Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Childhood Fear: A Door In A Dead-End Hallway

A huge part of being a writer, of being an artist of any kind, of making or doing anything worthwhile, is facing your fear.

Sometimes it means digging in, far and deep, all the way back to the root of who you are, back to your childhood.

Last month, fear was a big theme in my writing, so when my VCFA advisor, the always wise Tim Wynne-Jones, asked me to send him a childhood memory, I knew I had to face the scary ones.

When I was a kid, there was always something wrong with me, and I spent half my time in one hospital or another. I was such a good girl, most of the time, just taking everything the sadistic Soviet medical care sprang on me. Today, I very literally break into sweat every time a doctor invites me into a nice, comfortable chair.

Below is the exercise, and my journey down the hallways of memory. IMPORANT NOTE (at the request of one of the readers): Below, you will find graphic, potentially disturbing material. I won’t blame you if you don’t want to read it. Truly. This is not a fun, light read, I’m sorry to say.

hallway of fearYou come to a door: you know that behind that door is a moment from you childhood. I want you to open that door and tell me what you see. I want you to think with all your senses. I want the lighting and the sound and anything else you can think of. What is in that room?

Ah, but there are many doors on either side of me in this long corridor of memories. Fluorescent lights flicker, dimly purple, above my head, reminding me that I can’t stay here too long; this smell-less, silent place is not one in which to linger. Behind each door, another terror awaits me. This I can tell: there will be no pleasant memories inside the dead-end corridor wing I have stumbled into, ran into, ran myself ragged into – the wing of childhood fears. I walk ahead all the way to the end, spin around, choose a door. I press my ear against the cold metal surface and my skin burns. I hear nothing, not a scream, not a single sound. It should encourage me. I touch the door handle, fingers dry with chill.

I am being silly. I am a grownup! I have made it through these things, all of them. Haven’t I?

My hand slips from the handle. Apparently, the skin of my palm isn’t as dry as I thought. I have to try several times, but at last, I turn the damn thing. The scent greets me first, that burnt perfume smell I know too well, that disinfectant smell that promises nothing good. I take a small step inside and freeze, my back pressed to the closed door, and suddenly, I am eight. Maybe seven.

The windowless room is dark around the edges, but its center is illuminated, like a stage. I stare at the large, comfortable-looking chair dominating the room. The chair is covered with white cotton cloth. My head always swimming with princess dreams and visions of fairytales, I immediately imagine it as some kind of a throne. A man in white scrubs and a woman in a white nurse’s robe are sitting on stools, on either side of the throne-chair and polishing pointy silver instruments. The long scissors, hooks, spoons gleam in the stark white lighting.

The man gets up. He doesn’t smile at me. Most doctors don’t and no nurses ever smile at anybody. But he looks solid and smart and tall, with his wide shoulders and his soft-looking short beard and his glasses, and I trust him when he approaches, takes my cold hand in his large one, and leads me to the throne. I take comfort in the warmth of his hand.

I sit, resting my arms comfortably on the chair’s wide arms. The man, still silent, picks up one wide strip of white cloth. The nurse has another in her hand. Slowly, methodically, the doctor ties one strip around my right arm, while the nurse takes care of the other.

I wish the room had windows, some tree branches I could rest my eyes on. The next moment, the wish becomes irrelevant, as the man comes up with yet another strip of cloth. He leans toward me. A long silver spoon-like tool flashes before me. He is holding it his hand. I catch one last glance of his colorless eyes behind his glasses, before my vision grows dark. The cloth is pressed hard against my eyelids.

I take a steadying breath, my eyes straining uselessly against the darkness of the cloth. I want to ask him questions, but don’t dare. I am too quiet for that.

“Good,” he says. I cling to the word. I am about to take another deep breath, but he says, “Open your mouth,” and I listen, as always, even though too much air is stuck in my chest now.

“Wider,” he says, and the next thing I know his hand is in my mouth. It smells of metal and disinfectant and stranger, his slightly oily skin and bits of hair and sharp knuckles, inside my mouth, stretching, pushing past my teeth, down, down, deep into me. My teeth knock against metal. I don’t know if I am screaming or biting or moving, or if the man is saying something, or the nurse, I can’t hear, and after a while I can’t feel the metal instrument in my mouth, not anymore. I am reaching for breath, it is mine, this mouth, this throat, but his hand is stronger, his hated, horrible hand is pain, everywhere, everywhere, his hand, as it grips and scratches and latches onto to something, some bit of me deep inside my mouth, someplace close to where I hide my voice, somewhere deep in my throat.

