I put The Boy to bed last night, and five minutes into my bath, there was a rapping at the door. “Moooooooooom?”
I asked what he needed, and he snuffled that he had a stomach ache because he was afraid. So, I drew the curtain shut and told him he could come in. He sat on the floor and put his toes up under the shower curtain so I could touch him. I asked him what he was afraid of, and he said he wasn’t sure. He thought maybe it was just the dark.
“I’m afraid of a lot of stuff,” I told him. “It’s okay to be afraid of things. You just can’t let the being afraid of things keep you from doing what you have to do.”
“What are you afraid of?”
I told him to guess–mainly because I was shaving my leg, and I am afraid of cutting off my kneecap. If I cut off my kneecap, the bathtub sharks might come for me.
“Maybe walking alone in the dark?”
“Good guess! I am afraid of that. Oooh, and of being by myself in the house at night. You know when you and Daddy went to New Mexico, and I was here alone?”
“I was afraid. The first night, I was so afraid, I didn’t sleep at all until the sun came up. Isn’t that crazy?”
With great seriousness, he replied, “No. That isn’t crazy at all. What did you do?”
“I read a book. I played on Facebook. I talked to my friend in England, who was awake because it was actually daytime there.”
“And then you went to sleep?”
“And then I went to sleep.”
“And the next night?”
“The next night, I told myself I was being silly. There was nothing in the dark to hurt me, and if something happened, I had the phone for the police, and I had Hoo for his teeth, and I’m pretty mean in a fight. I think. I’ve never actually been in a fight, but I think I’d be pretty mean.”
That got a laugh.
“So you went to sleep?”
“I did. Well, I went to bed and turned off the light, and I listened to all the house noises and worried, but eventually, I fell asleep.”
“Did you stop being afraid?”
“I stopped noticing it so much. Listen, fear is there for a reason. Fear tells you to be careful. Fear is part of your self-preservation instinct. There is nothing, nothing, nothing wrong with being afraid. But fear is like a little kid pulling on your arm. If you’re going to get anywhere, you have to pick it up, contain it, and make it behave. You can’t let it run away with your mind. And now I have to get out of the bathtub, so you need to go back to bed.”
“Can I go get in yours?”
“What should you be more afraid of? What’s in the dark, or me?”
That got another laugh.
He went to bed.
I am still afraid of the dark. I’m forty-four years old, and I am afraid of the dark. But that’s okay. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.