I know I shouldn’t have been terrified of the dark as a child. I lived in an exceedingly safe and cloistered community. My parents were loving and topnotch caregivers. There were no catalyzing experiences of terror, no intruders, or spooking events witnessed. But until well into my tenth year, I was absolutely petrified of the dark.
I would sleep with the lights on, or at a minimum a night light until I was seven. Then, I would sleep with the hall light on and the door ajar for the next several years. I would take a flash light with me to the bathroom after hours, and seldom venture outside past sundown. I never could make it through a whole episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, and never once finished a Goosebumps book. Would I tell any of my friends at the time? Hells no.
But looking back, it seems all so very logical. The unknown and unflinching fathom in front is oblivion staring down the young mind. It is the callow realization of limitations on apperception, the stripping back of the expanding world of youth; and the germ that grows with age to the gradual realization that life can cease. Philip Larkin wrote:
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
As a child, it was the dark of night that was this first intimation of that flash of dread, the first confrontation with nothingness. Archibald MacLeish described this terror as being held stricken by the “…starless dark the poise, the hover,/ There with vast wings across the canceled skies,/ There in the sudden blackness that black pall/ Of nothing, nothing, nothing – nothing at all.”
Or maybe The Never Ending Story left a much greater impact on my nascent psyche than I am willing to admit.