This post was originally written to submit to The Sun magazine, for their Readers Write section, here. The next one I’ve already written has been “selected for possible publication,” so hopefully, you’ll have to read it there.
When I was a little girl and afraid to go to sleep, I remember my Dad walking with me, my hand in his big, callused hand, in the alley behind our house, to show me that there was nothing to be afraid of. Aluminum trash cans lined the gravel next to the garages. A streetlight glowed yellow and hazy. There was nothing else back there—no bogeyman. My father showed me what I needed to do was to face that fear of the dark. Confront it.
For thirty years, from the time I was a young teenager, through my dateless high school years and desperate college years, the doomed marriage and dating afterwards, law school, having a child on my own, losing my job, and getting cancer and surviving it, all I could think of in the dark was being with someone else. The last thing I thought of before I fell asleep was whatever relationship I was currently in, or what guy I was currently crushing on. When I was awake, I tried unsuccessfully to keep these thoughts out of my head, but in the dark I let my imagination fly. I’d close my eyes and relive delicious memories of what had happened that day, or imagine what it would be like to actually be with him.
Then a relationship I had believed would work ended. It had seemed promising enough that he proposed and I accepted. But then, just as we were about to combine our households and join our lives, and I thought I’d never be alone in the dark again, it fell apart.
In response, I distracted myself. I started looking for a dog. I ignored the facts that my daughter and I were away from home all day and we didn’t have a fenced-in backyard. We found a dog, a geriatric coonhound with a limp and heartworms, who had been saved from a shelter by a rescue group but otherwise wouldn’t likely have a home.
Since that time as a child, walking in the alley with my Dad, I didn’t often go outside at night voluntarily, except to and from the car. I managed that bit without anxiety, but I always felt relief when I went into the house, turned on the light, and closed and locked the door behind me. When we adopted the dog, I didn’t really think about how I would have to walk outside with him. Alone. At night. In the dark.
I always had my phone in my pocket or my hand and wore a visor with a headlamp. I loved looking at the stars and noticing the different qualities of the night, during the turn of the seasons. I watched the phases of the moon and looked forward to the times I could see Orion, my favorite constellation. Once, at about 5:30 in the morning, I walked down the driveway, looked up at the sky, and saw my first shooting star.
After our dark morning walks, I wrote. I started a novel and a memoir and wrote every day. I didn’t date—for once, it seemed like I was able to keep my head free from thoughts of a crush or someone I might have a relationship with. My thoughts were taken up by writing. Instead of dreaming about happily ever after, I would puzzle over what I wanted to write about—all the time I wasn’t otherwise engaged by my daughter or with work or chores or reading.
We only had the dog for a year, and then common sense about my dog allergies that weren’t going away and my need for continuous sleep prevailed. I realized later what I learned during that year of walking outside at night and early in the morning, and then coming inside and writing.
I didn’t need to hold anyone’s hand in the dark anymore.