Thursday, July 18, 2013

Still going strong

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. 
Maybe stronger.