Her voice isn't quite an echo in the subtle haze of 2:30 AM. The twilight, the ether in-between sleep and awake has grown thin these last few years. I am easily stirred now. Had she approached me in college and whispered in my ear, I would have integrated her words into whatever dream I was currently having, rolled over and continued my undervalued slumber, unencumbered by parental responsibility. But no more. I know without opening my eyes that my daughter is standing next to my bed. I know that she is inches from my face. And I know, from just the slow, quiet repetition of my name, my new name, that she is scared.
“What’s wrong honey?”
Before the words have left my dry lips she's reached out for me, and I for her, and she's been pulled into bed with us. She buries her face in my chest, tucks away in the crook of my arm, much like she once did on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Back then she had peeked up out of the darkness and half whispered, half cried, “Don’t let the pirates grab me, daddy.”
Tonight it is a spider – a friendly spider.
“I saw a spider. He talked to me.”
My first instinct is to ask what the spider said, or to explain that spiders don’t talk, but this isn't like the talking to poop episode of a few months ago. She's clearly shaken up. I don’t want to scare her more. I just hold her and listen.
“He was nice, but I’m scared. Spiders don’t talk, dad. Huh?”
Spiders don’t talk. Spiders don’t talk. Nope.
When I was younger, probably around my daughter’s age, I had a blue, plastic Cookie Monster chair. It wasn't just a picture of Cookie Monster on a chair. It was Cookie Monster. You sat in his lap.
I remember this clearly. One night I sat up in my bed and he was looking at me with his wide, white eyes. I rubbed my eyes. I attempted to focus in on the reality that Cookie Monster was a chair. I tried to look “harder,” as if that were a thing one could do. I tried to look into him, to see the reality of his plastic nature. But no matter how my tiny eyes tried to connect what I was seeing, to what my brain was telling me, I kept coming to the same conclusion. My Cookie Monster chair was real. Not only was he real, but he was quiet, still, and terrifyingly patient.
Cookie Monster isn't real. Cookie Monster isn't real. Nope.
This is where my head travels at 2:30 AM in Sandy, Utah 2014. At 2:30 what is and what is not real matters not a bit. Not to me, not to her. The fear is real regardless. The feeling of her tiny hands clenched up against her chest as she tries to become as small and unnoticeable as possible – is real. The pirates aren't going to grab her. Spiders don’t talk. But tonight she can stay with us regardless - because I’m 32 years old, and sometimes on stranger nights than this, I can still close my eyes and see Cookie Monster staring at me from the foot of my bed.
“No honey. Spiders don’t talk.”
“Can I sleep with you and mom?”
“Yes, for a little while.”
She is asleep before she gets the permission she seeks. I look around the room for talking spiders, determine all is well, and feel my wife squeeze my hand. She’s been awake too. With a combination hug/roll, I gently place our daughter between us.
We don’t talk, but we know. We are an impenetrable, spider proof fortress. Just for tonight.
- Dad (John)
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