I’m not scared of the inky hours anymore.
Darkness turned me into a nail bitter around the four year mark. The reason I know this is because our house at the time lined up bedrooms next to each other: mine, my parents’ and my little brother’s in an L shape at the end of a hall anchored with an Encyclopedia Britannica book shelf.
Deep into the night, my eyes would fly open.The blackness so permeated the room that I lost any sense of my little body. Where was everyone? Where was I?
Was it fear of night or was it alone-ness that tingled and gripped me in the void? “Daddy?!?”
I was ashamed to call out. Just the same, an unpredictable pattern continued until I was grown. Tiptoeing through our open floor plan, around my parents’ bed, I found a way to peace of mind. The father figure was easy to track and I could tap him on his shoulder amid his shuttering snore.
He shot up and was off to take my place in that bedroom so far away. I slipped onto the warm spot that he left next to my Mother. The next day no mention was made about musical beds.
What was that noise? Where? Was it a bad dream or the remnant of an anxious day unmasked from my subconscious?
When I left for college my parents’ gave me a framed Welsh blessing:
“From Ghoulies, and ghosties
And long-legged beasties,
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”
For the next many years, I hung this incantation over my bed in various chambers. It blessed for a while until I had my own child, but then the dark returned magnifying the frightfulness that separated me from my baby.
Once Dalton left for a business trip and the dreaded night swept me into a swivet. I awoke the next morning rumpled and stiff, sitting on a chair in the nursery with my robe and glasses askew.
Knowing better by then, I had discovered that nyctophobia (fear of the dark) is an inborn mechanism that children often have, perhaps a leftover from our evolution – scary predators and such making off with the young and weak. While I have no intention of dismissing a phobia for some, isn’t this fear a metaphor for life’s travails?
Looking out the window that sleepless morning, I saw my white haired next door neighbor sauntering down her sidewalk toward the morning paper. In her late seventies, Sara Riley was the loveliest of Southern ladies. Always donning a petite shirtwaist, she measured out demure discernment embroidered with a Snow White laugh.
Inside a 1930s development, we shared a pebble driveway which separated at our individual garages. I’m beginning to understand that a young family moving in next door must have meant a lot to her. We stopped and chatted daily as we went about our business.
Her husband had died, and she had been alone for many years in a tall and rambling house vested with an assortment of things that go bump in the night.
When she turned to walk back to her house that morning, I caught her eye and she fluttered a wave. Merriment is a fine way to describe her nature, and with that call it grace – call it magic – but the spell of fear on my soul vanished forever.
I told Mrs. Riley the way it all happened, and she briefed me that before she picked up the news each morning, she went to her kitchen window which faced the opposite neighbor’s kitchen window and turned up a plate to signal that all was well. Her neighbor Evelyn Hite did the same in response. “We understand each other,” she said.
Since then if on occasion I catch a glimpse of the little one who froze when confronted with things that go bump in the night or a bully’s taunt or even the uncertainty of feeling alone, I think of Sara Riley’s light.
Often I consider the oddity of being scared of the dark at birth. After all the trials in life, shouldn’t it be the other way around? But then as Theodore Roethke said, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” And now I see all that could have been lost if not for the enchantment that only Sara Riley could give to me.
P.S. Dearest Readers, Number 52 is the last in my collection of Enchantments which began during quarantine with https://mscookstable.com/enchantment-april-3-2020-number-1-delivery/ . This past year my brilliant friend Leslie Colley wrote to me: “Gosh, I wonder what we have learned through all of this….?”
I would say that the never ending answers lay in the contrasts we have been given. The synchronicity of who is out there to show us the way is ever-present, if only we are willing to wake up and receive the fullness.
As always I am grateful for your readership.