are you afraid of the dark

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2014-04-14 lunar eclipse, captured decently by my crummy little camera

I’ve been awake since 4:30 a.m., not for the first time this week. The standard waking time for many day workers, but not for me! It seems I can’t sleep through the night anymore. Tension, excitement, nervousness, overthinking– shake it all up in a bag and then smash it like a piñata, because I couldn’t tell you.

It occurs to me (as it occurs to me every year or so, this isn’t a very original ponder) that I don’t remember when I stopped being afraid of the dark. There isn’t even one clear transition period, because I have distinct memories of time periods in which I alternated loving and hating it.

Toddlerhood

I’m informed I was one of those charming babies prone to night terrors. Sorry mom and dad!

Pre-4th grade

Still pretty terrified, mostly due to the horrors of Pet Sematary and Child’s Play, the latter of which traumatized me and my siblings for years. Our closet had no door! It was just a gaping black pit! And dear lord, the gap under the bed! My brother and sister (all crammed in one full-size bed with me because who could sleep alone??) made me turn off the light each night, at which point I would athletically LEAP into bed to keep my feet from the gap. This is the first and last time I’ll refer to myself as athletic.

You know what, mom, you deserved my night terrors– for the future crime of letting us watch Child’s Play. For years I had it fixed in my head that it was a mistake, and we thought it was for children because of the title. But my adult brain has caught on! You knew damn well it was a horror movie! Fool me once, shame on you. Let me watch Child’s Play 2 and 3, shame on both of us.

child's play

YOU KNEW!!!!

Ahem.

Around 5th grade?

Suddenly I loved the night. I don’t know how the switch happened, I just know I was around 10 or 11 years old because I remember we were in our new house and I was still friends with the neighbor’s kids.

I would sneak outside after sunset and either walk around our cul-de-sac, or sit quietly on the curb, and think. I really enjoyed quiet time to think, and it was exhilarating to sit outside in the dark by myself. This is also the time period in which I switched to reading adult books, and my kid mind was blown away, my brain firing like crazy absorbing complex ideas and words. I have very clear memories of philosophizing about darkness and wondering why I hadn’t enjoyed it before.

So I suspect the change was reading-related. I was growing into my big kid brain, not very sophisticated yet, but transitioning from passive absorption of external stimuli to active absorption followed by some kind of clumsy regurgitation of ideas. AKA the time period when you first believe you can write poetry. Sadly, you cannot.

High School

Every time I walked down the street, it was with the conviction that I would be hit by a car and die. I was reading nothing but ghoulish true crime, murder mysteries, biopics of serial killers– but oh no, that didn’t even phase me. Getting hit by a car? WORST FATE IMAGINABLE. And it was definitely going to happen when I was on my way to school to take a very important test. Because then I might survive, but totally fail my class! Did I mention I’m Hermione Granger?

I don’t remember how I felt about the dark, though.

College

Aaaahhh! Fuck the dark, I’m gonna be murdered!!

All of a sudden, the serial killer literature that did not bother me in high school came back to haunt me, and I had nightmares for the first time since toddlerhood. Somebody was definitely going to climb through my window and strangle me in bed. Why oh why did I read Perverse Crimes in History?

Props to dad, he gave me a weird look when I asked for this book, but he bought it anyway

Props to dad, he gave me a weird look when I asked for this book, but he bought it anyway

I’m well aware that this was some psychological manifestation of my fears about leaving home. Safety net: GONE. I went from a bustling household of perpetual motion to long periods of isolation. Once again I was leaping into bed to avoid the boogeyman (now a serial killer waiting to grab me by the ankle, natch). Sophomore year, when I first moved off campus to my own apartment, was certifiably the worst. Just frozen in bed, desperately needing to pee, unable to get across the hall to the bathroom.

Modern Day

And now… I’m fine. I can once again totter around my home without turning any lights on, or walk outside by myself, and it won’t even occur to me that I ever feared the dark. I know this switch happened sometime around 2009, because again I have snippets of memory of walking around at night and realizing it didn’t bother me anymore. In fact, I’m once again in the phase where pre-dawn stillness is cause for reflection and not an immediate grab for the light switch.

I can’t help feeling suspicious about the timing. Like my age-10 reading revolution, this was a significant year for me psychologically. My adult self finished cocooning in 2009 and emerged with a self-confidence that I had not experienced since high school. So much changed in my life in the course of a few months that it was dizzying, and my meek depressed self of early 2009 seemed like an entirely different person. I’m still working out the many ramifications of that rapid change, and I suspect that losing my fear of the dark was one of them.

The Future

Oh man I really hope night terrors skips a generation and my baby isn’t a screamer. :O

2 thoughts on “are you afraid of the dark

  1. Let Mama just say that “letting” you watch movies such as Child’s Play gave you an apreciation for spooky things..you do have an interest in the supernatural! Also, all those true crime, slasher-killer books made you very cautious…no running up instead of running out to get away! AND..you never do know what may be lying in wait under the bed….oohweeooohhoo…

    Lastly, your night terrors were BEFORE you watched those movies or read those books…so there!

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