It seems only appropriate that my first fear is attributed not to a George Lucas film, but instead a film from his friend and early rival, Steven Spielberg.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking – Jaws. After all, I live in Massachusetts where Jaws was filmed and we have great white sharks often roaming our nearby beaches in the summer.
No, my friends, you are wrong. Instead, my first fear that I can remember is E.T.
My parents took me to a friend’s house for – who knows – a bbq/potluck/party/whatever-it-was and the family did the standard babysitting, i.e., put on a movie for the kids to watch and keep them out of the way. I remember being younger than most of the children there, but I can’t remember how old I was. I want to say that I was probably around 4 or 5, but again, I’m pulling this out of thin air based on where I lived at the time and my attitude.
What I do remember is I was excited to watch this movie that all the boys were pumped to watch, but the excitement quickly turned into gripping fear. E.T. was unlike anything I had seen before. That unknown quantity of not knowing if E.T. was a human, beast, or reptile scared me to the core of who I was. E.T. was a wrinkly, stunted, big-eyed, frightening THING.
I couldn’t look or walk away because then I would be teased, so I endured it and pretended I wasn’t scared. I don’t actually remember much of the movie, but I remember some key scenes: E.T. talking to Drew Barrymore’s character who was also frightened when she first met him (which probably didn’t help my situation as I think she was around my age…perhaps if Barrymore had not had that iconic scream, I would have thought he was okay), E.T. in the hospital with all that plastic around him, and the epic bike scene where the boy rode his bike into the sky with E.T. in the basket.
When we left the party that night, I couldn’t get E.T. out of my head, and not in a good way. I was terrified. My parents put me to bed, but I knew there was no way I’d be able to sleep. The worst part was that I didn’t want to stretch my legs out all the way because I thought E.T. was lying on the bottom of my bed sleeping. You know what I’m talking about – the part of the bed that when you lift the sheets and covers, all you see is a black hole. That’s where I knew he was: lying horizontally with his wrinkly brown skin and big eyes.
I was too old by that point to ask for my parents (which is why I think I was between ages 4 and 5). I also didn’t want them to think I feared E.T. because then they may never take me to an adult party again. The consequences were too great. So how did I get through that first night of fear with E.T. in that dark pocket at the bottom of my sheets? This is the strangest recollection I have. My overworked imagination created an image where I made sure he was well guarded. There were little guards of the royal English queen (Queen’s Guard) marching around him, tying him down, trooping up and down, and all over him – keeping him in place. It was very similar to Gulliver being tied down by the people of Lilliput. Those guards kept me safe and I was eventually able to stretch out my legs for I knew that E.T. couldn’t get to me. He didn’t stand a chance with the Queen’s Guard keeping him on lockdown. I fell into a fitful sleep that night.
I would like to say that I only had one night with E.T. at the bottom of the bed secured by the Queen’s Guard, but no, it was probably a few weeks of that fear whenever I got into bed.
Over time, the stark, cold fear left me, but it didn’t disappear entirely. The biggest effect it had on me was when I watched an Amblin Entertainment film – the logo features the silhouette of E.T in the basket and the boy riding the bike. The first time I saw one of the films, my heart dropped to my stomach and I became cold; my hands got clammy. When I realized it passed quickly, being just the logo, I was able to enjoy the movie yet knew I may see this again in the future. For years after, I would dread the beginning of movies (unless it was Disney) because I didn’t know if Amblin would appear…if I saw any part of it, I would quickly close my eyes. I’m not sure how many years went by where I sealed my eyes at an Amblin Entertainment film, but it was a long time. I probably was finally able to view the films again around 11 or 12 without fear striking my heart at the beginning.
Who would have expected that a girl who grew up to be a woman obsessed with Star Wars, full of extra-terrestrial beings, would be terrified for years of a movie involving an alien?
That’s the funny part about our first fear – the terror crashes into us unexpectedly. As adults, we usually have time to brace ourselves when something might scare us, and we can mentally prepare or close our eyes. But as children, our limited view of the world means we are not prepared for when something will scare us, and each child is so different. Our first fear can scar us for years to come.
(Author’s epilogue: I did eventually get the courage to watch E.T. again when I was 29…and I still had moments of being terrified and closed my eyes in one scene. The fear has never quite left me.)