Scared of the dark

I don’t know of a kid who wasn’t scared of the dark.  As far as you know, there are lots of things in the dark.  Lots of things that you have know idea about.  Lots of things that will scare you and keep you up at night.

In my adulthood I have heard stories of people coming home late at night – very late (usually after a long night of drinking) – crashing on their couch and waking up at two or three in the morning to find a “shadow” sitting in the chair or coach next to them.

When I was in college I went home to visit my best friend from high school and he told me about how, one night, he had gotten home particularly late after being out at the bars, and fell asleep quickly on his bed.  As most drunks do, he woke up in the dead hours of the night and had to pee.  As he stumbled out of his bedroom to go down the hallway he stopped cold.  There was a “shadow” blocking his way to the bathroom.  He said that he waited and waited for quite a while to see if the shadow would leave, but it never did.

He eventually ended up peeing his pants and he swore that he hadn’t had a drink since.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a little boy I didn’t have many late nights out, drinking and carousing.  My bedtime was 8:00pm (8:30 in the summers), and I still saw “shadows.”

It still creeps me out if I let it.

I’m sure it was like any other night in our house.  I went outside to play after dinner, came in and took a bath.  My parents read me a night time story and, before I hoped into bed, we most likely prayed the most ubiquitous children’s prayer of all time:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

And if I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

When you think of it, it’s kind of a morbid, scary little verse, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t been known to send children into a state of fear and anguish.

But, actually, why would it?  Kids know nothing about death.  They know nothing about grave, mortal fear.  At the most they have squashed a bug (or forty), or pulled the wings off a fly or the legs off of a spider.  Usually, kids in my situation (white, Christian, suburban, middle class) don’t think about death, and if they do, well, it’s because they’ve been told about Jesus.  And Jesus is alive damn it.  Still, even though Jesus is alive, if he came into my room, late at night and unannounced, I’d probably wet my bed.

So after a while of my sweet little slumber I awoke to find that, like my high school friend, I, too, had to pee.  I hopped up and went.

Now there was a fairly strict rule in our house that once you’re in bed – you’re in bed.  And by strict rule I mean that when I or my siblings ever would get out of bed we would get “the look” and our parents would yell that “we’d better hurry our little butts up and not come out again.”  I hurried my little butt up and rushed back to my room. As I crawled into my bed, which was right next to a window, I spotted it.

There was a shadow in that window, and it was shaped like Batman.  The entire bottom half of the window was covered with this shadow – it was a bust of Batman.  The ears were a dead give away.

This is perfect, I thought.  Batman is standing right outside my window.  He had jumped off the pages of the comics and into my reality.  I may have had Jesus in my heart, but I had Batman right out side my window.  And it hit me – I have Batman outside my window.

I took a few deep breaths.  I was nervous.  I was about to meet my very own personal superhero.  I slid out of bed, slowly placed my hand on the curtain, and ripped it back.

Nothing. There was absolutely no one or no thing right outside of my window.

I was baffled.  I had seen the shadow.  Something had to be there.  I closed the curtains.  There it was.  I opened them.  Nothing.  What was going on?

The great thing about a child’s brain is that the child will search and search and search for the right answer.  Despite what the researchers are telling us about television, kids really are inventive.  If it can’t be A then it has to be B.

Take my oldest son, Ian, for instance.  Every day I come home from work to hear another way that he has managed to categorize the world.  Most of the time it has to do with patterns and similarities.

When his youngest brother, Julian, was born he declared to the family that Julian “had more of me in him than anyone else.”  When he saw us looking at him confused as hell, he informed us that “My name, Ian, is in Julian’s named, and since he was born in Indiana that adds another layer to it.  Because “Ian” is in Indiana, too.”  This dizzying intellect is what I live with.

This is the same kind of fierce logic that kicked in as I sat down on my bed, trying to figure out the origins of my Batman shadow.  I kept looking at it, and after a while it occurred to me that it looked like the bat symbol that Commissioner Gordon would shine into the night sky to call Batman.  Maybe Batman wasn’t outside my window, but (almost as cool) maybe Gotham City was really the Greater Tulsa Metropolitan area.

I scrambled back to the window and opened it.  No dice.  There was a house right next door and there really was no angle by which the bat symbol could have reached my window from Police Headquarters.  Even though a light was on in the house, I couldn’t see anything obstructing the light that would produce the kind of shadow that I was looking at.  I was back to square one.  What could the shadow be?

I hadn’t been staring at it for that long when a creepy feeling came over me, and I began to picture a similar scene in my mind’s eye.

Not that long ago there was a special event at our church where a man came and talked about the evils of rock-n-roll music.  He played some music and then played it backwards to show us the evil messages that are hidden in the music.  He played Queen, and we learned that “Another one bites the dust” backwards is “I love to smoke marijuana.”  I didn’t know what marijuana was a the time, but I gathered enough to know that it was bad.

He also showed us some of the art from these albums.  The one that struck me as the most eerie was the Eagles “Hotel California.”  He went through a line-by-line dissection of the song, telling us it was a tribute to Anton LeVay and the Church of Satan.  He buttressed his point by showing us the inside of the album in which a figure which could be LeVay, but looked more like the Devil to me, was barely seen in a balcony window overlooking the foyer of the “Hotel California.”

It was so creepy, this puppet master – barely there – convincing and condoning the unaware partiers to continue in their drunken revelry.

And now this puppet master was in my room. The Devil was in my room.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was petrified.  I just stared at it.

Finally, I called out to my dad.

“Landon, what is it?”

“The Devil is in my window.”

“The Devil’s not in your window.”

“He is too.  Look.”

Of course, he couldn’t see anything.  I started to feel like the kid in The Polar Express.  But because parents, for the most part, love their children and want them to be peaceful and unafraid, I was able to convince my father to go outside and investigate further whether or not there was something that could be making the shadow.

He went as close to the neighbor’s house as he could without seeming like a freak, and looked as close to the window as he dared.  He attempted to step between the light and the window to see if that would make a difference.  It didn’t.  Every time I closed the curtain, the Devil was there.

For what had to have been at least a half an hour this went on. And, finally, my dad came back in.  He had exhausted all possibilities.  Except one.

“I think we just need to pray, son, and bind the Devil in Jesus’ name.  The Bible says that at the name of Jesus the Devil will flee.”

My dad knelt down beside my bed and I rolled to face him – away from the window.  And we prayed.  My dad bound the Devil in the name of Jesus, and told the Devil that he had no business being here – that we were children of God.  He told the Devil to go away and to never come back.  He told the Devil to leave his little boy alone.

When he was done he kissed my forehead.

“Do you want to look and see?”

I shook my head.  What good was trusting God’s promises if you were always going to look over your shoulder to see if they worked.

“All right then.  Good night.”  And he left.

I would be lying to say that I wasn’t scared.  I was.  I was very scared.  The only thing that got me to sleep that night was to repeat my bedtime prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

And if I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I never saw the Devil (or Batman) in my window again.

One thought on “Scared of the dark”

  1. My mom decided early on that the second two lines of that prayer had no business being said by a little kid like me. So, just as my mom did with anything that didn’t suit her, she fixed it. This is what I prayed every night:
    Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
    Thy love guide me through the night,
    And wake me with the morning light.

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