Monday, April 26, 2010

On Darkness

"The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky--seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."   Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

This glowing orb is Toby's moon light. We bought it for him on impulse on a trip to IKEA over three years ago, so he'd have a light by which to read.

 And we've been unsure whether we regret it ever since.

Because he can't sleep without it on.

All night.

Every night.

Our little boy who is so full of joy and smiles and laughter and light is afraid of the dark.

Petrified, actually. To the point where, if someone inadvertently turns a switch while he's in the room, he crumples in terror, arms instinctively clutching his sides, bent double in fear. "Not dark!" he cries. "Don't make it dark!"

Or when I ask him to put something away in his room, and the light is off, he stands hesitantly in the doorway, as if trying to draw upon courage that he simply does not have on reserve. "I can't go in there. Not in dark."

I've tried using logic: "Darkness isn't a thing, Toby. Everything is the same in the dark as it is in the light." I've circled his room, pausing at various points of interest, showing him that his dresser is still just a dresser when the lights turn off. That his box of cars is still just a box of cars.

But he knows this. "I'm not afraid of the dark," he tells me. "I'm afraid in the dark."

Which, when he puts it that way...of course. His point of view, as usual, slays me. It cuts straight to the heart of things, slicing cleanly through all the layers of assumption and societal expectation I've encased...well, during the past 33 years, and I wonder how it is that children have this ability, and when--oh when?!--do we lose it?

Because I want to cork that age, and then seal it up tightly as a drum and store it somewhere safe where it can ferment forever.

But this is an important distinction. In the dark, our senses are compromised, aren't they? In the dark, we're volnerable, our intellect no longer giving us the edge we're accustomed to when it comes to fighting monsters and wolves and cheetahs and all the other things Toby is certain will creep through his window at night.

In the dark, there is absence.

Are we afraid of absense? Does it exemplify the very moment our human bravado turns trailor, deserting us? Are we so accustomed to functioning in muchness that such a void frightens us? Even the youngest among us?

I don't know. I do know that to Toby, the demarcation between real and unreal is still a fuzzy line viewed at great distance, even in broad daylight. He asks me for clarification all the time: Dragons? Real or unreal? Werewolves? Witches? Unicorns? Panthers? Hercules? God?



Depending on who you ask.

I can tell my answers are taken with a grain of salt. He nods a bit suspiciously, as though thinking, But what does she know of fear? She doesn't need a moon light. She wants to take away mine. 

And of course, what I can't tell him is that I do need one, and that I won't take his away, not when he clings to it so desperately. I don't tell him that while I do turn off the lights--and even revel in the darkness against the back of my eyelids most nights--I fill the emptiness as quickly as I can. Because that nothingness that is nighttime--that act of being in that cavity of obscurity that encloses so securely, under those clouds that hang so low--is no good for me, either. It wraps around my mind in knots and snags my thoughts.

So I fill my head with self-made moon lights...with pleasing patterns of words, and people, and prayers. I reach for the hand of my partner. I dream.

And when I finally fall asleep, I've found somewhere brighter to be.

All I want--all parents everywhere always want--is same for him, only better.
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