Why I’m Still Afraid of the Dark

Confession time. I’m 36 years old and I still jog up the staircase at night after turning off the lights on the floor below. I’ve got an inner dialogue going on the whole time that sounds something like this:

“This is so stupid. You are way too old to act like this. Seriously, what (or who) do you think is going to come after you? The boogeyman?”

Followed quickly by:

“Man, I need to get to the gym.”

That second part is a self-deprecating story for another day.

Let’s focus in on the fact that I turn into a ten year kid in my own house by letting fear almost completely overrule every rational thought in my head. When it comes down to it, I’m not a fan of the dark. I don’t find it particularly comforting, and instead it has always represented in my mind a place where things that want to hurt you hide away until you are completely vulnerable. Then those things will lunge out and grab you with no remorse and reduce you into a crying, terrified, now-I-need-therapy mess (that is, if you weren’t completely spirited away into another universe of course).

You may chalk it up to my early discovery of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and the like. Or the fact that I read every Stephen King book I could get my hands on somewhere between fifth and sixth grade. My middle school mind was shaped by these big uglies who had their terrifying agenda of revenge and often stalked their prey at night. You know, when everybody was sleeping. I got older and even though I knew that none of these things were real, I was even more drawn to them (ahem, vampire junkie anyone?). But that fear of the dark remained.

Then as a grown-up, I learned a shocking truth. You don’t need a Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers to come along and do evil things. Human beings, the ones that exist here and now in the real world, are just as capable of the dastardly awful things that I saw in movies and read about in my fiction books. I learned that there are people out there who don’t know me, but given the proper motivation (in their minds anyway) would hurt me without hesitation or provocation. Usually you can’t see those people coming either. They hide behind normal faces in normal places. They could be anywhere. That fear becomes even more pronounced as you transfer it to those that you love.

You may wonder how a big old scaredy cat like me could write horror or any other kind of spooky story about things that go bump in the night when I feel this way. Part of the reason is because regardless of how I feel about the creatures themselves, I still get a little bit of a thrill out of being scared inside a safely contained fictional environment. I’m the first person in line to see movies like Resident Evil (and all of its sequels) and the remakes of my favorite horror movies from when I was a kid (even though they are almost always spectacularly bad). I think the important words there, in case you missed them, were “safely contained” and “fictional”. When I’m in control of the words going down on the page, those things hold no power over me. In fact, I could erase them without a second thought. No, those fictional baddies don’t scare me.

But movies like Blood Diamond and Tears of the Sun stress me out and put me in a melancholy depression for days – because even though the story may be fiction, the truth behind the story is not. What human beings can do to other human beings is ghastly and deeply disturbing to me. In the end, that’s why, at 36, I’m still afraid of the dark. It’s not because of the monsters inside my head or that I find in other writers’ work; it’s the real monsters out there that I know exist. I hope they never find my doorstep, or yours. But in the meantime, you’ll still find me looking over my shoulder when I climb those stairs at night.

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