11 April 2016
There is no feeling more terrifying than quiet. In the absence of sound, my ears compensate with a peculiar ringing noise, as though I’ve just come home from a rock concert.
The room goes on for miles, light-years, as I click the lock, trapping myself in emptiness. Cemented at the threshold, I brace against the handle releasing a deep breath I’d been holding onto from the outside. I dawdle, inspecting the texture of the door paint with the pads of my fingers, waiting for my lungs to fill again.
I finally attempt a courageous gulp, swiftly interrupted by my own saliva catching in my swollen throat. I gasp, pleading with myself not to cough, desperate to maintain composure, and find myself trembling when the fit subsides. I stretch my arm out to the adjacent wall- its closer than I expected- and I lean myself against it, using the last bit of light left in my eyes from outside to slide my roommate’s empty shampoo bottle into the corner with the toe of my sneaker.
The tile is chilling beneath me as I deaden, still panting, into fetal position. The darkness grows with my descent. The cool creeps up my jeans like a current around either side of my legs slowly until it meets at the top of my knees- an unwelcomingly frigid sheath. I press my back into the wall, enough to cause pain, imagining it would mallow out and cradle me like a pillow.
The thought turns sour without a moments delay as I imagine falling through a hole in the wall to my death. I envision my legs flailing, arms at full wingspan, and I dig my nails into my palms, arching my back away inconsequentially, before my mind sees the landing. I try to reimagine it like Alice in Wonderland.
I begin to survey my surroundings in a way I’ve never examined them before, even on cleaning day. I know if I release one hand from the iron grasp of the other and reach down, I’ll touch the grout. It’ll be gritty and I’ll enjoy the texture. But a small part of me worries I’ll reach down to find I can’t feel the floor beside me because it’s gone.
I am isolated in my spot. I am terrified of looking up. I don’t even look up at ceilings when the lights are on. Now that they’re off, though, the feeling that someone is hovering, watching, and waiting becomes certain. And if I look up, he’ll know I know he’s there.
To prove to myself nothing has vanished from below, I scoot an inch to my left. Then another. Then another. I keep my back to the wall, and remember watching my first scary movie with my childhood best friend. Her mom watched with us, and offered me a pillow before it started to “cover my scary spot.” Apparently, everyone has a scary spot. For a lot of people, it’s the stomach, others it’s their hair. It’s the part of you, for no scientific reasons I’m aware of, that you feel most inclined to protect when you’re scared. Mine is my back, and I wish I’d brought a pillow with me to protect it now.
As I continue to slowly inch along the wall, I begin to develop truly absurd quantifications of the room. Anything to keep my mind busy. I find that the door is about three huddled-Sarah’s away from the shower. I wince at the thought of pulling back the curtain, and shuffle myself back, half a huddled-Sarah, into eye line with our ‘porcelain throne.’ Bad thought. My brain runs with that, erecting anonymous threatening figures sitting there before me- I squint my already sealed eyes and rock my head side to side as if to dump the thought out of my ears like pool water.
I know I’ve been in here a while now, and I begin to wonder why I am still so afraid. Nothing happened yet. I’m still okay- my fingers do a little dance all along my body to make sure I’m still all there, kind of like the dance I do before getting in the shower to make sure I took all my jewelry and socks off. I’m all here, though.
In an act of bravery, I begin to chant encouragement to stick my legs out in front of me. It sounds something like the little engine that could. And right when I tricked myself into thinking I was going to do it, the twinkling of my phone alarm from out on the counter begins to ring. I must not have taken a deep breath the whole time, because I felt a sharp pain in my chest when I inhaled, saved by the bell!
As quickly as the wave of relief rolled in did it wash right away again, leaving concern in its place. Do I open the door first, or turn on the light? How many seconds do I have to get from here to my bed before whatever was waiting by the ceiling and behind the shower curtain emerges?
Do I turn on the light and face them? Or lock them into the darkness again, just like any other time? On my knees, I reach my hand up toward the empty space between myself and the wall that holds both the switch and the door.
It hovers there, as I make my decision.“Do something that scares you.”
I adjust my shoulder and puff my chest. I’m aiming for the switch when the air conditioner heaves on, swirling down from the vent above, draping my hand in silky creeping air. Spiders run down my back as I throw the door open, snatch my still ringing phone, and swan dive for the bed.
I am inexplicably, absurdly terrified of the dark.