I was a chronic bedwetter until the age of seven. Every night, even if my parents brought me to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would wake up with soaked sheets. It would even happen at sleepovers. (I'm still grateful to that one mother who discreetly changed the sheets without letting any of the other girls know).
My dad, for whom the cessation of bedwetting was his white whale, devised a brilliant scare tactic to get it to stop. Since he knew how petrified I was of spirits, he told me about the pee pee ghost. This ghost, he told me, would hear an alarm whenever I peed my bed. He would rush to my bedside and drink up the pee.
"This is why you should never pee in your bed," he said. "Unless you want to see that ghost every night."
Since he was, apparently, oblivious of my deep shame surrounding the issue, he believed my bedwetting was due to obstinance. For him it was something I had complete control over. He must have believed I loved the feeling of cold, sticky pee in the middle of the night, as well. The story didn't work because, contrary to popular belief, I had little control over it. After hearing his store, I felt ashamed, uncomfortable, AND terrified; the story just intensified how deeply unsatisfying peeing the bed was.
I believe many, if not most, kids are afraid of ghosts. My fear, though, was all-consuming. When I wasn't worrying about diseases (hypochondria being equally important to my life), I was wondering when I would see my first ghost and the horror that would ensure in my life once I did. Would they force me into a cellar and have to spend the rest of my life with them moaning in my face? Would the whisk me off to hell?
It's with this level of anxiety around the supernatural that I watched the Exorcist for the first (and last) time in the fifth grade. When the movie ended, I ran to the bathroom and threw up. It was years before I was able to sleep in my own bed, again.
Which brings me to what I think is the root of my intense, abidings fears around ghosts that persists to this day. I was raised Catholic. I had a firm belief in heaven, hell, God, and Satan. Since there were so many sins to account for, I inevitably sinned dozens of times a day. The vision that I would be going to heaven seemed more and more unlikely every day that I was alive; hell seemed like the only feasible alternative. With this idea of good and evil, I formulated ideas that ghosts were evil and demonic. Their presence was literally hell on earth.
Darla isn't being raised Catholic. She doesn't have a notion of heaven or hell. She has no concept of pure evil. She believes that there are very scary, very dangerous things in the world, but ghosts aren't one of them. She thinks ghosts are benevolent creatures who watch over her every night. She doesn't mind the thought of a ghost sitting next to her while she sleeps because they have her best interest in mind. For her, ghosts are guardian angels. (And I'm aware that the Catholic Church has a concept of guardian angels. Those scared me, too).
"My ghost is named Lina," she said. "She helps keep me safe. She helps me win things. Like, she was supposed to help me win the pinewood derby competition, but she couldn't because she was too busy helping Jude not be afraid of the bounce house. And that's ok. That was important she helped him."
I doubt she really believes in Lina, but it does stand that she's not repelled by the idea of ghosts. She does have fear surrounding it at times, but she hunts down that fear, looks it in the eye, and is determined to dominate it. For me, when I was a kid, this would've been impossible. I couldn't look it in the eye.
This isn't to say she doesn't have things she is afraid of. She is terrified of ALL insects, which I guess is a bit more complicated because they're everywhere. I don't know which is worse, though. I will say that at least there's such things as exterminators; ghost busters, as far as I can tell, only exist in movies or on crappy cartoons from the 80's.