I’m not afraid of the dark.
I just want to make that clear. It’s not the dark that frightens me. Not all dark, anyway.
I mean, sure, when I was a child I was afraid of the dark. But then I learned that some dark is friendly. The warm dark, at night, when you’re under the covers, safe in your bed. That’s the first kind I discovered, the protective, sheltering dark that gently surrounds.
In middle school I was the very first kid picked up by the school bus. It was then that I became familiar with the cold dark, which is no more of a threat than the warm. The cold dark is the crisp, cloudless, star-filled sky at five in the morning, the little fingers of cold that work their way into your coat through sleeves, collar, pockets, to remind you that you are awake and alive. Once I even saw an aurora, a frozen ripple of purple and blue far, far off in the northern sky.
The warm dark was the first kind to which I gave a name. The cold dark was third. In between, when I was six or seven, I discovered that not all dark was safe. There’s another kind, a kind that lurks and pools. The kind that streetlights don’t illuminate so much as punctuate, that feels like a physical substance pushing against the little circle of light, just waiting to snuff them out. The kind that is solid, tangible, and right behind you. It lived in my basement, the lurking dark, waiting at the foot of the stairs. I learned what bravery was the day I first went down there alone, and found nothing. I learned that it was all in my head.
But it still follows. Walking along the street at three in the morning, I feel it, throbbing and alive two inches behind my left ear. There’s nothing there when I turn to look, of course, because it’s all in my head.
Six doors down from my apartment is a narrow room containing recycling bins and the trash chute. The lurking dark lives there, one of many places. You can drive it off with a little dial next to the door. Twist it, and it slowly works its way back, ticking. The dark is patient. It listens, and when its minute is up, back it comes. The skin on my neck crawls as I shove my trash bags into the chute, listening to the ticking. I do not want to be there when the dark comes back.
I know. It’s all in my head.
Where does the dark go when we turn on the light? In the deep, deep caverns and the bottom of the sea, where no light has ever been, does it gather? Warm, cold, lurking, do they all return to the deep dark to nurse? I know it’s there. I see it in my head. The deep dark, the mother of all the others, their home.
And the other kind, too. The kind that’s never come out, that still waits to be discovered. The kind the lurking dark might take me to, if I wasn’t careful. The howling dark. The anger and loneliness for which this world of light and life is just an eggshell, thin and fragile.
But I’ve never seen it. It’s all in my head.
So why do I know that it howls? Why can I hear its screaming? Distantly, like a memory, but never ceasing.
All in my head, all in my head, all in my head. Why do people say that as if it’s supposed to be comforting? It’s all in my head! How can I run from something that’s in my head? No matter where I go, it arrives at the same moment I do!
And of course it’s in my head. There’s never been any light in there either. The inside of a skull is as dark as the bottom of any ocean trench, any ancient cavern. No light has entered there since the day you were born; even your eyes reflect it all back.
Where does the darkness go when you turn on the lights? It goes into your head, to feed. Its mother is right there, the deep dark, all in your head, my head. And waiting inside that, the howling. Of course I know what it sounds like, of course I can hear it, it’s in my head!
Although… There is one way to let in some light.