The Brightest Light

Night was always when I could be myself the most. When everyone settled down into their rooms with a book, I was left alone with no bible reading, eating of vegetables or dusting the living room blinds.

The television was never on, with the exception of Tuesdays. Strangely, I was afraid of the dark, even though I wanted it to be nighttime, even though it was my favorite time of day, despite the darkness.

My closet’s overhead light was the brightest light in the house, just a naked lightbulb in the ceiling, with a pull chain dangling three feet inside the doorway. To turn it on to check for monsters, I had to step in – before checking for monsters, I had to pull the ribbon attached to the chain.

Upon “cleaning” my room, which was always a last priority but required before bed, my mother would check under the bed to be sure I hadn’t stashed my belongings underneath. She checked the closet, to be sure there wasn’t a pile of “stuff” under my hanging clothes.

It was frequent that I didn’t learn my lesson, over and over again…that stash under the bed was swept out into the middle of the floor and I was instructed to step into the darkness of my closet to turn on the light and put everything away.

Now, I still see my father next to me in the doorway, backing up my neat freak mother, saying patiently over and over again “Just step in and pull the string…you can do it, just do it, there’s nothing there”….

I would stand there arms closed in, convinced he was wrong, fists tight held under my chin, shaking my head “no, I can’t.”

We would go on and on like this, every day that I didn’t put away my things. I wanted to sit in bed with my reading light and books from the Friday library visit. I wanted to soak in the tub. I wanted to listen to my stereo with the big fat headphones and think about the boy on the bus.

But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do the right thing – I couldn’t connect the dots to putting away my things, to the waste of time in standing at the edge of the doorway to the closet, afraid of the dark and the nothingness that sat in there. After minutes that felt like hours, I would hold my breath, scream, jump in and pull the light on.

Dad would smile and say “See?”.

And then I would spend the next half hour before bed, cleaning up my things.

The dread and fear got to a point where I stopped bringing out my things, so that there was nothing to put away.

Many times though, I would cave in. I had wanted that arts and crafts project, I had wanted to play with my dolls and try on all the dress ups and parade in front of the full length mirror on the back of my door. Still, I couldn’t put it all away, so that in the evening, I found myself standing at the edge of the dark doorway, willing myself to reach in and pull that ribbon.

It had to have been years before I could do it on my own, before I could flood my closet with the brightest light in the house without thinking of what might reach out and grab me, that thing that never did.

How did I do it, you ask?

Well, if you sing at the top of your lungs and walk heavily in your boots, it scares them all away, and then you can just reach in and turn on the light.

Memory Layne