Thursday, September 30, 2004

Afraid of the Dark – 5/18/04

Many of us have been afraid of the dark, at least during our childhood. And a few of us even admit to still feeling that chill down our spines as we rush to hit the light switch on the wall.

I remember as a child, whining in protest when my mother asked me to get her something from a room that was saturated in darkness. “But Mom! Do I have to?” Somehow she figured out that it was the dark I was afraid of and not the chore itself that I was resisting.

“Okay, what you need to do is to sing. If you sing the whole time you’re in the dark, nothing can get you.” My mother’s logic always worked for a child’s mind. Though the strategies she used to temporarily alleviate my anxieties probably prolonged the fears in the long run. i.e. There actually is in fact something that will "get me" if I don't sing.

So I tried singing my way to the light switch or to the said object that my mother was sending me off in search of. Hearing my own voice out loud helped some. But I continued to struggle against the instinct to run. Walking through darkness was like walking in a pool of water. My legs felt heavy with the desire to flee. My eyes would fixate on the light ahead or the light switch seen in the black-and-white haze of the night. And I would feel the darkness racing up against my back; its crooked fingers lurking just above my shoulders, breathing its cool breath down my neck. The relief when I escaped the darkness unscathed or when I reached the light switch would slowly melt away in a similar fashion to how my eyes would adjust to the light.

When I was a child, the darkness represented ghosts and goblins. Darkness, it is well-known, is a symbol for the unknown. Now when I sit in darkness, and consciously feel the uneasiness, I immediately think about death. Not my death specifically nor anyone else’s death for that matter. But death as a concept and my feelings about it.

For the first time, I’ve noticed that I no longer feel the same level of fear. When S and I moved into this apartment, I gave credit to the new dwelling. Something about this structure seemed more comfortable, despite its history being plenty long enough to have ghosts of residents past skulking in each corner of every room. Even now as I write, our apartment is swathed in darkness, so that S can sleep while I entertain myself for the remaining hours I must remain awake in order to stay on a semblance of my night shift schedule. But there is only a mild uneasiness as I nestle into the darkness now.

Could it be because we now have a dog whom I trust would bark if there were an intruder? Or could it be that the hours from sunset to sunrise have lost their element of alarm because I’m on a night-shift schedule? Or could it be that dying is less of an unknown now that I see it on a regular basis through my job?

In any case, I am glad to finally make the darkness my friend.

Instead, now the pitch black midnight walk to the bathroom comes with a whole new set of fears...

"Oooh, sorry, Kitty, I didn't mean to step on you."

"Ouch! Rover, please don't leave your dog bones in the middle of the hallway!"

The eeriness of shadows hasn’t totally left me - nor am I totally hunky dory with death, for that matter. But these newer fears don't seem anywhere near as terrifying as the old ones once were.

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