The monsters in the dark
When I was a kid, I shared a bedroom with my two older brothers. I was, am, several years younger than they are, so I had an earlier bedtime. I guess, like most boys, we weren’t the neatest of kids. Our dirty laundry piled up on the floor of our closet, where it would overflow (read teem) fairly quickly, usually making it impossible for us to close the door, forcing it to remain ajar.
I didn’t like the dark much as a kid, and my mom would leave our bedroom door open a crack and the hallway light on, to act as my night-light. It did a very nice job of lighting the room just enough so I could see the closet, the open closet door, and the monsters waiting within its dark confines for me.
As I got older and my roommates moved out I was no longer scared of the dark or the occupants of my closet, but my overactive imagination was ever present. I can still get my heart racing or imagine things watching me in the dark. The difference now is that I kinda like it. I enjoy being out, in the dark, at night. There’s something mysterious, magical, and, well, spooky, about it.
So it comes as no surprise that my youngest daughter has begun seeing monsters in the shadows and hiding places of her room at night. She, without question, has the bigger of the two imaginations between my daughters, and always has. Her older sibling has never been bothered much by the dark or monsters lurking under her bed. As a matter of fact, she would prefer no night-lights and the door closed — keeping the hallway light from spilling into their room — so she could more fully enjoy their glow-in-the-dark constellations on their ceiling.
However, her little sister insists on the door being open. And even that added light and comfort do not always chase away her fears of monsters. Often enough, she’ll persuade her older sister to climb into bed with her, and we’ll find the two of them cuddling in the morning.
Many nights, more often than not, I am beckoned to her bedside to reassure her. I say, “I am just down the hall. You have nothing to fear. I am here and will protect you. I always will. There are no monsters lurking in the dark.” I say these things. Even though a very big piece of me cringes, I promise her she is safe and that there are no such thing as monsters, but even as I say it, I feel the bitterness of the lie on my tongue.
It is a lie not because I won’t do everything I can to protect her, but because there are monsters in our world. Real ones. Ones that make those of faerie tales, make believe, and my imagination seem almost Disney-esque in their villainy. They are the monsters that steal our children as they walk home from school or to the park, that intercept college students on their way back to their dorm rooms or shoot 14-year-old girls in the head for blogging about their right to attend school.
Maybe it’s a small lie in the scheme of things. An Easter Bunny or Santa Claus fib to quell my daughter’s fears in the middle of the night. But it is a lie none the less. One that never sits well in my heart.
What concerns me more than the lie is my own inability in keeping the promise I make. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my girls. No one I wouldn’t protect them from. No, that’s not what I fear. It is that I cannot be with her, them, every minute of every day. That is my fear. I fear the shadows for when they are alone, and I won’t be able to keep my promise.
I am sure that many fathers have made similar promises to their children only to lose them to these monsters in our world. The thought has made me mistrust the night once more. Made me sleep less soundly and not trust the darkness. Maybe this is just a part of parenting, but I don’t like lying to my daughter, and I can’t abide the feeling that the monsters now have an upper hand.
It has become a scary world to me once more now that I have my own children. However, in the last week I found solace in realizing we’re not defenseless to the monsters in our world. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by Taliban, reminded me that the courage and strength of one child is more powerful than all the hate and evil in this world.
So as my daughter crawls into my bed or calls me into her room to defend her from the monsters lurking in the shadows, I’ll remind her from now on that the monsters fear her more than me. That her strength and goodness are her light, her shield, her weapon against any monsters in this world.
And I’ll remind myself that they are mine, too.
Mark Freeman is a resident of Hyde Park.