Columnist Patrick Caneday

Columnist Patrick Caneday

Don't venture under the bed lightly. More than wild things await you there.

I looked under my bed not long ago and got more than I expected. Among the picture frames, lost socks and dust brontosaurs, I came across a collection of cassette tapes.

Remember cassettes? Before CDs and after eight-track-tapes? Those things that, once warbled and snagged in the player, were tossed from car windows in streams of festive, brownish-gray ribbon to line the freeway in a symbol of urban angst?

They were in a handy crate, the kind we kept in our cars to hold the entirety of our mobile music libraries; an anthology that now fits on a silicon chip the size of an atom in an iPod. And in this crate was a brief glimpse of my youth: Night Ranger. The Police. Genesis. Toto and more.

The '80s called and I answered by pulling out Men at Work, the Aussie band that introduced us to the vegemite sandwich. Alas, my search for a cassette player in our home proved fruitless. Tossed some time ago with my pet rock, View-Master and Rubik's Cube.

So I did the next best thing. I typed "men at work" into Pandora and let Internet radio play me a mix-tape to my adolescence.

Have you ever listened to a song from your childhood decades later, only to hear the words for the first time? An acoustic version of the song "Overkill" came on, performed by lead man Colin Hay. And only now, 30-some years later, with time and life and history behind me, did I understand the song.

I can't get to sleep / I think about the implications / Of diving in too deep / And possibly the complications

Especially at night / I worry over situations / I know I'll be all right / Perhaps it's just imagination

I remember lying in bed late at night, Walkman on 11, air guitar screaming, listening to this song. And it meant nothing more than another on a long list of songs to enjoy.

Day after day it reappears / Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear / Ghosts appear and fade away

Heartbeats that belie dread, apparitions come to haunt and terrorize. That I knew. And it had nothing to do with a teenager's inability to fall asleep. It had everything to do with all that happens when you take the headphones off and walk through the years with responsibility and bills and kids and jobs and the stuff of life for which there is no schooling.

In the void of night, in the pause after today's woes and before the onset of tomorrow's birth pangs, you are defenseless to the residue of the day clinging to your thoughts; thoughts that won't release you to the sweet, restorative liberation of sleep.

Alone between the sheets / Only brings exasperation / It's time to walk the streets / Smell the desperation

At least there's pretty lights / And though there's little variation / It nullifies the night from overkill

I soothe myself with the knowledge that you surely know the kind of exasperation and desperation that beads your chest with cold sweat on a sleepless night. Mind racing with thoughts of money, taxes, kids' well-being and education; decisions we wish we'd made differently, words we ache to take back and so many more we wish we'd spoken in the first place; exaggerated and unrestrained fears that set your heart to manic, joyless dancing.

All the creatures held at bay in the light of day come to visit like unwelcome relatives in the maw of night when our guard is down.

We all have dreams and desires and not enough time or money to make them all happen. You can't always help pulling things from under the bed. But when you do, be wary. There are beasts under there that can't always be avoided. Best to make peace with them and know they can't really harm you.

Day after day it reappears / Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear / Ghosts appear and fade away / Ghosts appear and fade away / Ghosts appear and fade away

Maybe you, maybe someone you know, is going through overkill. Those ghosts will appear. But they are just that. Ghosts. And they always, always fade away.

Everything is going to be all right.

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PATRICK CANEDAY can be reached at patrickcaneday@gmail.com. Friend him on Facebook. Read more and buy his book at http://www.randomthoughtsonbeinghuman.com.