The Goatman 1978
I will not go to sleep. I won’t. My parents, who are always going to bed, tell me that I can stay up if I want, but for God’s sake, don’t come out of my room. I am four years old and I like to stay up all night. I sing my songs, very quietly. I keep watch. Nothing can get me if I am awake.
I sleep during the day like a bat with the blinds closed, and then they come home. I hear them open the door, and I fling on the lights and gallop through the house shrieking to wake the dead all evening, all night. Let’s have a play! I shout. Let’s have a ballet! A reading! A race! Don’t tell me what to do, get away from me, I hate you, you’re never any fun, you never let me do anything, I want to go to the opera! I want opera glasses! I’m going to be an explorer! I don’t care if I track mud all over the house, let’s get another dog! I want an Irish setter, I want a camel! I want an Easter dress! I’m going ice-skating! Right now, yes! Where are the car keys? Of course I can drive! Fine, go to bed! See if I care!
And I slam into my room, dive onto the bed, kick and scream, get bored, read a book, shouting at the top of my lungs, “I don’t care,” says Pierre! And the lion says, “Then I will eat you, if I may.” “I don’t care, says Pierre!” It is my favorite Maurice Sendak book. I jabber to my imaginary friends Susie and Sackie and Savvy and Cindy, who tell me secrets and stay with me all night while I am keeping watch, while I am guarding the castle, and there are horrible creatures waiting to kill me so I talk to myself all night, writing a play and acting it out with a thousand little porcelain figures that I dust every day, twice a day, I must keep things neat, in their magic positions, or something terrible will happen. The shah of Iran, who is under my bed, will leap out and carry me away under his arm.
I have to get dressed. So what if it’s black as pitch outside. I go to the closet, I take out a jumper and a white shirt, and from the dresser I get white socks and white underwear and a white undershirt, and I get my favorite saddle shoes, and I suit up completely. I must be very quiet or my parents will hear. I tie my shoes in double knots so I won’t fall out of them. I get on my hands and knees and crawl all over the room, smoothing out the carpet. Finally I make myself stop. I lie down in the center of the floor, facing the door in case of emergency. I cross my ankles and fold my hands across my middle. I close my eyes. I fall asleep, or die.
“Mom,” I whisper loudly, pushing on her shoulder. It’s dark, I’m in my parents’ bedroom, a ghost in my white nightie. “Mom,” I say again, shaking her. I bounce up and down on my toes and lean over her, my mouth near her ear. “Mom, I have to tell you something.” “What is it?” she mumbles, opening one eye.
“The goatman,” I whisper, agitated. “He’s in my room. He came while I was sleeping. You have to make him leave. I can’t sleep. Will you read to me?” I hop about, crashing into the nightstand. “Can we make a cake? I want to make a cake, I can’t go to school tomorrow, I’m scared of Teacher Jackie, she yells at us, she doesn’t like me, Mom, the goatman, do you have to go to work tomorrow? Will you read to me?” “Marya, it’s the middle of the night,” she says, hoisting herself up with her elbow. Next to her, the mountain of my father snores. “Can we read tomorrow?” “I can’t go back in there!” I shriek, running around in a tiny circle. “The goatman will get me! We could make cookies instead! I want to buy a horse, a gray one! And I want to go to the beach and collect seashells, can’t we go to the beach, I promise I’ll sleep —” My mother swings her legs off the edge of the bed and holds me by the shoulders. “Honey, can you slow down? Just slow down.” Out of breath, I stand there, my head spinning. “What did you want to tell me?” she asks. “One thing. Tell me the most important thing you want to tell me.” “The goatman,” I say, and burst into tears. “But Mom, I can’t—” “Shhh,” she says, picking me up. She carries me down the hall. This is how she fixes it. She holds me very tight and things slow down a little. But I’m too upset. I set my chin on her shoulder and sob and babble. Everyone’s going to leave, you’ll forget to come get me, I’ll get lost, I’ll get stuck in the grocery store and they’ll lock me in. What if there are snakes in my bedroom? Why won’t the goatman go away? What if it isn’t perfect? What if it’s scary? What if you and Daddy die? Who will take care of me? What if you give me away? I don’t want you to give me away, I want to be a policeman, why do policemen wear hats — “Marya, hush. It’s all right. Everything’s going to be all right.” I want to see Grandma, let’s go see Grrandma, I want to go outside and play in the yard, why can’t I play in the yard when it’s dark, I want to look at the moon — We pace up anddddd down the hall. I get more and more agitated, swinging moment by moment from terror to elation to utter despair, until finally I wiggle my way free and start to run. I race around the house, my mother trailing me, until I stumble on my nightgown and sprawl out on the floor, sobbing, beating my fists on the ground. “I’m here,” she says. “Honey, I’m here.” I snuffle and drag a hiccupping breath and heave a sigh. She is here. She is right here. She picks me up. She carries me into the bathroom and turns on the bathtub. While it runs, I squirm on her lap, kicking my legs, shrieking, laughing, crying, I can’t ever go back in my room, the goatman, I want to have a party, when is it Christmas, I want to live in a tree house, what if I fall in the ocean and drown, where do I go when I die — She pulls my nightgown over my head and sets me in the tub. I am suddenly quiet. Water makes it better. In the water, I am safe. She kneels next to me where I sit, only my head sticking out of the water. She tells me a story. Things are slowing down. I am contained. I bob in the water, warm, enclosed. My limbs float. The noise and racing of my thoughts wind down until they yawn in my head as if they are in slow motion. My head is filled with white cotton, and I hear a low humming, and my skull is heavy. I am aware only of the water and my mother’s voice.
Back in bed, she wraps me tight in my quilt, my arms and legs and feet and hands all covered, kept in so they won’t fly off. The goatman has gone away for the night. She sits on the edge of my bed, smoothing my hair. I am wrapped up like a package. I am a caterpillar in my cocoon. I am an egg.
She stays with me until, near dawn, I fall asleep.
What They Know 1979
They know I am different. They say that I live in my head. They are just being kind. I’m crazy. The other kids say it, twirl their fingers next to their heads, Cuckoo! Cuckoo! they say, and I laugh with them, and roll my eyes to imitate a crazy person, and fling my arms and legs around to show them that I get the joke, I’m in on it, I’m not really crazy at all. They do it after one of my outbursts at school or in daycare, when I’ve been running around like a maniac, laughing like crazy, or while I get lost in my words, my mouth running off ahead of me, spilling the wild, lit-up stories that race through my head, or when I burst...