Here is the boogey-man when you’re six. He hides in the shadows of your bedroom. He awakens at the sound of your parents yelling at each other downstairs. He has wild hair, matted with blood, and several rows of sharp, gleaming teeth. He has open sores, and a taste for fresh blood and flesh. The only way you can keep him at bay is to stay awake as long as you can. If you’re awake, he can’t murder you in your sleep.
Here is the boogey-man when you’re sixteen. He lives in the shadows inside your head. He has a voice like the droning and scraping of a thousand insects, and it’s reciting the words of all the people who have been angry at you or disappointed in you. You hear all the people who haven’t believed in you, including yourself. He can smell the fear in you, the weakness in you, just as weasels can smell the blood of freshly hatched chickens. At your weakest hour, he whispers those poisonous words into your thoughts. The only way you can keep him at bay is to pretend as hard as you can that you do not have any weaknesses. You have to become diamond hard, titanium hard, from the inside out. If you are cruel enough, cold enough, hard enough, he may be silent for a little while, and no one will know about the invisible, twisted thing you carry about on your shoulders.
Here is the boogey-man when your thirty-six. He hides in the shadows of your life situation, and in the opinions of those around you. He speaks with the gravitas of past failures. He tells you that you’re crazy to think about changing your life. Try something stupid, and you’ll be living on the street. It’s far too late for change now. No, you’re stuck in that cubicle, that factory, that rooming house. That’s all there is to life. You’d better enjoy that three-martini lunch, that needle in your vein. He keeps you awake, long into the night, with the rattling of his chains. The only way you can keep him at bay is to surrender and put away your dreams of a better place.
Here is the boogey-man in 2006. He hides in the pages of the daily newspaper, and in the lines of resolution on your plasma television screen. He screams at you in a rasping voice that is a cross between an Old Testament prophet of disaster and an infomercial announcer. He warns you about all of the other boogey-men who are so much worse that he is. His message changes from time to time. Lately, he warns you about the boogey-men who wear turbans and plant bombs. The only way to keep them at bay, he screams at you, is to surrender your freedom and your humanity. He will watch over you while you sleep. There is no way to keep him at bay. Except, perhaps, to open your eyes in the middle of the night, and stare straight into his face.