Mom had found the perfect spot for our tent, down the hill close to the lake. Picturesque, peaceful, pristine, pulchritudinous – okay, maybe I’ve gone too far with the alliterations!!!! Anyway, that is how it was during the day. I took a nap in the tent and when I woke up dusk had settled on the world around me. I looked around looking for a flashlight and a sense of dread overwhelmed me. As I stood outside of the tent flap I remember catching my breath as I looked away from the moons reflection illuminating off of the lake and glimpsed the towering pines I needed to enter. I purposefully began to move forward, humming to myself. Music often brings me equanimity, I KNEW I could walk up that dark path, and music would help. I heard a twig snap, the rustle of leaves, the waves lapping the rocks, the squeaks of the fruit bats. My imagination, and boy do I have a twisted imagination in the dark, took over. I heard someone panting (never taking into account that it most likely was coming from me) and heard the twigs snapping closer and closer. I began to run up the hill as the trees began to grow taller and more menacing within my minds eye. The trees reached for me, I was not one with the forest and the forest let me know it. I began to sing “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” at the top of my lungs, back then I’m not sure why I chose that song – but in retrospect I was subconsciously calling out for protection and a fire. A fire to lead me forward, to save me from the darkness, to provide me with warmth as the chill of the night seeped into my weary teenage soul. And it was the communal campfire that I saw at the end of my escape from the woods. I hunched over, hands grasping my knees as I breathed in great gulps of air. I felt my heart slow down as I looked at the campfire blazing yards in front of me. I stood up and calmly walked into the crowd of children, teens and adults enjoying s’mores and hot chocolate. No one, until now knew the torture my mind had just put myself through!
When I was about nine or ten years old my family of eight lived in a small three bedroom duplex on Hill Field Air Force Base in Clearfield, Utah. That year we experienced serious flooding in the area and my dreams often contained images of faceless people paddling through the water in a panic trying to reach the Sky Lift bringing people to safety at the top of the Wasatch Range. Now, 31 years later I only vaguely remember the flooding but I still vividly remember the dream. I’m not sure which makes me quiver in fear more; the rushing water, the panic of those around me, the blank faceless people around me, flying high in a lift reminiscent of the Sky Lift from the Lagoon Amusement park I adored as a kid, or the fact that each night I had this dream I would wake up in pitch-black. I continued to have this nightmare for years, and even reminiscing about it brings back that heart-pounding fear. There were times I would scream so loud and for so long that I would wake up with my mother holding me on the ground with the bedroom light streaming into my sleep filled eyes as she tries to rationalize with me, a fear induced child flailing my arms about while I imagined myself swimming for my life. For years I feared the moment that darkness would ascend, for it meant that I would have the dream. I finally started to ask God to protect my dreams – something that I still do in my nightly prayers.
Anxiety, panic, fear, terror, dread and petrification are great synonyms for what I feel in the dark, but they don’t even provide adequate illustration to what I feel in actuality. At forty years of age I still run for my bed the instant I turn the light off in hopes that the monster under my bed won’t climb out and grab my feet. I vanquish these perceptions of unreality by streaming the luminous scenes from a chosen set of favorite movies that have familiar music and dialogue to listen to as I fall asleep. I so mourn the removal of Sense and Sensibility from Netflix several years back. I find myself turning on the flashlight app on my phone to get in bed when my husband is asleep and snuggling into him, because I know he will protect me from the monsters in our closets. There are moments when I wish that the fear of the monsters in the dark never existed – the very real monsters of my childhood; monsters of inadequacies, brutal bullying throughout my youth, and the various other deep seated fears rooted in both rational and irrational terrors that comprise my past. When I take a moment I can reflect that although darkness has always been a part of my existence so too has light -the light from the campfire, the light my mother turned on in my bedroom, the light from the television. It makes me think about the light of Christ, the fact that Heavenly Father never leaves us completely in darkness. There is the sun, stars, moon giving us both a physical and spiritual guiding light. I will still run and jump into my bed at night SURE that something is going to grab my feet, but I also know that the monsters in my closet have been vanquished in one form or another.