But tonight, I was reminded of one of my childhood fears that almost completely turned around: I used to be terrified of the dark.
My night vision has always been poor, and I think I first started realizing it at my first and only camp, Camp Highroads in 6th grade. Since I didn’t get invited to slumber parties and the like, I hadn’t really been with a group of people in dark situations before then, and it was when I had to go to the bathroom in what I considered “pitch blackness,” that some people asked why I couldn’t see the path to the outhouse. I could see the lightbulb over the toilet from the cabin, but everything else was in an inky void that had no ground or sky. To ask me to “walk down a flight of stairs, down a dirt path, and towards the light,” was an act of faith that there was a set of stairs, a path, and anything where the light was. I recall it was Mr. Cook, a teacher, who had to lead me there.
Earlier in my life, my terror of the dark was pretty deep. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t help that my room was basement level with two windows near the ceiling that let in faint street light. I have no idea what others saw in my room with the lights off, but my world was like this: I was suspended by a bed-like object, where I could feel my sheets and blanket and stuff, and two floating panes of faint light above my head that outlined shadows of the bushes that mostly covered my windows. Sometimes, if I’d been in the dark for a while, I could see a few dim glints of reflected light off of shiny objects. It was kind of like being suspended in one of those sensory deprivation tanks, and you know what happens in those after a while: your brain starts to make up stuff. Like many children, shadows turned into possible shapes of monsters out to get me. But added to the fact was that I worried a lot more than most kids my age do, and I had such a vivid imagination, that I started to see swirls of light, odd test patterns, and moving spots that resembled outlined upper torsos of people floating about; kind of like when you rub your eyes really hard.
I spent a LOT of time under the covers.
I was so terrified of the dark, that’s how my parents punished me: they took away my lights. The first use of this punishment was when I had a habit of falling asleep with my lights on, but later, it was used for a myriad of punishments like poor grades, breaking things, getting caught lying, and the usual stuff little boys do. It wasn’t used often, maybe a few times a year at most, but boy, did it have an impact.
The worst was when I had tropical fish. I had a hood lamp for my tank, and my father punished me for something, and not only did he take the hood of my tank so I couldn’t have that light, but he took my tank thermostat/heater as well (it has an LED to tell you when it was on), and since it was winter, and the house furnace didn’t work so well, and the tank was under a leaky window, by morning, a thin film of ice had formed on the top of my tank, and most of my tropical fish died. When I cried, I was told it was all my fault. I had killed them because I had been bad, and I knew the consequences when I did the bad thing. You know, I still don’t think that punishment was worth a damn, because I *still* can’t remember what I was punished for.
When I was about 11 or 12, my vision started to go. Not only did I become nearsighted, but I became colorblind for a while. I could only see browns, yellows, oranges, and ambers. I lost the ability to see blue, vivid reds, and most greens for about 4 years. When I got them back, I recall how entranced I was by blue and green things, and I still am. I know I still have problems because I fail a few of those Ishihara dot tests, and many things I think are gray I am told others see blue. I also have problems with lavender and other light purples.
Here’s a weird confession. Some fire engines? Are a bright yellow to me. I mean, most are the usual dark maroon red, but once in a while I see some that are what look to be lime-green/yellow, and I never point these out because I know someone is going to tell me they are some other kind of orange-red, and I’ll look like a total idiot (I got into an argument with someone over this as a teen; apparently others see them as a day-glow orangey-red or something). I am constantly doing that with blue cars; it seems to be the worst with reflective metallic paint: light blue cars are a silvery gunmetal gray to me. Still, I am curious WHY I see some fire engines as lime-green/yellow. Weird to be me, I guess.
But back to darkness.
I got over my fear of the dark somewhere in high school. Someone, and I wish I could thank who, told me, “You can hide in the darkness.” Those words of wisdom gave me comfort where no one else succeeded. Yes, I had been told the usual, “There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light,” crap, but someone in theater told me that he got over his fear of darkness because he was told as a kid that monsters had terrible night vision, and as long as he was in the dark, if any monsters came after him, they’d never see him. That just clicked with me for some reason, and I told this to CR growing up. If CR falls asleep with the light on? I let him.
I haven’t the heart to take away anyone’s light.
But, my night vision is as bad as always. What most of you see while driving at night is nothing compared to what I see. I see the glow of the driver under the instrument panels as we drive among an invisible line of weaving and bobbing white and red lights. I don’t see the road, sky, or even what’s no either side unless there are street or building lights. I see lights, but unless the light is really bright, I don’t see what the light is illuminating, so they appear suspended in mid air. I have to walk on the ground in faith the ground is still there. I often run into poles and low-hanging branches, which smack me like invisible force fields in an inky black universe.
In “total” darkness (which could be just dim lighting to you guys), I lose my balance because I have no horizon to reference if I am upright or not. I have to run my hand along a wall, or have someone walk me to the car in a parking lot. Sometimes, I just manage, and oddly enough, if there is some noise, like people talking and stuff, I have a better time getting around. It’s not really echo-location or anything, but, and you can try this yourself, try one day, with your eyes closed, walking towards a wall in a room where people are talking. You’ll be able to tell by how it sounds about how close you are. You might even guess what the wall is made of, since drywall has a different sound than, say, a tiled wall. After a while, you’ll be able to “feel” where objects are in the room on a basic level, and if you already knew the room layout with your eyes open, you’ll be able to navigate blindly as long as there’s noise from one area of the room to orient yourself. Exceptions: objects below waist-height, cloth items (like curtains), and low-hanging things like lamps and tree branches. That’s how I get around dark rooms: I remember where things are, keep my hand running along a wall, and occasionally make a sound to hear an echo. To go up my stairs, for instance, I can tell by repetition how many steps I have, and by the sound they make, about which stair I am on.
Now, at age 36, I am no longer afraid of the dark. I just accept it as enlightening other senses.