Things have been . . . complicated. At the end of pollinating, I was told about a reorg that was happening with my company. I was offered a new job, kinda like my boss's role, but working with soybeans, cotton, and wheat instead of corn. My current job was changing too. This weighed pretty heavy in my mind, but I didn't feel comfortable writing about it here, because the reorg was company-wide. That and there has been a lot of discussion about whether we move to St. Louis or not. We are definitely not moving this year, but there is a decent chance we may need to move next year. Then that was completely overshadowed by stuff with one of my kids that I was pretty sure she didn't want me to write about. After that harvest hit with all of the long hours and travel, but this time I was visiting cotton and soybean fields.
On this American Life, they had a Halloween special. Kind of. I know that Ira Glass's voice is like pretentious fingernails on a hipster chalkboard for some people, but I am addicted.
And the Call Was Coming from the Basement | This American Life
They focused on true spooky stories. The first was seemed like a Hollywood ghost story, that actually came from a medical journal article. The family seemed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, but actually were being poisoned with carbon monoxide gas from their furnace. OK, so maybe not scary, except an invisible, odorless gas can make you live the plot of The Shining. Oh, that is why they went nuts locked up in that hotel! Carbon monoxide is so, so scary. Add that to my list of chemicals to fear.
So I have one of my own to add to this list. Maybe our furnace leaked carbon monoxide. Maybe it didn't.
Let's start at a sleepover at my friend Shad's house. We stayed up late playing with his Transformers and K'nex. We made a fort out of blankets and told scary stories. Afterwards Shad shared his very logical process to overcome being afraid of things in the dark.
- Tell yourself it is probably something normal, like a chair with clothes on it.
- Try to remember what was there when the lights were on.
- Get out of bed. Now this was the genius, yet terrifying step to stop being afraid of things in the dark.
- Walk toward the thing that in your brain you are sure is a ghost, goblin, ghoul, tiger, giant, or zombie. In a horror movie, this is a very bad idea. In reality, I conceded, most scary things are not real and it is probably something commonplace. OK. Deep breaths. In, Out. One step after another.
- Reach out your hand. Logic says what you are going to touch is something normal. Logic says that. Keep telling yourself that. Really. It is going to be a bathrobe. Or the cat. Maybe it is your brother sleepwalking. Actually that is terrifying.
We even practiced this. We picked out objects in the room that in the dark could be mistaken for something crouching in a corner and practiced stepping out the halo of the flashlight, reaching out and double checking that it was still a chair with a pile of teddy bears.
A few nights later, I woke up and had to go. Like really had to go. So, after lying in bed debating whether I really needed to get up or if I could fall back asleep. I could not. We had these orange nightlights that gave some light in the room and down the hall, but really they did not help. Everything came out with an ethereal, sickly-orange graininess.
I climbed off my bunk bed, and went in the hall towards the bathroom. The light was on, but the door was mostly shut. There was light framing the door and streaming out a few feet in front of it. I glanced the other direction towards the dark living room and saw something standing in the middle of the hall.
I froze. I needed to move, but I couldn't. It didn't move either. I remembered Shad's steps to break the fear and the logical part of my brain convinced me this was the perfect chance to test this out.
- I told myself it was probably the vacuum cleaner left out in the hall. That totally happens all the time. Then someone draped clothes on it to make it look like a bald goblin like person standing in my hallway.
- I tried to remember if I had put the vacuum cleaner away when I had done my chores. I probably hadn't. I didn't remember doing that. Yeah, that is totally the vacuum cleaner, I thought.
- Deciding that it was the vacuum cleaner and not something that looked like a tall Yoda. I moved forward. Maybe it was my sleepwalking brother. Except he was taller than me and this was shorter. If Marc slept walk, Jon probably did too. That is totally reasonable. One step. Then another. The light from the bathroom was almost totally gone. It is dark. Getting closer.
- I reached out my hand. It totally still looked to me like some sort of goblin standing in front of me. I envisioned touching it and feeling a towel on top of the vacuum cleaner. I thought, at worst I will feel my brother's hair.
- I touched it. It wasn't a towel on the vacuum cleaner. It felt like a bald head. I am not kidding.
I ran faster than I have ever ran. I could have won the Olympics flying down the hall, into my room, and up to my bed. Under the covers, lay still. Breathe. Eyes closed. Breathe quietly. Maybe it won't come get me, I thought.
It didn't. I lay there for a long time, bathroom forgotten.
In the morning, the vacuum cleaner was not in the hall. I discretely asked my brothers if they had gotten up in the night and stood almost perfectly still at the end of the hall. They looked at me strangely. I made sure to always go before going to bed after that.