family and I loved to watch when I was younger. It’s called Magandang Gabi Bayan, “an informative news analysis program shown on ABS-CBN” and hosted by one of my favorite news anchors of all time, Noli de Castro. Every Halloween, it features real ghost stories and Philippine folklore that are quite horrifying. After watching the show, images of those creatures would haunt me. Just so I would not sleep alone in my room, I’d bribe my little sister to sleep with me. Well, she was scared, too, so she would not refuse. Sometimes, I’d sleep in my grandma’s room. She would never send me away, because she knew how frightened I was, but she’d keep nagging about why I like to watch scary shows and horror movies and after watching, I get so scared that I can’t even sleep alone or go to the bathroom without a body-guard.
I don’t know why, but scary TV programs and horror flicks are just too exciting to resist.
Then alas, I was a teenager. I began to realize what adults in the family had been saying all along, “Ghosts can’t harm you, but people can.” I wasn’t afraid of ghosts or monstrous mythical creatures as I used to be, but I developed other kinds of fear: fear of rejection, failure, disappointment caused by my everyday dealings with difficult and insensitive people. As a child, I was made to believe that I can be anybody I want to be, but growing up as a teen, I have learned the harsh reality of trying so hard to be “what I want to be”, but failing to become “that person” in the end. For some time, I was afraid of failing, of not being able to live up to the standards I have set for myself or not living up to other people’s expectations.
One day, I was standing in front of the mirror, looking at my reflection. Dad noticed. He told me, “Stop staring at yourself. You are already beautiful.” That day, I decided to stop caring too much about what people think of me.
People who don’t know you see only what’s on the outside, and if they don’t like what they see, they judge too quickly.
In college, I thought I wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody… until I met our dean for the first time. Well, I wasn’t the only one in our university who was scared of her. Most of the students in our department have experienced her “mess-with-me-and-you-will-not-graduate” approach. I had been praying since my freshman year to be “spared” from that experience. I thought that I was being a “good girl” and it was enough that I’ve made a good name for myself in the “college of education”, but then it finally happened! She was my instructor in one of my major classes. On the first day of that most important class, I was late! I remember my friends sending me text messages, telling me to hasten, or I would be doomed. I was doomed even before I got to class! It was my fault, I know. I wasn’t late once or twice… it sort of became a habit. I was scared of her, but I was overly confident that I would make it to college even when I didn’t abide by her rules, because I was good at my course and most of my other professors like me.
I would never forget that day when I was in the library and she found me there. I had been trying to shun her. I don’t know why she never called me to her office, but when she saw me in the library, she talked to me furiously, lectured me about being irresponsible, and warned me that if I would not change my ways, I’d never graduate. She was angry, but the look on her face was more of disappointment. Her words stabbed me, but those words challenged me to do better.
When I graduated, she was smiling as she handed me my diploma. A few months after that, I went back to her office to get a recommendation letter. She asked what school I was applying in. I said I wasn’t applying, I was already hired, but I was asked to get a recommendation letter from my dean. She was all smiles as she was signing the letter that her secretary just finished typing.
When I was a university student, I would fidget every time I was in her office, but that day when I came back “as a teacher”, I wasn’t nervous nor scared of her. Why would I be when I have seen how proud she was of me? I had just graduated, and it wasn’t easy to get a teaching position in a renowned private school without at least 2 years of experience… but I did it. She congratulated me and told me to do well.
After seven years, I came back to see her again to introduce my husband-to-be and ask her to come to our wedding and be one of our godparents. She didn’t refuse and as we talked, I noticed that she smiled a lot.
Sometimes, the one or the thing that frightens you the most is who or what can bring out the best in you.
We all get scared at some point in our lives.
I remember asking my husband once what he is afraid of. He told me he isn’t afraid of anything, but when he was a young boy, he was scared of his father. Now he thinks nothing can terrify him… but when I got sick, he told me he’s afraid of losing me.
Usually, when we are afraid of something, we close our eyes, but somebody taught me a trick. She said when I fear something (or someone), I should not close my eyes and pretend it’s not there. Instead, I should keep my eyes open and say, “I’m not scared”, and keep saying it until the fear goes away. I’m telling you, this trick works.
What frightens you? Maybe it’s time to face your demon today.
- What I Want to Be as a Grown Up (chrissantosra.wordpress.com)
- I’m Grateful for… Scary Teachers (mypigeonpair.com)
- Fancy Fraidy Cat (cowboysandcrossbones.wordpress.com)
- Excommunicated by the Fraidy Cat in the Mirror. (tatyanasinta.wordpress.com)
- Ghosts of Halloween Past (cowboysandcrossbones.wordpress.com)
- Black Cats, Salt Over Shoulder, and Superstitions (writingwranglersandwarriors.wordpress.com)
- Be afraid. But do it anyway. (unmooredanchor.wordpress.com)
- True Ghost Stories (costumediscounters.com)