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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Attack of the Crab Monster

I've been enjoying The Monti so much over the last year that I started a story-telling meetup for over-40s - over 40 because I was hoping to cut down on the number of stories about getting drunk on spring break and penis and booger jokes. (If you live in the Durham Chapel Hill Raleigh area and you're over 40 you can join.) I never thought I'd be able to tell a good story because I'm so impatient, I always want to get immediately to the punch line.

Anyway, for the first time I got up my nerve to throw my name into the hat for the Monti story slam tonight - the topic was FEAR - and wow, I won, or actually, I tied for first with a young guy who told a penis joke. Here is my story.

PS Apologies to my daughter for leaving her out of the story. She was there, laughing at the crab monster too.

As a kid I was so afraid of dying it kept me awake at night. My mother heard me crying once and came in to console me. In the dark she said: "You're so little, and you're afraid you won't have the time or get the chance to do all the things you want to do. When you're older it won't seem so bad."

The first thing that came close to scaring me as much as dying was the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I was four when it opened in my home town, it was so popular they ran out of seats and lots of us crowded up front right under the giant screen. When the wicked witch loomed up over our heads I shrieked and hid in my mother's lap until she said, "I paid for you to see this movie and you're going to watch, damn it." Eventually the movie ended and we had some ice cream.

So babysitters were not allowed to let me watch scary movies. One night, though, Lucy Gilburg didn't shoo me out when she and my little brothers tuned in to "The Attack of the Crab Monsters," about a bunch of scientists in lab coats marooned on an island infested with radioactive crustaceans. I already didn't like crabs, they smell funny and walk sideways and remind me of the awful zodiac sign Cancer. So I was already nervous before it the movie started, and then it was rolling and I got more and more apprehensive ... and then...

... well for the next 30 years I'd say "and then, the crab monster put its monstrous claw round the door jam and went TAP TAP TAP, that's the last thing I saw, I ran upstairs screaming."

I was inconsolable, Lucy had to call my parents to come home. My mother knelt beside my bed smelling of booze and cigarettes and perfume, she tried to calm me down but her jewelry was jangling she was so mad, I knew she wanted to wring my neck. I didn't watch scary movies after that.

When, decades later, the crab monster came into my life, it came not for me, but for my son. Ezra was 12 when he woke up a couple times with a headache. After throwing up he felt fine so I wasn't worried when I called the pediatrician, until her voice grew low and careful. She said, come see me right away. We came. She said, go to the hospital. We went.

Usually at the hospital you wait and wait; this time doctors met us at their doors and ushered us in. When the waters part like this you know you're in trouble. We were in an exam room eating sandwiches when the door was flung open and a tall doctor stalked past us, threw an x-ray up on the window, and showed us a malignant tumor the size of a golf ball in Ezra's brain. Not looking at us, the doctor warned it could choke off the spinal fluid at any moment and kill him, so he sent us straight from that room, with our half-eaten sandwiches, to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. There was a 7-1/2 hour operation during which the surgeon had to scrape so close to the brain stem he feared, he later told us, that Ez would never wake up.

The medulloblastoma was removed through a long incision in Ezra's cerebellum. When he came to, he didn't know which way was up. Learning to focus his eyes again, to sit, to walk, to use his left hand, it was one struggle after another. Six weeks of radiation left him thin, green, bald, cold, vomiting every day, but he insisted on going back to school. The weeks crept past, hellishly. I had to make sure when I looked at him he wouldn't see the fear eating away at me.

A year and a half of chemotherapy later, Ezra didn't die. He graduated from middle school and high school and college. He lives across the driveway where I see him every day. I know when he feels sick he sometimes fears the crab is back. I'm afraid then, too: afraid he won't get time enough, get the chance to do all the things he wants to do.

Back when he was recuperating I bought an old VHS copy of "The Attack of the Crab Monsters" on eBay so we could see what had frightened me so. We laughed from the opening scene, it was clunky and beyond stupid, but I was rapt, waiting for the legendary TAP-TAP-TAP. Well, the moment came, but it was a fakeout! It was just the ceiling fan in the next room. My tortured brain had invented the monstrous claw.

We kept watching and after a lot of ominous music the crab monster did eventually shuffle onto the scene, low, sluggish, clacking laboriously, lisping threats. We could see wires holding up its claws. It was so preposterously slow that if the frightened scientists hadn't just stood there quaking in their lab coats watching it waddle sideways towards them, they could easily have strolled to safety. We mocked the crab's voice: "Thtay thtill tho I can eat you!" Eventually the movie ended and we had some ice cream.


At 6:14 PM, Blogger pete said...

I enjoyed your "story" but I`m sorry for the angst that you and Ezra faced. i grew up in a home that included my parents and a sister who had a rare disease that went undiagnosed until 40 yrs later.. I`m sure there were plenty of stories but i don`t remember one of them... it was too painful for me to remember..
thanks for sharing..pete


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