The cloth must have moved, because suddenly I have eyes, and I can see it, the hand pulling out, at last, out, get out. Oh, the relief, it floods me with the realization that I am damp with sweat and alive, and for a moment I forget the hurt, and it feels like I’ve won, even though I can see that the hand has gotten out of my throat with a prize. I catch a glimpse of it, a mass of something that for a second I think is alive, wriggly, moving. But then no, I know it’s dead, dead like raw meat in Babushka’s kitchen. I will learn later what the prize was: tonsils, or adenoids, just something nasty gone, no big loss, no big deal.

When they untie my arms, removing the blood-stained cloths, everything swims a little, and the lights don’t seem so bright anymore. They walk me out, holding me by the arms, leading me out of the room at last.

I am weak with relief. I’ve made it. I have made it out. I’ve made it, haven’t I?

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June 6, 2013 - Posted by | Personal Mirror, Stories, The U.S.S.R., VCFA Adventures, Writing Mirror | , , ,

12 Comments »

  1. Oh, oh. That was scary to read. I am sorry for your experience,Katia. And reliving it – I hope it wasn’t so bad. You’ve got some writing material there for sure. It’s universal.

    Recently my granddaughter came home from the dentist traumatized and I was thinking – What? Why? In this day and age can’t they make it seem like a trip to Disney World? Then about three weeks later I was in the dentist chair and it all came back to me. The weird tasting numbing gel, the multiple needle pricks, the fear of breathing (I always worry about bad breath) and the inability to hold my breath.The multiple instruments and indiscernible sensations. Overwhelming! Only once did the dentist tell me what he was doing in that particular moment. I thought it odd that suddenly he offered an explanation. I’ve been through this before but still found it disconcerting. My poor granddaughter – she wanted more explanation of what they were doing and why. She wanted to be treated like the 11 year old that she is. (not placated and lied to about how it would only take a minute, etc.)

    Thanks Katia for sharing your story. I cringed and muttered and wanted to push his hands away. I wanted to hold your hand.

    Comment by Joyce Moyer Hostetter | June 6, 2013 | Reply

    • Dear Joyce, I feel for your granddaughter. Yes, at the dentists’ office especially, they often forget, don’t they? Even here in the US, even now, with all the mint-tasting gel bull. They forget, that an 11-year-old is a human, just like them. That being 11 doesn’t make you dumb.
      Oh, and you did hold my hand just now. You did. I felt it. 🙂 Thank you.

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 6, 2013 | Reply

      • My granddaughter thought the “laughing gas” was a joke.

        Journeying forth together.

        Comment by Joyce Moyer Hostetter | June 6, 2013

  2. Good Lord, Katia! What a frightening memory. Did they really remove your tonsils without putting you under? You did an excellent job of drawing us into your fear. My heart’s still pounding.

    Comment by Joanne Fritz | June 6, 2013 | Reply

    • Thank you, Joanne. And yes, apparently they did. I can hardly believe it myself now. 🙂

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 6, 2013 | Reply

    • I wondered about that too. Incredible. Helps explain the use of the word sadistic in the intro.

      Comment by Joyce Moyer Hostetter | June 6, 2013 | Reply

  3. Wow. Shouldn’t this have a warning label or something? Glad I didn’t read it right before bedtime. If you were going for scary, you certainly accomplished that.

    Comment by Rosi | June 6, 2013 | Reply

    • Oh! Sorry if I freaked you out. Good point, I’ll include a note at the top.

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 6, 2013 | Reply

  4. That was scary, and the details were so vivid. That poor child (you). I could feel your confusion and fear.

    Comment by jessica | June 7, 2013 | Reply

  5. That was horrifying and I felt the terror reading this. I’m sorry you went through that.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | June 8, 2013 | Reply

    • Thank you, M. It wasn’t easy to share, but I think I’m glad I did.

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 8, 2013 | Reply


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