The plane lands in Puerto Rico, where I will spend the next three months. I’m staying with my tía, who doesn’t speak much English. She has scars where one of her breasts once was and yells at me when she discovers that I’ve used her scar cream on myself. Realizing what I’ve done, I fear that I too will lose my left breast, even before it has had a chance to develop.
Although I am far from home, my fears have traveled with me. At nine years old, I’m still wetting the bed. I try to hide it by soaking up the evidence with my pillow and then discretely washing it and my pajamas when I shower, grateful for the summer heat drying everything before bedtime.
Despite the multiple locks and gates and latches on every window and door, I often wake up unexpectedly outside in the hammock (which at least has the added benefit of being easily rinsed off with the hose). Regardless of the location, every morning I wake up frozen with terror. In movies, children always scream when they wake up from nightmares. Maybe it was because I learned early that no one would respond positively to my screaming. Or maybe I was too petrified to move a single muscle, including the ones required to produce sound. Whatever the reason, my terror is silent and still and broken only by the rising light of the sun.
Mostly I was terrorized by vampires in my sleep. Vampires and, when I still lived at home before the summer, the dolls in my room whose eyes followed me. My only protector at night was my stuffed monkey, Pepe. (For a while, I had a dog also named Pepe and he, too, would protect me. But that’s another story.) Pepe the monkey had long arms that I’d wrap around my neck while I pulled the sheets up as high as I could and still be able to breathe. No way were fangs getting through Pepe. No way. I’d remind myself repeatedly until I’d finally fall asleep.
Some nights I’d wake up to a whispering that would get louder. The singsongy words ran like ice through my body: “I want to suck your blood.” And there, at the foot of my bed, he would be standing in his black cape and long fangs — a teenage-sized Dracula.
I don’t remember if the nightmares started first or if I mistakenly shared my fear with Grant. From a young age, he wanted to be an actor; I assume that for him, putting on the costume and makeup and rehearsing his line was something he reveled in. Terrifying me was an added bonus.
Those nightmares would haunt me every night until years later. I was 13 years old the first time I woke up unafraid and realized I had slept through the night. It would take decades more before my fear of the dark would fade away. Both the nightmares and the fear come back from time to time. But Pepe the monkey still watches over me and reminds me that if that young kid could survive, then so can I.