As long as I can remember, I am afraid of the night.
Most kids outgrow it. My parents predicted I would, too.
But I enter my teen years more afraid than ever.
That doesn't stop me from working as a babysitter.
I arrive at my clients' homes after dinner.
Once I tuck the babies into bed, I turn on the TV
and poke around the fridge
for a snack. I stretch out on the sofa.
Gradually, the room darkens.
I grow uneasy, more aware of being alone,
of odd sounds.
Was that the water heater?
A cat at the back door?
I become less sure.
Time to turn on the light in every room.
Turn off the TV and listen harder.
I check the locks on the windows and doors.
Open closets, kneel down to see under bedskirts.
Peer into the babies' beds, behind curtains through windows.
Odd shadows flicker.
I consider which household objects I will use in my defense.
I wonder if the intruder is a neighbor or a serial killer or even a human.
I sit beside the telephone visualizing the run for my life.
How I will fling open the front door and run
across the wide street, the evil thing in pursuit,
and pound on a door and scream for help.
With an escape decided, I stare at the clock,
my body in a knot, until at last they return.
I greet them with a big smile, even laughter,
express affection, praise for their babies, their comfortable homes,
all that gushing brought on by relief in having survived.
Years later I marry a musician.
It is impossible to stay in the house by myself after dark
so on nights he works, I pack a book, flashlight, a pager,
and a blanket and move to my car, which I keep
in our driveway just for this purpose.
I lock the doors, leave the windows open just a crack, push back the seat,
and read by flashlight until overcome by sleep.
Now I'm a grandmother.
When I am alone at home after dark,
I begin my ritual.
I check the doors and windows more than once,
the closets, look under all the beds.
I listen. Any noise makes my scalp tingle.
I visualize escapes. Sometimes I keep a baseball bat near
my chair and glance at the clock over and over
until my husband returns.
My parents were wrong.
I never outgrew this fear of the dark.
It is still going strong.