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…so, naturally, I was afraid! It didn’t even need to be stormy. If it was dark, I was afraid. As you all know, I grew up on a farm in a little mountain valley where I could see every star in the universe once twilight ceased and darkness reigned. Every. Single. Star. I should have been in awe! And, if I was outside with someone else, I certainly could relax and appreciate the limitless view of the heavens.
But, if I was alone in the dark, for whatever reason, inside or outside, all I experienced was a heart-pounding irrational fear. One evening we drove to town to go see a movie. It could have been a Disney cartoon classic or something equally innocuous like “The Parent Trap” or some Doris Day film. It doesn’t matter because also shown was a Woody Woodpecker cartoon that involved a vampire vulture stalking Woody. Naturally, Woody was oblivious to the threat, and every time the vulture just missed getting Woody. But that vulture’s looming face, coming up behind cheerful little Woody Woodpecker really got to me! When we were home, I went to the bathroom to get ready for bed, and THERE WAS THE VAMPIRE VULTURE!! No, seriously, I swear I saw him in the darkness of the window panes over the bathtub. He WAS there. So, from then on, if I went to the bathroom after dark, I had to consciously NOT look at the windows, or I couldn’t even stay in there long enough to brush my teeth.
Sure, you say, a little kid, about 8 years old, would have a reaction like that. It’s understandable. However, when I was 12 or 13 and would babysit for our various neighbors, I wasn’t any more recovered from my nyctophobia. One neighbor (a young widow) lived across the highway, and one house down. Her home was across the road from our cow pasture, maybe 300 yards from our house. I would walk over to her house in the evening twilight to babysit her three little ones, and when she came back, I’d walk home. It took all my powers to force myself to WALK back along the highway. There were no cars at that time of night, so I would follow the yellow stripes that were the center of the road. I did that so that I could force myself to walk. If I’d get along the edge of the road, then the willows that grew along one side would unnerve me with their mysterious rustling and shadows. One night I surrendered to my (completely irrational) fears and I started to run. A person cannot run fast enough when motivated by terror, let me assure you.
This ridiculous state of mind would even kick in as an older teen if I was the last one to leave the milking barn to go into the house after our chores were finished. This only applied in the winter because it got dark by five or six o’clock then. I’d shut the lights off in the barn. I’d walk over to the other side of the barn, and reach in and shut off the floodlight that illuminated the barnyard, and then I’d have about sixty yards to walk over to the house. In the dark. Sure, there were lights in the house and a porch light. And, remember: you could see every single star in the northern hemisphere…and yet… Again, I had to force myself to maintain a calm pace across the crusty snow-covered ground to the yard gate, and walk through the lilac trees to the porch door, and not surrender to the little panic rising in my chest about… whatever!! It was so ridiculous!
Mind you: I broke my own horse! I survived getting bucked off several other horses. I helped my dad and sisters brand our cattle every spring. I’d fended off angry mother cows who didn’t want me to take the calf to the pen. I had a lot of courage when it came to Real Life Scary Stuff. But–The Dark?? No WAY!
It lasted at least until I had children because I also recall reading an anthology of Stephen King stories one night in bed after I was married. My husband had overnight duty at the Navy base where he was stationed, and so I was home alone in our little apartment. Don’t read Stephen King’s stories when you’re home alone in the dark. You cannot imagine how hard it was to put my feet down on the floor from the bed…hoping-hoping-hoping that nothing would grab them when I had to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night!
I don’t know when it finally ended. I’m not a scaredy-cat anymore about darkness. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in cities so long now where “darkness” isn’t really too dark. Maybe I just finally grew out of it. Maybe being a wife and mother helped me to learn what is really scary in life! But I’m really glad that I’m no longer freaking out just because it is A Dark and Stormy Night!Published in