Afraid of the Dark

Everything seems sinister. I’m lying in my bed, heart racing, eyes darting around the shadowy room looking for the thing I know is going to creep up on me. I keep propping myself up to peek at the little sliver of light shining under the door, making sure there are no shadows indicating the arrival of an unwelcome visitor. I keep switching by bedside lamp back on to try and gather myself, thinking I should just try watching TV, letting the sound of other people lull me to sleep. But no, I want my ears free to hear every thump of a downstairs neighbor, every whisper of the wind rustling the trees outside—every sound suddenly amplified to the point where I can hear it clear as day, but muffled just enough that I can’t identify it.

My mind is racing, as if Logic and Paranoia are having a screaming match in my head:

P: What’s that sound?
L: It’s nothing. Go to bed, you need sleep.
P: No really, I heard something.
L: Well of course you heard something: traffic drives by outside your window all night every night and your heater has been making funny noises. Normal home sounds, Erin. Normal home sounds.
P: But this was a different something. Someone’s in the apartment, they’ve got to be. Just out there waiting to sneak in once they can tell I’m asleep…

Clearly, Paranoia is winning.

All the while, I’m a “grown woman” wrapped up in my comfortable bed, in the apartment I’ve lived in for the past six months, in a small building filled with old people and families. It’s the kind of place where packages are left unattended in the lobby for the recipient to pick up, where orphaned socks found in the laundry room are pinned to a corkboard in hopes that their owners will claim them, and where we’ve accidentally left the door unlocked on multiple occasions and never been that worried about it. In any case, I’ve triple locked the door tonight.

I’m also in one of the safest neighborhoods in a city I’ve lived in for almost four years, a city I’m comfortable with, one I’ve never really had a threatening experience in.

The only difference tonight? All of my roommates are gone.

I once had someone tell me that if she ever has kids, she wants them to be just like me because I’m not afraid of anything.

I was flattered—still am—but she was mistaken. I have fears, sometimes disruptive fears. They are the things that lead to restless nights, the things that consume my thoughts and keep me from getting my work done, the things that make me want to just hide under the covers and never come out. They change day to day, hour to hour, but they are always lingering there.

Her mistake is understandable, however. See, she’s only seen me when I have my biggest weapon, the only thing stronger than the fear—my friends. I find my courage in the crowd. In solitude, I tremble. When people I trust aren’t around, fear far too easily consumes me. Even if all other factors remain the same, that one little change flips the switch from knowing that I can make it through whatever comes my way to thinking the worst.

Easy solution, right? Keep my friends close and I’ll be fine. But because I’m an Adult, and because I think of myself as an Independent Woman, I’ve had this nagging feeling that’s it’s time to release my army of friends and companions back to their own lives, to their own battles, and to start facing mine solo. The idea of calling on backup for just about anything these days—let alone for essentially being afraid of the dark—makes me feel ashamed, like I’m the kid calling her mom to pick her up early from the sleepover because she just can’t hold it together any longer.

That week I cave. After three restless nights I decide that I’ll be an Adult the next week, and solicit some friends to stay over in shifts for the next few nights. They don’t question my request or judge me for it—they just come over. We eat, we visit, we laugh and laugh, and I sleep soundly those nights.

It’s starting to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, I’ve got it all backwards—that the real naïveté here is the idea that, to be an adult, I must go at life alone. The thought that there comes a point in all of our lives where we have to let go of our support networks and only rely on ourselves. And the belief that, unless I do that, I cannot grow stronger.

Sure, things will change as we grow older. The people on the front lines with us may shift from our BFFLs, to our roommates and trusted friends, to our husbands, wives, or partners—or even our cats and dogs. They may go from being in the bed on the other side of the room to across the country, but always just a phone call away. And sure, as we go through life and face bigger and scarier things, we might have to handle the minor ones on our own.

But I think the real courage is the willingness to not only face the fears in our lives, but to point them out to our friends and admit that they’re too big for us to handle alone. It doesn’t make us childish. It doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.

There’s that feeling again. I’m walking around the streets of New York, preparing for my upcoming move, looking for a new place to call home. Adrenaline is pumping through me, more poison with every step. I’m most certainly not alone—there are people bustling all around me—but since no one is familiar I feel like they’re all against me.

Paranoia is babbling on :

P: What are you doing, Erin? You’ll never feel at home here. It took you so long to build up the friends you have in DC—here you will be alone. Why are you leaving what you know, what you love? You won’t last here, you’re not strong enough. This place is just going to chew you up and spit you back out.

I’m ready to go running back home, back to my cozy bed in my safe apartment surrounded by people I can count on. The sounds around me are overbearing—car horns blaring, the disruptive white noise of engines moving by, people talking louder and louder, joining in Paranoia’s chorus, as if they’re working together to create an orchestra to drown out what Logic has to say. But he steps in, as calm and collected as ever:

L: Erin—just reach out.

So I do. I stop thinking this is something I have to face alone, that people will think less of me if I call in for backup. I text the friend who always comes back with the words I need to hear. I call the one who, without fail, can make me laugh and put me at ease.

It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s just enough to give me the courage to keep moving forward.

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