Written By: Anthony Luciano
You know what? It's kind of funny. At a certain age, you are expected to stop being scared of certain things. Ten? You're no longer afraid of the dark. Fourteen? You're no longer scared of the dentist. Fifty? Death is just a part of life. I'm now twenty six years old and all of these things still terrify me. I wish I could fit into that societal expectation. I wish I could stop being scared. But it isn't that easy.
I know why I'm scared of the things I'm scared of. When I was a child, the dentist my parents took me to didn't believe in Novocain. I spent a majority of my time in that chair in pain. Just the sound of a high speed drill sends me reeling into an anxiety-ridden memory of bloody gums, sore jaws and tears. Death is an easy one. I'm scared of leaving things I have left undone and the people I love behind. The thought of death itself isn't exactly scary for me. It's all of the things I dreamed of and all of the people that have impacted me, or vice versa, without me to complete or repay that feeling.
The dark, on the other hand. The dark is another entity entirely. And I mean that in the most literal sense I can. Ever since I can remember, the dark has shown me things that I'm not meant to see. That nobody is meant to see. And darkness is the worst of them all. No matter where I am, when I am alone, the darkness speaks to me. "Open your eyes. Look at me. Come here. I have something to show you." But it's not always so simple. Sometimes, the darkness seems to reach into my memories and try to coax me into what I can only assume is danger.
When I was somewhere around eight years old, I remember lying in bed, forced to read a few chapters of a new book for school before bed. My parents always meant the best, and I know that now, but as a kid, it sometimes felt like torture. Every so often, my mother would check on me to make sure I was still reading and offer me words of encouragement if I became side tracked or frustrated. "If you read a few chapters a night, you'll have this book done by the end of the week!" That one seemed to be her favorite. But I didn't care. I didn't want to read the book at all. Let alone finish it.
I was nearing the end of the last chapter for the night and fighting back tossing the book across the room to play Pokémon under the covers. My mother came in to check my progress. Seeing that I was just finishing the last chapter for the night, she kissed me on the forehead, told me how proud she was and that her and Dad were going to call it a night. It was getting late after all. "Don't stay up too late. Remember, tomorrow you have to help me clean-up for your sister's birthday party. So I need you bright and early. I love you."
"I love you too. I'm just going to finish this and go to sleep. Reading makes me tired." She smiled and headed to bed, mostly closing my door on the way out. Knowing that I was scared of the dark, she would leave the hall bathroom light on at night and my door cracked to let some light into my room and ease my fears. But every morning when I woke up, the bathroom light is off. I assumed that at some time in the night, my mother or father uses the bathroom and shuts the light out of habit.
I finished up my chapter and, annoyed, tossed the book on my nightstand, grabbed my Gameboy and worm light and booted up Pokémon to play a little before bed. I must have lost track of time and gotten lost in the game, because after making it off of the Seafoam Islands (Articuno is one of my favorites) the hallway went dark. I saved my game, put my Gameboy in the drawer and rolled over. As I was dozing off, I felt someone sit down next to me on the bed and a hand on my shoulder. "I'm proud of you sweetie. I know how much you would rather be playing games than reading before bed. I made you something to show you just how proud I am."
Mom must have thought I was sleeping. This isn't the first time she's talked to me at night. She usually talks about how happy she is that I'm such a good kid and how she loves having my sister and I around. It always made me feel safe and happy before I dozed off. I always slept good those nights. She stood up and I could feel her looking at me, probably smiling, while I drifted off. "Come see what I made you!" I heard her call softly from down the hall. I rolled over to see my door open and the hallway still dark.
"Mom?" I called out. Not loud enough to wake up my sister, but hopefully loud enough for her to hear down the hall. "Down here, honey. Come see what I made you!" I got out of bed and leaned my head out into the hallway. I could see the bathroom door wide open a little ways down. It was almost pitch black throughout the hall, but I could see my mother just round the corner towards the living room. Seeing her made me feel safer and I jogged down the hall, excited to see my surprise. When I rounded the corner, she was knelt in the middle of the living room with her arms open, like she was asking for a hug.
"Mom, why are all of the lights off? I can't see anything..." I asked her with a twinge of fear in my voice. The living room was much larger than the hallway or my bedroom. I felt like I was in more danger in a more wide open, dark space. "It's okay, sweetie. I'm here. Come over here. I have something to show you." She gestured her hands toward herself, welcoming me into her arms. I slowly walked closer to her. I was confused. Why did she feel the need to give me this surprise so late? Why take me out of bed instead of waiting until the morning? And why was it so dark?
"Come here honey. Don't be scared. It's me. Mommy." I stopped a few feet away. Even at eight years old, I realized how weird that was. I was teased in school for saying "Mommy" and "Daddy" instead of "Mom" and "Dad". Kids are harsh like that. And my parents knew how much that word bothered me. "What's wrong? Come here. Let Mommy show you something." I looked down the hallway towards my bedroom. "Can we wait until tomorrow? I don't want to be tired getting ready for Allie's party..." I started to back up slowly. "Get your ass over here!" She said sternly.
I've never heard my mother angry. That caught me off guard more than anything. She fell forward onto her hands and knees, her joints popping as she crawled towards me. "Come here, you little shit! Let Mommy give you your surprise!" She crawled towards me faster as I ran to the hall bathroom, screaming. I could hear her hands and feet smacking the floor and her heavy, labored breathing in my ear as I flicked on the bathroom light and fell onto the cold tile. The hall fell silent and the only thing I could hear was the door knob to my parent’s room turning and my heart beating wildly in my chest.
Both of my parents came torrenting out of their room after hearing me scream. "Baby, what's wrong? What happened”? My mother asked as she scooped me up into her arms. I tried my best to explain myself through my tears, but couldn't get through. Mom carried me to bed and stayed with me until I fell back asleep. Her presence helped me sleep, but the night was full of nightmares. That's why I'm scared of the dark at twenty six. But why tell you this eighteen years later, right? It was so long ago.
The thing is that last night, my girlfriend fell asleep before me. I was busy working on editing in Photoshop into the late hours of the night. I shut my laptop and kissed her forehead when I came to a good stopping point and rolled over to shut the light before dozing off. I woke up a little while later to her brushing my hair behind my ear with her fingers. She does this to help me fall asleep at night or when I'm having a tough time emotionally, which has been happening more than usual as of late. I smiled and enjoyed the affection as I tried to drift back to sleep.
I felt her breath on my ear as she whispered into it, "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart. I have something for you." I rolled over quickly to find her snoring next to me. I could have sworn I closed the bedroom door before we crawled into bed to keep the cats from chewing our cables and flaring up her allergies in her sleep. But it was cracked ever so slightly. And the dark hallway was staring at me from across the room.