Me and Death

Dressed to Kill?

When I was a child, Death scared the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of me. His skeletal form would appear in my bedroom, usually sitting on my dresser mirror.

My mother told me it was just a shadow. Yeah. Right. How did she explain the tiger in my room the night before? My Nana shot the tiger with a loaded finger. Not that I really remember the tiger. I just took my Nana's word for it. For all I know, she was the one who was dreaming, not me.

Death I remember. I wasn't yet four years old, but I knew that Death visiting your bedroom wasn't a good sign. I knew my age because it was when I was four that Death stopped freaking me out.

I was having my tonsils taken out and was convinced the anesthesiologist was trying to kill me. The big, black, foul swelling mask was going to suck the life out of me. I fought bravely -- viciously -- to no avail. They fitted the monster over my face and the next thing I knew, I was floating above the operating table, watching them lean over my body.

There are details I can still recall: the large, light shining down on my body; the white tiles that went up the walls; silvery glints from instruments; and Death, sitting on the air across from me. This time he wasn't just rattling around in his bones, he was dressed to kill in a trench coat and fedora. The model of well-dressed skeleton, I found him reassuring. Without saying anything, he let me know I didn't have to worry. He wasn't there to collect.

I have since learned that the anesthesia used back then often gave patients hallucinations. They'd wake up with stories of seeing dead relatives or being invited into the light. Be that as it may, why would a little girl hallucinate a skeleton in a trench coat and fedora?

My recurring nightmare about being shot by a black-clad gunslinger made more sense. I used to sneak upstairs (our bedrooms were in the basement) and listen to my parents watch Rawhide, Gunsmoke and Bonanza. I'd sit in front of the heat register in the hall and pretend it was a fireplace. If I felt really bold, I'd edge over to the doorway and sneak a peek. Mostly, I'd just listen and let my imagination fill in the details.

If Death had showed up in a black Stetson and spurs, I would have understood. The trench coat and fedora could only be a portent of things to come.