I was born afraid of the dark.
I have always been afraid of the dark.
There was no “before”. Never a comforting night. Even before I was born, I remember. I swear it is true. I remember. And though they say to me, “Impossible!” I remember. There I was, floating, not even a proper person yet to speak of, but already there was fear. There was fear and there was the generalized stickiness of the womb.
But I did not fear that part. The generalized stickiness, I mean. For I have never been afraid of stickiness. Not one bit. So it is true I can take pride in that much, at least.
Oh, to have been born with a fear rare and extraordinary! To have been born afraid of… Thursdays or Irishmen or ring fingers. I dream sometimes, and sometimes when I dream, I dream of a world in which I am the possessor of a fine fear, a fear which has made me a celebrity about town. If there is such a thing. But I think that there is. Almost everything is, somewhere, if only one looks hard enough.
Tacitus, or at least I believe it is Tacitus, though it might have been someone else very different entirely, records the sad case of a man afraid of the light. Blind from birth but otherwise healthy, he was given sight in adulthood by a well-meaning doctor. He was found dead sometime later. The blind man, I mean. Not the doctor. Though it is to be assumed the doctor eventually met his end as well. But that should be of minimal concern to us right now.
What I mean to say is our blind man – or more truly, our formerly blind man – was found dead. He was found dead with darning needles plunged into both his eyes. That is, he was if Tacitus lived in a world with darning needles, anyway. Otherwise, something else, I suppose, equally long and equally pointy. And near the blind man, not far away, they found a note, and the note said this: “The world is so much uglier than I ever imagined when I was blind.”
No famous historian will write my story.
I am just afraid of the dark, and nyctophobes are a dime a dozen. Like fear of spiders or of heights or of Asian drivers. Practically everyone is.
And when she’s away – I mean, when Dana is out of town on business or at her mother’s or for some other inscrutable reason does not see fit to come home at night – I sleep in the corner of a closet. Usually it is the one in the hallway where we keep the clothes the kids have outgrown. Never the one that holds the winter jackets or the one with my books. I would never sleep in a corner of those.
The kids never understand. It has been said to me – quite forcefully at times – that I am not to try and explain it to them. Explain fear of the dark, that is. I imagine this to be because Dana can foresee a future when she arrives home from Boston or from Tokyo or from Tangiers to find all four members of her family huddled inside the hallway closet, trembling, hands over their ears, waiting for daylight.
And beyond that unacceptable image, it can definitely be said that I am twenty-six years old and by any measure have reached the age of adulthood. And the secret of adults and children is that adults must never under any circumstances admit to a child that adults feel fear.
So I sleep in the closet when she’s away, and the kids rat me out when she comes home. And then we have to have a talk. I come out of my corner in the hallway closet and I sit down with Dana because we have to have a talk. And even though she knows all about it, we have to go over the same old ground.
So I say, “I was born afraid of the dark. I have always been afraid of the dark. There was no ‘before’. Never a comforting night. Even before I was born-”
And “I know this,” Dana says. “We’ve been through this,” Dana says. Because she knows all about it. Just like I told you. But she is the one who wants to talk about it and I have nothing to add to my previous statements on this particular subject.
I am going to scare the children. I am going to make them afraid of the dark. Like me.
But maybe they really ought to be afraid of the dark. You don’t know!
I believe I could be right on this one. And in that case, someone really ought to warn the children...