How To Fight The Sandman
Adults don’t remember childhood correctly. To be a child is to be constantly deceived.
Here is a short list of lies my parents told me, and why they disturbed me:
Lie #1: It was the Easter Bunny who would leave giant baskets of candy at the foot of my bed. This was a lie. The Easter Bunny was my mother. I caught her in the act. But before that discovery, it was never properly explained to me how a talking bunny rabbit was able to get into the house. The chimney was Santa’s route. I eventually decided that the Easter Bunny must live in the walls. With the exception of Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny would haunt our house all year long, wiggling it’s nose behind my bedroom wall.
Lie #2: The going rate for a tooth is a quarter. My body parts are worth more than 25 cents. So, out of the gate, I didn’t believe the Tooth Fairy was acting in my self-interest. Why should I be happy that some night witch was swiping my valuable teeth. I was sure I could have negotiated a higher price.
Lie #3: Professional wrestling was real. It wasn’t until I was 8 years old or so that my dad sat me down and told me that the colorful warriors of the World Wrestling Federation were play fighting. My dad had spent time as a wrestling announcer in El Paso, Texas, and loved that violent man ballet. But he felt that I should know the truth, and even showed me some of the choreographed moves wrestlers used on television. Up until that point, I worshiped these gladiators in face-paint much the way I imagine a Roman prince might have venerated the gore-splattered heroes of the Coliseum.
But the greatest lie I was ever told was the story of the Sandman.
I hated bedtime. To me, sleep was a waste of time. I had plenty of it in the womb. Every minute spent snoozing was a minute taken away from the operas I was acting out in the basement with my action figures. In one particularly gripping story arc, the entire Rebel Alliance had been betrayed by Luke Skywalker, whose face had been horribly scarred by my father’s cigarette lighter. They were all carbon-frozen in Dixie cups and left to rot in the downstairs freezer. That really annoyed my mother, but sometimes toaster waffles should be left to thaw in the name of exciting drama.
So one night, my mother told me about the Sandman. He was an invisible man who flies around and throws magic sand in your eyes so you’ll fall asleep. There was so much wrong with this concept. I imagined that the Sandman as a fat head with wild eyes and a mustache and bat wings sprouting out where his ears should be. Under his chin were two long, spindly arms connected to spidery fingers. In one fist was a beach pale full of sand, in the other, a plastic shovel. His grin was like the Cheshire Cat in the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland. My mother told me about the Sandman, turned off the light, and left me in a room alone with this dripping, giggling, fluttering head.
That first night, I shuddered with fear until, apparently, the Sandman threw sand in my face and forced me to sleep. The next night, however, I would fight.
I. Would. Fight.
As I nestled into bed, I made sure I was as sweet as a Ho-ho. I didn’t want to let my mom on. I had a plan. Once the lights were turned off, I rolled out of bed and collected my weapons: a flyswatter, my brother’s Aviator sunglasses, and a pair of swimming goggles. The plan was simple. I was going to thwart the invisible intruder and stay up all night long. I devised three levels of defense.
Level one: I would fan myself with the flyswatter. Right in front of my nose. Continuously flap the swatter back and forth until I felt wind on my face.
Level two: My brother’s Aviator sunglasses, which were huge and mirrored. Perhaps they would offer enough of a barrier that the Sandman would give up. But if not, there was…
Level three: My swimming goggles, which fit snugly over my eyes, and under the Aviator glasses. I had them from that previous summer. That was the summer I had worked up enough courage to dunk my entire head under the water. I figured there was no way any magic sand could penetrate them.
So there I sat. In bed. Wearing swimming goggles, sunglasses, waving a flyswatter in my face as fast as I could. This was life-or-death work. I was determined. I figured it was a hopeless battle, but that the battle must be met.
When I woke up the next morning, I had a major realization. There was no way the Sandman could have penetrated my defenses. Therefore… the Sandman couldn’t exist. And if the Sandman didn’t exist… then what else didn’t exist?
My dad once told me that in Mexican border towns in the fifties, lottery balls with the winning numbers were picked by children no older than seven. He told me that the Catholic church believed that seven is the age that children begin to learn the difference between right and wrong, and that as a result, that was the age that children learn how to deceive. I still don’t know if that is true. But months away from turning seven, I learned that the whole world lies.
The next Christmas is when I discovered that my Dad was Santa. Up until then, I just assumed he was the willing puppet of a strange fat man who was always watching me, even when I sat on the toilet.
I managed to stay up all night long with the help of a flashlight and Wolverine. I heard my old man cursing some GI Joe playset that he was trying to put together, so that when I ran downstairs that morning, I would be shell-shocked with joy. I didn’t let on that I knew he had built it. I pretended to be thrilled that the cookies had been eaten by Santa. I lied right back.
That had also been the first time I had stayed up all night long. The Sandman, that deathly jack-0-lantern with bat wings, was bullshit.