Like Rosemary’s Baby, But Without Rosemary or the Baby or John Cassavetes
A little while ago, dear reader, I was a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care, let’s-get-drunk kinda guy. The sort of person who never really worried about that much, had a smile plastered to their face, and all that stuff that becomes a problem during exam season. Case in point, one day I had finished a paper in a rather half-assed fashion, and proceeded to berate my roommate with a more intense exam schedule than me with this fact for some time. Eventually, I grew weary of this, and headed out to get loaded in celebration.
Six beers later, I stroll on home, figure I’m out of sorts enough to enjoy some Kraft Dinner that has adorned the cupboard for a while, and then fall asleep. Little did I know that the happy guy who passed out had seen the last of his smilin’ daze dwindle away from him with the waning light. You see, people, and I swear to you about this, I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the fucking GRIM REAPER floating in my doorway.
Now, this may not have been a big deal to most people. I can easily see Ernest Hemingway seeing ol’ G-R hanging out in his room, and react only by hurling whiskey bottles at him until sunrise. But you see, I have what is known in psychological circles as a fear of Death. One day, many years ago, the wee Petrenko you read before you was watching some shoddily-produced daytime Discovery Channel special on ghosts, and in this special that no child should have been left alone to watch was an image of a ghoulish apparition floating in the doorway of some person who was tossing and turning in their bed. And I don’t know what mumbo-jumbory happened to my brain as it saw this, but it petrified the shit out of me. I couldn’t sleep for two nights, I couldn’t turn a corner in my own house without being deathly afraid that some hideous monster was waiting to… well, scare me some more, I guess. It was like that moment when you jump because a misleading camera angle in a horror movie doesn’t reveal the psycho killer until they’re right there, but preserved for sixty hours.
Jump forward, back to a few weeks ago. I’m twenty-two now, about as old as the actor in that ghost sequence that has scarred itself into my brain, and in the middle of the night I wake up completely alert, confronted with an even WORSE ghoul – this is the GRIM REAPER, in case I didn’t capitalize it before, and it’s way worse than some no name beastie. They sent the big guns in on this one.
Now, perhaps there are calmer ways for a quasi-adult to react to an apparition of imminent death floating before you than to pull the blankets over your head and start bargaining with yourself – but I didn’t pause to consider them. Closely guarded by a comforter that failed to adequately comfort, I grasped at straws: “Okay, shit. SHIT! No more drinking, okay? I’ll go easy at the birthday party tomorrow, I promise, okay! I don’t want to die! I’ll even be a bastard and tell other people not to drink, so they don’t die. Is that enough? Please?”
Peeking my head out from under the covers to find out if that was enough to appease the as-yet un-fully-contemplated fucking devil outside my door, I see it obviously was not a sufficient resolution, and immediately fling the sheets back over my head, Ebenezer Scrooge visitation-style.
Perhaps, again, I could have acted in a wiser fashion. But lo and behold, my very next thought to myself was the question “What do I have to do, man!? What’s it gonna take!? I don’t want to die! Couldn’t I just run up and shove it down, or something?”
My mind presented a counterargument almost immediately.
“No, man! You can’t do that! You can’t just walk up to the Grim Reaper and slap him around and have him go away! If he touches you, you’re dead!”
“Yeah, but what if I touch him? Maybe he’s like one of those animated skeletons who crumbles into dust when you punch him.”
“Naw… just hide here until sunup, so he’ll go away.”
“That’s vampires, idiot! Why’s he a vampire and not a skeleton man?”
It was at this point that a third, silent partner in my mind’s deliberation spoke up.
“Hey, is the door even open?”
Like the clarion voice of Wisdom itself, or possibly Moe instructing Larry and Curly in the proper method of tuning a piano, this voice brought a stop to the idiotic cacophony.
“…maybe… what of it?”
“Don’t you hang your jacket and towels on hooks on the inside of said door, and couldn’t they look pretty much like a grim reaper in poor light?”
After the other two opinions in this internal debate argued over who should take the first look to check it out, I snuck a peek, and sure enough, the spectre of my imminent demise was gone. In its place were my dark blue winter jacket and a dark red towel with surprisingly little power of absorption that I hated, but used nonetheless.
People, my brain was like Apollo Program Mission Control at this realization. People were hugging, popping champagne, applauding wildly, and I was elated. I realized then that my heart was beating like I’d just run a marathon, I’d broken out in a cold sweat (but not in the romantic James Brown way), and I’d woken up at this ungodly hour not to receive the knowledge of my passing, but because all the alcohol in my system when I fell asleep had turned to sugar and been digested somehow. Still bursting from the rush, I couldn’t fall back to sleep, and decided to write this whole saga down in the rising glow of the new day.
At the time of publication, I still have not considered or accepted the fact that I am 22 years old. Nor have I figured out if you could in fact push the Grim Reaper down and run away from him.
PS: This is also not the first time I have been scared shitless by mistaking coats for ghosts.