After I gave birth to my daughter, as a single mother, I struggled with how to share my home with someone else. I was used to being home alone—and I loved it! In Under my Bed and Other Essays, Jody Keisner explores her hatred of being home alone. Most women can relate to her fears, “however irrational,” and have wondered at some point: What if someone breaks in when I’m home alone? Keisner doesn’t simply fear being home alone, but rather she fears someone will enter her home to harm her. In this essay collection, Keisner confronts fears women have of sexual assault, abduction, murder, and more. She also explores fear in the context of drownings, wildfires, haunted houses, and disease and illness. Throughout the book, there is an overtone about the violence men inflict on women and girls.
The title of the book, Under My Bed, refers to Keisner checking under her bed for intruders even when she realizes there is no real reason to do so. This under-the-bed-checking plays into both her childhood and her adult life. For more than a decade of my own childhood, I was convinced a hand would reach out from under my bed and grab me. It’s a common fear, but Keisner carries this “childlike anxiety” with her into adulthood. She also explores the trauma that likely caused her anxious behavior, including growing up with an abusive father. Her fear of what’s under the bed becomes a metaphor for other fears she’s struggled with throughout her life.
Under My Bed and Other Essays is structured in three parts. Part one explores the origins of Keisner’s fears. Part two dives into what happens to the body when confronted with fear. In part three, Keisner confronts and tries to combat her fears. Keisner’s fears are well-thought-out and well-articulated. When Keisner brings her infant daughter home from the hospital and is overwhelmed with new mother fears, she writes,
“I had to trust that the universe would take care of my child, of all its children, and at the same time, I knew that it wouldn’t. It would be easier for my family if I believed that what was meant to be, would be, and that I couldn’t control (or prevent) any of the variables. Instead, I believed in each moment.”
Keisner’s essay collection is written both traditionally and experimentally and covers a wide variety of topics. For example, she does something I found unique in exploring not only her fears, but also her love for scary movies, in an essay titled, “Recreationally Terrified.” As a woman and as a writer, I found this essay the most interesting to read. Keisner breaks down her fears using John Carpenter’s infamous movie The Thing and researches the idea of recreational fear as it relates to women’s enjoyment of horror movies. Later she is brutally honest with herself about her marriage in her braided essay, “Neural Pathways to Love.” Keisner isn’t afraid to examine herself, how she puts the needs of her daughter ahead of her husband’s, and how their relationship and marriage is shifting as a result. Not only does Keiser have fear of the outside world, but fear of herself and her actions.
Keisner also grapples with the fear of other women. She becomes slightly obsessed with women who have been plucked off the streets, gone missing, “only to be found as remains.” Keisner voices what so many women fear: we fear what may be done to our bodies, not only by other people, but at times by what our own bodies do to us. As humans we are susceptible to pain at all times. I used to think it was unfair babies had to endure pain. Why did my daughter have to suffer while teething? Until I realized that she would have to suffer all her life. There would be pain. Her teeth were preparing her for the pain to come. Keiser realizes, too, that she can’t protect her children from future pain.
Though Keisner admits she lives in a good neighborhood where she shouldn’t be fearful, she still is. When a neighbor takes a video of her daughter, she makes her husband demand he delete it. The potential for any man who may harm her or her daughter is lurking at every instance, even next door. However, Keisner knows she can’t always protect her daughter. She writes:
“We want our children to have a healthy fear. But what or who should they fear? Will fear protect them or make them weak? What artificial barriers should we build to protect them? What natural barriers should we put between us and our fears? Are heavy snow and three mountain passes enough? I’ve been thinking more about this as Lily becomes more observant, more intuitive of my actions. I worry about raising a daughter in a world where violence against women and girls is common—violence that frequently has its inception in one’s own home. One day she will learn this fact, but not yet.”
At the end of the book, Keisner has to metaphorically let her daughter go, along with her fears. Through all her fears she envisions her daughter running alone, both free and fearful. To me this is the perfect metaphor for being a woman: we want to be free, yet we are held back by our fears. At times those fears seem irrational, yet there is constant news of women being assaulted, abducted, or killed. I recommend this book to women who have experienced, at one time or another, these same anxieties. And isn’t that all of us?