- Listed: March 8, 2011 11:25 am
By Kat Tepelyan
“Please turn on the kitchen light”, said Sofia as I tucked her in, rosy-cheeked and 3. I was babysitting her and her toddler brother, happily asleep at this point, while their parents – good friends of mine – attempted to go out like “people without children do.”
“Of course.” I kissed her, walked out leaving the door slightly ajar and turned on the kitchen light. She nodded, and I happily bee-lined for the bathroom. Between story time, the doggy game and bedtime cajolement I hadn’t had a moment to myself, and I really really had to go. So I booked down the hall of this large pre-war New York City apartment, settled in on the toilet, and it was then that I heard the unsettling creaking of a slowly opening door.
The small part of me that had once been a child instantly thought, “A ghost!”. It was so instant I was shocked, and I quickly waved the thought away as I flushed and headed for the bedroom. But my throat was hot; the fear sneakily remained, curled up like a cobra, waiting to strike from within and send more endorphins up my chest. I approached the room. The door was wide open. I peered in; nothing seemed awry. The kids were in their beds, the window closed, so I tugged the door to a near close and walked carefully back to the lounge trying not to think about this big dimly lit apartment, the likes of which I never wanted to be in alone as a kid.
I managed to get to the living room and begin spreading out my work things, laptop over here, notes over there; work always got my mind off other stuff, but as soon as I got cozy on the couch, the cobra quailed and quiet, feeling certain that I had finally relaxed, there they were: the footsteps of a little person followed by the creaking of 1950’s floorboards of this now enormous-seeming place.
There is a reason I never watch scary films. First of all, as you can now tell, I’m a sissy; second of all, they make my already powerful imagination go absolutely wild. I mention this because in those films, little person footsteps nearly always mean a small mean dwarf or Chucky, or something else as pleasant. I swallowed, waited a moment and decided that I was an adult!, and this was completely ridiculous.
So I got up and approached the room gingerly, walking through what felt like an endless dark hallway, my heart still pounding, body wanting to leap to all the lights and turn them on, and as I approached the bedroom door, almost entirely certain that it was Sofia I had heard minutes earlier, I found that I was still reserving a little bit of space for my insane ghost/evil dwarf/Chucky fantasy to play itself in my head.
I turned the corner and was eased. It was no Chucky. Sofia was standing in the doorway, eyes wide open. “That light” she pointed to the kitchen light I hadn’t lit. “I want that light on.” I turned and looked. It was a big paper lamp dangling from the kitchen ceiling, visible directly from her bed, taunting her with it’s complete off-ness. She wanted that light. I went over and lit it. Her face relaxed; she crawled back into bed, and as I tucked her in again and walked out, I watched her face remain aimed directly at the kitchen, eyes open, making sure the light wouldn’t go out.
As I sat back down on the couch, fully relaxed now, my mind began to race. Why are we scared of the dark, those of us that are? Darwinian theory suggests that it’s because the dark represents unseen predators and thus potential death, a fear that has helped our species survive and thus evolve, a fear so basic that children begin to experience it after a certain age, an age I suspect, when they feel true separation of identity from their parents and begin to feel – alone. Having never encountered a jaguar or a bear in big empty apartments in New York and no longer being a baby, I still occasionally experience the irrational and momentarily paralyzing fear of being somewhere in the dark and – alone.
The parents came home very soon thereafter, having discovered that hanging out in the bar like they once had is just not as much fun when you have a partner and some math skills to work out how many drinks you can have at home for the price of one drink in a New York bar. So they left the pub, stopped by the liquor shop, bought some nice bourbon and settled in on their couch with me instead.
Over a cigarette in another huge room moments later, the husband said to me, “It’s hard to find true meaning in the act of doing anything. Yet you know you must press on because what else is there to do? And, well, it can get lonely in the void.”
I laughed a laugh of hard recognition. Of course.
It might be hard to understand for some, but experiencing “the void”, as dramatic as it might sound, is the act of facing the giant universe you don’t really and will never fully understand. A place of wonder and seeming miracles, it is also a place of endless mystery, a well ever-pregnant with multitudes of realities that walk around in an enormous variety of forms. Facing that is facing your amazing tiny-ness as well as your amazing huge-ness, along with the knowledge that you will never have it all figured out, ever.
It’s all a bit like looking out the airport lounge window – the commotion outside is not nothing, but it’s not yet something meaningful either. You’re waiting to board, yet your destination – as certain as a printed ticket may be – will bring so many unknowns, so many possibilities. As you look into the void, whatever it is, you realize it’s everywhere, it’s in everyone, and it’s you. Once you’ve experienced that, whether through illness, a loss, a transcendental experience or whatever, your only choice is to go forward, as lonely as you might sometimes feel, as uncertain as you may often be.
It hit me then that the fear that had Sofia’s face glued to the direction of the kitchen light was the very same fear that has us all glued in the direction of something that will give definition to our lives: a career, a relationship, a plan. We all seek something that won’t make us feel as alone, as aimless as planes taxing about below. So we get busy taxing. Because if we don’t, what do we do? We fear the dark may envelop us if we stop, so we don’t. We go to sleep with the light on so we don’t have to peer back into the void and wonder what the hell we’re doing here if we’re not taxing.
And there you stand, face pressed against the window, both excited and scared, holding your ticket tight, feeling a little lonely, because you know that anything can happen in the sky, and certainly anything can happen in the dark.
Kat Tepelyan is bit of a hack and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She enjoys long walks on the beach, sunsets and Pina Colada’s, but given that New York, her current home town, isn’t really know for that, she writes in her off time, weaving – often inane – personal experience with vague attempts at making them make sense. She also runs Tepelyan Studio, a web design and development company that specializes in actually making good sites. www.tepelyan.com
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