Thanks to the generosity of a coworker, my daughter and I are living for two weeks in a beautiful home snuggled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We’ve seen deer, fox, wild turkeys. It’s a vacationer’s dream and my basic nightmare.
The problem? The woman who owns the home is gone most of the time. “Yay!” you might say. Not me. Nothing fills my heart with terror more than being in a big empty house at midnight.
No doubt I’m not the only one with this fear, but my version of it seems a bit extreme. I suspect it is linked back to childhood memories of lying in a dark camper, the air so black I couldn’t see my fingers in front of my face. I was convinced the dark could actually suffocate me. (Don’t even get me started on the 1970s pit toilets at the campground—disgusting pits of hell that you could be yanked into never to return.)
Or maybe it’s the memories of our open-backed stairs to the basement where surely an evil being was lurking and ready to grab my feet as I scampered down. It didn’t help that our only shower was housed in the tiny space under the stairs.
I’m sure my parents thought I was just another stinky pre-teen. But if you had to choose between marinating in your own 10-year-old BO or risking the shower curtain being ripped open so someone could bludgeon you with a shampoo bottle, what would you pick? Do I even need to mention the scary-ass spiders that liked to hang out in the beams above the shower stall?
This fear may go even further back to when I was 4 and lived in a haunted house. I didn’t know until years later that I was living among the undead; I only knew I hated playing in the cold attic by myself. When I was about 12 my mom told me about the ghost who would shake her bed to wake her up in the morning. I also have a friend who’s had too many paranormal experiences to count. When she tells me her stories, I must repress the urge to thrust my fingers in my ears and scream, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you!”
For the record, I’ve seen very few horror flicks. There’s really no need when you have Amityville Horror and Poltergeist battling for top billing in your head. Or maybe my parents just didn’t love me enough to desensitize me.
Unfortunately my daughter seems to have inherited my imaginative fears. Of course, for a 5-year-old it seems more like a natural kid thing than something that probably requires intense therapy.
The first night alone in the mountain house, she shadowed me, spewing out helpful comments like: “I’m scared. I don’t want to go into the bathroom alone. What if someone breaks in?” and my personal favorite: “I feel like someone’s in the house with us!”
Do you know how difficult it is to present a calm and nurturing front under this kind of terror assault when your inner 9-year-old is in the fetal position screaming,” oh my god, we’re all going to die!!!!” Just another instance in which I wondered how I became the grown up in the room.
We made it through the night—no doubt thanks to my vigilant watch on the bedroom door. But it was tough and it hasn’t gotten much easier. I’m sleep-deprived and snippy. I nearly had a panic attack earlier this week because I was dreading this weekend when my friend will be gone again.
I should be embarrassed to be a 39-year-old who is still basically afraid of the dark, but even though I’ve self-proclaimed this the year of no fear, I think the Boogey man and his henchmen will terrorize me for all my days. As much as I would like to conquer this fear, I suspect the only way to fully eradicate it would be to destroy the imaginative child within me, and that would kind of suck and it would probably derail my writing career pretty quickly.
Some fears are meant to be conquered. Others we simply learn to live with. One thing’s for sure, there will be no quiet country home in my future.