SHANE KOYCZAN: I was raised by my grandparents. Now the three things you need to know about my granddad, well, number one, and probably most important, he had an intense love for beef jerky. Two, he had the kind of temper that could be likened to a levee bursting apart on a hot, dry day. A cachet of anger stored away for any given moment on any given day. My grandmother used to say he was one half volcano and one half hurricane, a handful of excuses and a gut full of pain. And because of this, we come to number three. My granddad had a way with monsters. As a child, I slept in a bedroom full of them - a closet stuffed with long-legged demons who could make it from one end of the room to the other in a single step. My strep throat silence was born from night terrors. When screaming was not enough, so I instead kicked the wall. Through my first remembered breath, the moment I heard thunder, stormed down the hall then burst through my door like a war on its way to a peace protest.
My granddad would rest his hands on his hips, let his fingertips grip his boxers and lift them up past his waist. Standing like a superhero in the doorway, he would split the night with a whisper and say, all right you (bleep). I swear to Christ, I will turn on a (bleep) light. Never has any monster ever heard a battle cry more terrifying than I will turn on a light. And every night for more than four years, my granddad took boogeymen by the ears and threw them out on their asses, dragged the carcasses of dead monsters out of my room, grabbed a broom and swept what was left of my nightmares into a dustpan, emptied them into a trashcan then turn around to say sweet dreams my boy. Be down the hall if you need me. We were sidekicks. I’d sound the alert, and my granddad would put the hurt on whatever was hiding under my bed or lurking in my closet. He’d deposit his foot so deep into the asses of gargoyles that when they finally turned back into stone, he could wear them as platform boots to a Kiss concert.
KOYCZAN: My granddad used to wear a red polo shirt to bed. He said it used to be white. But one night when I was four, he busted down my bedroom door and had to kick some ass ‘cause I was screaming. Now he wears it as a warning, teaching nighttime there are some things far worse than morning. A night terror differs from a nightmare in that the dreamer will awake and take terror with them back into consciousness. Add to this the fact that the dreamer rarely recalls what they dreamt. And that any attempt to wake them usually ends unsuccessfully. I know this now, but think constantly how my granddad had to just stand there, wait for it to end and believe everything was going to be OK. How the following day he’d pretend not to be tired. An alarm clock wired into fears I could not recall. He’d wake and thunder down the hall doing the very best he could. He’d be there. An anchor pulling me back from the somewhere I could not escape. As a child, I learned not every hero wears a cape. Not everyone gets a tickertape parade just for having patience.
Not everyone has the strength needed to stand there, wait for it to end and believe everything’s going to be OK. Not everyone has the courage to say or do nothing when a child is screaming, dreaming of eternity in a room with no doors, no floors to keep you from falling further into panic. Each one small fear suddenly titanic in its implications. Situations so far beyond grotesque, I would’ve amputated my own imagination just to make them stop. But at the end of each one, he’d be there and he’d say close your eyes. I’m going to turn on a light. He’d invite me back to consciousness with a tired smile. The next day, he would sit on the sofa before dinner and say I just need to rest my eyes. My quest to end night terrors was born from the night he ended up falling asleep at the wheel and driving full speed into a snow bank. My one-man think tank kicked into overdrive. And for five nights in a row my granddad slept soundly, free from worry. We watched the light return to his eyes, as if it had just come back from some long vacation. But on night number six, the kicks against the bedroom wall made thunder storm down the hall once more.
He stood in the doorway ready to wage war, ready to restore light to darkness, to dismiss shadows, to land heavy-handed blows, Muhammad Ali combos that would give monsters pause to reconsider the options. Get up or stay down. Stay down. That night, he was hungry for a first-round knockout. He was about to go through his usual checklist of monster hiding spots when I said no, it’s OK. Go back to bed. With renewed enthusiasm he looked at me and said, nonsense. These (bleep) have to pay.
KOYCZAN: And I remember the way he dropped to his knees, stuck his head under my bed and said, what the (bleep) is all of my beef jerky doing under here?
KOYCZAN: I explained to him my not so brilliant plan. I said, I thought if I kept them fed, they’d leave me alone and you could get a good night’s sleep. Slow but deep, his lips crept across his face then cracked open into laughter. After a childhood of expecting only anger, he laid down on the ground, his lungs kicking at his chest. Every suppressed joy suddenly brought to the surface. This is the first time I can recall hearing my granddad laugh. Some thoughts are kept in closets hanging next to skeletons and boogeymen.
Sometimes when we believe in monsters, they take up residence under our beds. Our heads fill with the dread needed to keep them fed. We tread our own fear because we somehow thought it was better off being kept secret. It should come as no surprise that some hearts are like a dark bedrooms - tombs that we allowed ourselves to shut because we thought that way, everything will be all right. I think about my granddad’s laugh. I think often about that night, about how some people are waiting for people like us to slide our hands against their walls and say close your eyes. I’m going to turn on a light.