Many young children between the ages of 4 and 6 have a best friend. Many of them are imaginary. But few have managed to befriend The Bogeyman himself – and it was all thanks to my mother’s desires for a well-behaved child that this unholy alliance came to blossom.
Before that time matters were quite the opposite: ‘Devil Incarnate’ could have been (and was likely) applied to me. ‘Good behavior’ was clearly for those with MUCH less imagination (and restraint) – and was just as obviously boring.
No spanking could keep me down, no threats of abolished toys could touch me, and since our TV viewing was SO limited back then in the Dark Ages, there really wasn’t much left in Mom’s Punishment Arsenal.
One day after a particularly creative, budding young artist had decorated those ‘boring’ white kitchen cabinets with a rainbow of crayon colors (after first distracting the teen babysitter by convincing her that Mom’s coveted box of Danish chocolates was actually up for grabs, since ‘Mom doesn’t like chocolate’ and ‘would be glad SOMEBODY liked it enough to EAT THE WHOLE THING and be rid of it’), Mom made a last-ditch effort and invented the perfect bogyman: Squeako.
The threat that ‘Squeako is gonna get you’ if I didn’t behave unfortunately didn’t elicit the good behavior she’d been expecting.
First, I asked about a hundred questions about Squeako, forcing her to delve more deeply than she’d imagined into this supposed bogyman’s entire background. Squeako apparently lived in the dark places of the house, just ready to pounce on Bad Little Girls. Frighteningly akin to Santa Claus, he also kept close tabs on Good and Bad behavior. (Without a calculator. Which hadn’t been invented back then.) Clearly, the weights of justice tipped by just a few errant crayons and were leaning waay into ‘dangerously bad’ territory in my case: territory inhabited by the nefarious Squeako.
It took me only two nights of pondering to realize that quite from being the adversary, Squeako was obviously a kindred spirit.
The next ‘color the boring white walls’ event took place only three days later (in typical Diane fashion. Why waste time when genius was afire?).
Mom (threatening): WHO DID THIS???
My sis (terrified): NOT ME!!!!!!
Mom (as if she didn’t know): Diane??
Me: NOT ME!!!!
(…now keep in mind: I may have been a Little Devil; but I was NOT ordinary a Big Liar. I usually readily – if not enthusiastically – admitted to my crimes, along with vivid and enthusiastic descriptions of how much fun they had been….)
Mom (puzzled): If it wasn’t you and it wasn’t your sister … WHO WAS IT??
Me (triumphant): SQUEAKO!
Mom turned purple as she struggled not to laugh, turning her back as she snorted and tried to form an appropriate response to this sudden turn of events. Nobody got punished that day. Crayon up one for Squeako and Diane.
And thus a supervillain compatriot-in-arms was born, and my innocence maintained in the entire matter.
Mom just shook her head, even more puzzled. Her Dr. Spock ‘bible’ made it clear that young kids are pretty uniformly afraid of the bogeyman. There are even chapters on abolishing such fears. I had not only managed to befriend Squeako, but granted him superpowers and a devilish penchant for tricks and trouble that allowed my imagination to rampage unfettered by the rigors of guilt or threats of punishment. It was a mystery even Dr. Spock didn’t cover, however many nights she read her child-rearing manual searching for clues to harnessing my personality.
Over the next number of years Squeako wrecked all kinds of havoc in our house, from wall-coloring and throwing wet Kleenex onto the bathroom ceiling during my evening bath (an important scientific experiment to see how long they would stick before raining down on the next, unsuspecting bather) to the Great Giant Spider Jar Farm poor Mom found under my bed during a cleaning blitz (Moi: “Well, everyone knows you shouldn’t clean under the bed! Squeako lives under there, after all…..now you’ve ousted HIS BEST PETS! He’s gonna getcha….”)
I was punished for some indiscretions and others were let go by adults who inexplicably found it funny that Squeako the Bogyman was my best friend. In most matters I maintained an angelic front whilst Squeako took the hit for being the devil. Mom snorted and chuckled each time, and had even more trouble administering punishments; especially since Squeako was pinpointed as the obvious culprit.
All worked well … until one day I was old enough to have a frightening thought. By then I had been cheerfully blaming Squeako for everything ‘my bad’ for years.
Logical thinking in a child can assume a terrible progression; to wit:
. What if Squeako were real?
. and, what if he had been listening all these years (in true bogeyman fashion, the walls DID have ears) and was SICK of being blamed?
. AND – what if he not only had had enough – but was plotting revenge??
Overnight Squeako had gone from being Mom’s ace-in-the-hole to being my best buddy: now he became my most feared invisible enemy!
Where could Squeako live in our house? Adults didn’t seem to have any details so I was happy to fill in the blanks: Squeako obviously lived in the basement (…and sometimes Under My Bed – a situation readily resolved by never allowing hands or feet to fall over the sides and most of all, never going to the bathroom at night!).
In adult terms all this could be equated to Hell; but since our house didn’t have religion as its foundation, the dark basement and Under the Bed was close enough.
What did Squeako eat? Why, spiders and monsters and Bad Little Girls, of course!
What was his favorite sport? Chasing Bad Little Girls out of the basement!
I developed an unnatural terror of the basement virtually overnight and harbored nightmares of stair-pounding monsters and breathtaking races up the single flight of stairs with evil huffing at my feet. And as usual, Mom was totally puzzled … and oblivious to danger (how adults managed to live to adulthood harboring such cluelessness, I never knew…)
Mom (casually): Diane, would you go in the basement and get a can of peaches?
Diane: NOT on your life! Do you want me killed?
Mom (shocked): WHAT are you talking about?
Diane: SQUEAKO lives down there – it’s DANGEROUS!
Mom (now confused): I thought Squeako was your friend?? Why just yesterday you were telling me….
Diane (interrupting loudly, nervous that Squeako will hear yesterday’s escapade, blamed on him until last night’s thoughts and nightmare): Squeako didn’t spring all the mousetraps and paint the red blood on them with marker pens – I did!
Mom (now REALLY confused): Squeako didn’t do it?
Diane: NO! I did, and I’m going to put myself in my room now and THINK ABOUT WHAT I DID. (Mom’s prior favorite punishment)
I also quit blaming Squeako for my transgressions; but by then Squeako had experienced years of blame and was obviously on a tear.
Mom could never fathom the reason for my sudden changes of heart. To her it was ALL a mystery: a child totally unafraid of the bogeyman, who made a close ally of fear; then overnight refused to go into the basement where at least half her toys lived. The only rational explanation was that Squeako and Diane had a parting of the ways… and, it just ALL went against Dr. Spock’s wisdom. It was SO WRONG….
Mom read Dr. Spock nightly. I knew that it was her favorite book and held lots of wisdom for her. In our house it was the obvious Bible.
“Mom,” I said quietly one night. “I want to know what that book says.”
“It tells me how to understand you,” she replied. “Occasionally,” she added sardonically.
“Mom. You don’t need that book to understand me. I’ll help you out.”
“But if it has anything on handling Squeako, would you read it to me? Otherwise, I’m stayin’ out of basements FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE….”