Fueling Nightmares: Fearlessness Through Freddy Krueger

What young child pays attention to commercials that aren’t bright, loud and don’t promise eternal entertainment and joy from a product in use by other young children? Thing is, whenever I saw that New Line Cinema logo appear on the television screen in the 1980s, I thought horror. With an uneasy delight, I specifically thought of Freddy Krueger. Full disclosure; a nightmare I had during this period is a milestone in my horror fandom and pending personhood. One I don’t discuss ever because it’s always seemed pretty silly if not slightly embarrassing.

I didn’t think about the working class divide in West Philadelphia’s university district. North of Market Street saw its share of greenery and productive bustle, but its taking for Black and brown I would learn later rivaled the south side. Even living on the fringe of that north side, it was still too close to Mantua, and/or what we here call “the bottom”, which to this day remains a very unflattering space for residency in the city. Now under the bourgie moniker Powelton Village was fueled by small businesses, families, and ‘hood politics not in favor of the agency of the people who called it home.

Me across the street from my 39th & Powelton home. This was maybe taken in 1988.
My mother was a child of the 70s with a 60s spirit and subscribed to 80s parenthood tactics. This was pretty much the makeup of my apartment building as well. The youngest of the group of kids on the block, it seemed they had more exposure to inappropriate pop culture than I. Okay, not really. I was in the room every time my mom thought I wasn’t paying attention to Eddie Murphy: Raw.  But being the youngest, the older kids constantly, in a lighthearted manner, tested my courage. 

When I let them know I was going to be bused to school not in the neighborhood, they told me to look out for Freddy Krueger. He apparently loved catching kids on“the cheese bus”. I had yet to see any of the films. I ignored the statements by giving a no response. A part of me knew in waking daylight that wasn’t possible, but the proposal still terrified me. My memory of exactly when the nightmare happened has faded, but the details will never leave me.

Walking home from school with a group of kids past a cemetery who were adamant about closing the cemetery’s front gate. ‘Freddy Krueger will get us in our homes if we don’t!’ Fear again attacked my senses as the next day while walking home, I noticed the gate ajar. I closed it quickly and with some physical distance between myself and the gate. But even following this one, simple rule wouldn't spare me. 

In bed, close to sunrise, Krueger came for me anyway. Paralyzed with fear, I couldn’t move or scream, watching him slowly approach my bed claws up. I couldn't even react to the idea of being attacked or dying, mentally grovelling with my bed covers to act as a force field. As soon as I was certain I was done for, a frying pan hits the back of his head. As he hits the floor, I see my mother with this look of annoyance and confusion on her face. 

The most absurd part of it all is that I was steadfastly convinced that this actually happened. A character that I only had knowledge of through television commercial spots and a Fat Boys music video rampaged my subconscious with such uncanny clarity. I asked my mother if we ever lived in the houses adjacent to my short-term elementary school (we never did), I looked around for that cemetery wondering if it had been relocated. For pregnant time, I did not believe anyone or anything except my own wild imagination. It had played the ultimate trick on me. It was the mind’s version of Punk’d.

A short time after, Freddy didn’t seem all that scary. What evolved were opportunities to actually see the films when Mom could afford cable or when local affiliates ran the edited-for-television Friday Night movie. Those viewings helped me see the icon in contrast to other characters who were faced with a sink-or-swim dilemma in their arc facing Krueger as their antagonist. It brought Freddy outside of my piercing subconscious and into a context that made him a powerful yet vulnerable force. A charismatic clown capable of destruction, in retrospect, isn’t difficult to admire as a figure that is loved and enjoyed as a fictional presence in film history.

Since, my dreams and nightmares have gotten a lot less vivid and take on characteristics that take me delightfully outside of the mundane or deep into my insecurities of feeling not wanted and unloved. But I’m thankful I’ve come as far as I have. Growth always reminds me that with time, my perspective will continue to simply get and be better. Freddy Krueger in this sense was a rite of passage for me. 

Fear no longer renders me immobile, but is a feeling that is worked through and exorcised. And Freddy and I are now the best of buddies! See...?!

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