I’m not afraid of the dark. It’s more than that.
Today, my coworker shared about how much he loves a quiet, dark house when he gets home from work. In the time before his wife gets home, he keeps the lights low and enjoys the quiet solitude.
“You’re just like my husband,” I said, and then told him how my other half will spend the evening in our bedroom, every light off except for the glow from his phone where he watches movies until bed. “I’m the opposite,” I continued, telling him how I hate the cave-like darkness of our room, and prefer every light to be on.
“You must be afraid of the dark,” he laughed, and I suddenly wasn’t sure what to say.
Because I’m not afraid of the dark. But there are real reasons why the dark doesn’t feel good. Reasons I can’t just bring up in normal conversations.
What is the dark?
It’s me, 20 years ago, in a room with curtains drawn shut. I am lying on a flowered couch, staring at that small sliver of light that is trying to peek through the window, but I’m not really seeing it. The hardwood floor is covered with toys, clothes, and my children playing nearby. An extension cord runs through the center of the room, providing power for the TV so the kids are occupied. There is no other light. There is no source of power, except for this stolen electricity that will only last as long as we’re not found out. My children play around me, like I am part of the furniture, like I don’t even exist. They are too young for their mom to be this gone. But my mind is not there. It’s on the garden I planted outside in the dead of winter, the bulbs I buried in the frozen ground, and the baby those bulbs represent that came out of my body in the hospital and now lives in the frozen ground of the cemetery.
The dark became the secrets I hid from the outside world. The smile that never fully reached my eyes. The moments of chaos before everyone arrived for a birthday party, or the sleepless nights full of false accusations. It’s the fingerprints on my neck, the craziness I felt, the hopelessness that surrounded me that didn’t have a name.
The dark was my loneliness. It consumed me, stole my energy, made me wish I could fall asleep and never wake up. The way it pressed on my chest, it was physically hard to breathe.
The dark is all I saw through a winter that lasted for years until I finally left in the spring. And then, there was light. Lamps in every room. The light in a refrigerator full of food. The light in my parents’ faces. The light from the sun. The light from a sky full of stars and the moon cresting over the hills.
As much as the dark represented something cold and hopeless, the light represented joy and safety. In the months after my dark depression and brokenness through my divorce, I kept on every single light, even when I left the room. It was a joy to walk back in and see light. And even now, I still feel joy when I sit in a room that’s bathed in light.
So, no, I’m not afraid of the dark, at least not in the way most people are. I’m not worried about things hiding in the shadows. What I’m scared of is that dark cloud lying dormant inside me, just waiting for there to be enough dark so it can consume me, sending me back to the couch unable to see the light.
Never mind that I’m safe now. Never mind that I’m loved. Never mind that I survived.
The dark is where my sadness thrives.
So that’s why I leave on the lights.
Post note: My love to all of you who suffer in the darkness of winter. I hope there is enough light to carry you through to spring.