I’ve never really been scared of things that go bump in the night. Sure, when I was little, I had the occasional paranoid conviction that something was lurking just outside my bedroom window or under my bed or in my closet. But somewhere along the way, life just ripped that fear out of me.
It’s actually the scariest things that ever happened to me that have made me primarily convinced I don’t really have anything to fear. When I was 21, living in Cambridge, England and home alone one night writing a story (by hand, just to date myself), I looked up and out the un-curtained window. I thought I perhaps saw someone out there but, since I’ve been nearsighted nearly my entire life, I’m fairly accustomed to thinking I see things I do not (or not seeing things I should). My glasses weren’t nearby at the moment which means I’d probably lost them, something I do fairly regularly. I told myself I was being silly and went back to writing my story.
I finished my story, which means that probably three to four hours passed and ten to twenty cigarettes were smoked. I looked up and still felt it was possible I saw something move in our back yard. I got up and walked toward the window, peered outside. Oh yes, there was definitely some movement going on but I couldn’t make out what it was until I pressed my nose against the glass and I saw…
A naked man standing there masturbating. Yes, in my back yard. When I was home alone. I yelled at him to go the hell away (conveniently, when I get scared, I get angry), grabbed my keys and ran out the front door to a neighbor’s, where I called the police and waited until it was light out to go home.
Then there was the time in high school (for no discernable reason, I’m telling this tales in reverse chronological order) when I was up in Lake Tahoe with two friends. We accidentally locked our keys to the house and car in the house. But across the street there seemed to be a lot of festivities going on. So we knocked on the door and asked to use their phone to call a locksmith (to those of us who wonder how we ever coped with anything before the invention of cell phones, this is one of those experiences that should make you grateful). Yet at that moment, they seemed like a lovely group of people — eclectic, to be sure, but friendly and happy to offer their pasta.
But it turns out they were happy to offer more.
Once we’d been there for about an hour (finding a locksmith on a Saturday night in Tahoe wasn’t as easy as you might think), the group suddenly made a circle around us, grabbed hands and started chanting. In tongue. I thought it was the end of my life, or at least the end of a life that was going to make any sense. But we ran out of there, called the police and begged them to knock down our front door, which they did. We drove back to Marin County clutching each other and screaming when we played Paul Simon’s “Graceland” (which had some chanting on it) tape.
My point is this: scary things happen in life, always when I’m least expecting them. And somehow my psyche seems to understand that spending time being scared of things that probably won’t happen is silly. I’m lucky enough to not have nightmares (of course, now that I wrote that, I’ll probably start having them). And I have a streak in me that seeks out the scary things — invades the personal space of the crazy person yelling on the street just to see what he’ll do, walks through the bad areas, spends six months helping the formerly homeless and incarcerated inpatients at a free rehab in downtown L.A. put on The Wiz (a production none of my friends would come to because they were too frightened by the neighborhood).
Things that go bump in the night? I say, bring them on.
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