fears at night

Maybe you’re asleep, or maybe you’re awake, but your eyes are open in flat darkness and every tuning peg on every nerve in your body has ratcheted your fibers to a high, out of tune E sharp, a ringing you can hear even though you’re lying in bed as still as you can. There was a noise downstairs. It plausibly could have been the wind, or a squirrel outside, or a distant car, but in the basement of your mind, you know it was a person. You can visualize him perfectly and incompletely; he is tall and menacing, sneering as he steals your paintings, your radio, though you cannot see what he is wearing. There are no more sounds from below….

… until a floorboard creaks, and a wave of electric liquid goes coursing down your arms and legs like a burning x-ray and your heart pounds staccato beats on a kodo drum, your ears teasing apart the woolly silence for any clue, any sound of this gray man, even the buzzing streetlight too loud for you to hear what must be two of them, now, floating through your house and touching the stretched and horrified shadows of your bannisters, your bicycle, your every doorknob.

Your arms and legs tingle and a pedestrian wind brushes your walls, jazz-lightly and uncaring. Always unblinking. Until your neck defects and your head touches the feathers despite your eyes’ best efforts. Your breath slows and warms, and quietly for years you drop, asleep, into daylight and the radio and shampoo, your house inviolate and the noises of the night merely a shudder and dopplered recollection of the arctic heat in your fingers and thighs.

This experience, this knowing that there’s some horrible danger near you and the hyperawareness of every stimuli as a possible clue… this is what I went through driving a fully loaded moving truck from Boston to Philadelphia, 11 months ago. I still felt that way for part of the drive from Philadelphia to New Hampshire, which I did this weekend, but for far less of it. The intruders were, indeed, gray men named Physics, and the creaks and noises were Newton’s first law of motion, that one dealing with inertia, and angular momentum, and rough mind-hewn calculations about where the center of gravity of a jam-packed 15 foot moving truck was when the truck was rounding an exit ramp. Any motion of the truck from side to side was enough to send those electric shocks down my arms, and it took miles to calm myself after each one. It felt like a hours-long mugging. My mind continually told me that the truck was overbalancing, drifting in its lane, or losing steering fluid.

Except it all turned out just fine. We arrived in New Hampshire, I was calm when we arrived, we unloaded the truck in record time, and aside from sore everything and assorted bruising, I’m perfectly well. Nothing broke or shifted, thanks to Kate’s father’s wizardry and astounding dedication, and our many hands (Dan and Evelina and Chris and Michelle and Giacomo in Philadelphia, Luke and Lindy and John and Mike in New Hampshire) indeed made light work. We are so, so lucky.

After dropping the truck off in Concord today, I didn’t even feel like I needed to kick it or give it the finger, as I did with the truck I moved down to Philadelphia in. So even night terrors can sometimes give way to placid mornings.