When I was 11 years old, my older and only sister, Lori, and I had a warm and loving nightly ritual. I would nuzzle all snug as a bug in my bed and my sister would slowly open my door to whisper a sweet goodnight. Then faster than a crazed Linda Blair, she would drop her voice an octave, widen her eyes like a crazed loon, whip out her hand like a claw, and in her best Freddy Krueger impersonation, scream, “GOT A HALL PASS?!”
DOOR SLAM! Darkness. Silence.
As Lor well knew, I was terrified of all things Freddy Krueger. The scene she delightfully tormented me with was when Freddy shapeshifts into a pig-tailed teenage girl in a high school hallway and then screams “Got a hall pass?!” and reveals his infamous blades of fingers. In retrospect, yeah, not a huge deal. At age 11, it brought me to the brink of insanity.
I’ll admit. The first surprise attack, I bolted up and shot out of bed in a frenzied panic, frantically patting the bedroom wall as if my time on earth was numbered in the next five seconds. I came out drowning in sweat, tears and fired up fury wanting to punch her in the face. Instead? I did what the baby of the family does best. I flew straight to Mom like a victimized fawn while my sister, the satisfied villain, stood confidently in the background cackling like the bath tub corpse in The Shining.
After a few weeks of this nightly torment, I realized a few things:
Instead of anxiously awaiting the attack, I could actually proactively prepare for it . Psst. No, not physically – my sister had nails that would rival Freddy’s any day, and she knew how to use them – plus she’s my big sis, I wanted her to like me and feel superior – natch. I’m talking mentally. Instead of visualizing Freddy’s mutated face, sinister smile and blades of glory I could focus on more beautiful visions like Christian Slater or Kirk Cameron. Becoming the newest band member in The Bangles, meeting Judy Blume, or what it would be like to actually be Kristy from the Babysitter’s Club. Lots of options here. What did this do? It lessened my reaction because I was in a better place mentally – by choice. Which in turn, decreased the pure joy on my sister’s face and took the wind out of her stealthy sails from terrorizing the hell out of me. It showed me that running to Mom may fill me with the warmth and coziness that only immediate gratification can provide, but that I needed to buck up and deal with my fears on my own. All the while, knowing that Mom is unconditionally ready with her claw-free bear hugs when they’re needed most. Above all, it brought us to a deeper level of sisterhood. My courage (even when feigned) and Lor’s shifty masterminding actually merged together quite nicely to become partners in crime for much bigger fish to fry aka babysitters. (Sorry, for the fake blood-ketchup incident, Kim, we honestly didn’t think you’d fall for it! What’s the statute of limitations on apologies?)
Fast forward over 25 years and what I’ve learned the most (besides the fact that the real line is “Where’s your pass?”) is that hall passes aren’t just for teens to spy on their crushes or adult men who act like all wives are nags and that they actually “need permission” to go have a good time. (By the way – you look like a spineless douche when you say your wife gave you a hall pass to go out. Just sayin’.)
Hall passes are for anyone who wants one! They’re free for the taking. The real problem is that when you give yourself the hall pass then you’re holding yourself accountable and then what? God forbid. You actually have to face your fear of responsibility. There’s no one else to blame when things go wrong. Most adults’ version of the “Freddy Krueger hall pass” comes in the shape of something much scarier – accountafreakinbility.
Funny thing. It’s the same solution to give Freddy and our fear of accountability the old heave-ho: Knowing that even though you may have to hurt yourself a little bit to wake up, on the other side is pure unadulterated freedom.