I have a shameful secret: I am totally, utterly, irreversibly afraid of the dark.
Actually, no, I’m not ashamed. I believe I have an absolute right to be afraid.
Who wouldn’t be terrified for eternity if they spent their childhood in a house that was once an old hospital? (Actually, it was originally a farmhouse, turned hospital, turned house again, but let’s not get distracted. Once an infirmary, always an infirmary. That’s Poltergeist 101.)
Yes, my loving parents saw an old hospital for sale and actually thought to themselves, “Hey, this would be a great place to raise four kids. I’m sure at least one of them will make it out alive.”*
At the time we moved in, in the late eighties, there were still hospital curtain tracks mounted on the ceilings of our converted bedrooms. There were birthing stirrups hanging in my baby brother’s nursery. Our sink in the upstairs bathroom turned on and off with a lever you moved with your knee–you know, when you’re a doctor and you can’t touch any surfaces once you’ve cleaned your hands before surgery? Obviously.
Oh, and the basement. I’ll let your imagination run rampant as to what the basement of a turn of the century hospital would hold. Or who it would hold. Yes, there was a small morgue. It was where my mother kept her preserves. Let that sink in.
We eventually moved to a brand new house when I hit junior high school, but the chill of my childhood home still followed me. My bedroom was always cold and I heard things go bump in the night. Even in my dorm room at university I had at least two ghostly encounters. Three if you count my midnight collision with a hall-mate on her way from the shower, who I mistook as the girl from The Ring. I’m sure her eardrums eventually recovered from my blood-curdling howl.
Adulthood has brought little reprieve. Lots of expecting parents have sleepless nights in anticipation of their first born, but I’m sure few lay awake with worry about overcoming a fear of the dark in order to tend to their baby down the hall. (I am a master and memorizing light switch locations as soon as I walk in a room.)
Nope. This is a habit I won’t grow out of any time soon. My only hope is that the terror stops with me, and that my scaredy-cat gene is not hereditary. Unfortunately, though, I fear it is. My oldest daughter is already showing some old, familiar signs.
In the beginning, she simply wanted a light left on. Then, I noticed she started long-jumping from the threshold of her doorway to the safety of her bed, avoiding any and all contact with the floor. (Because people like her and I know that’s where the goblins can grab your feet.) Now comes the straight-up confession that she’s too terrified to sleep alone unless someone checks under her bed. When I’m the one tucking her in, such requests send shivers straight down my spine-less body. In those moments I can’t even conjure up a, “Don’t be silly.” The best I can do is, “We’ll be safe if we stick together.”
(Luckily my husband usually comes to our rescue sometime later wondering why it’s nine o’clock and I’m still lying in our daughter’s bed with the lights on.)
I told her no more Scooby-Doo, which reminds me my mom’s attempts to ban Goosebumps, Fear Street, and The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard (Part I, II & III).
My daughter will also have to learn to live, like I have, on a healthy diet free from horror movies, horror movie previews, any mention of horror movie plots or just horror movies in general.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to send some good vibes to the spirits on the other side, who may or may not be looking over my shoulder from time to time.
Ghosts, if you’re reading this, we’re cool… right?
*That’s what we (and everyone in the community) called it: the old hospital. Our address was, no lie, Old Hospital Road.