When I was younger, I was always afraid to close my eyes to go to sleep. I remembered my mother telling me that if I learned to sleep with my eyes open that it might satisfy my need to always be alert, taking in every inch of the world around me, but I'd give her such a fright that she'd probably have a heart attack on the spot.
I don't think she realized that it was fear keeping me awake at night, but instead assumed that it was my own stubbornness, but I genuinely wished for both our sakes that I was able to get some sleep.
The darkness behind my eyes was unnerving. Often, to try and give that static-y, empty void in my vision some substance, I would gently press my fingertips to my eyelids. At first, my fingers were gentle, nothing more than a soft reminder that the world beyond my eyelids was still there after all, still turning and moving, my family in tact. For a while, that was enough to satisfy me. For a while, knowing that the world wasn't going anywhere was enough.
But eventually, the gentle reminder wasn't enough, and that empty void continued to frighten me, so I pressed my fingers down harder, causing the pain I was feeling to paint against my eye lids in static patterns of mandalas and colors that I knew the names of from my 24 pack of crayons, and I would watch them pass and press my fingers against my eyes harder, hoping to discover what the next level looked like. And when I let go, slowly my eyes would return to normal, buzzing with relief as they gently went through each pattern again in reverse. This became ritual for me, and that relief at the pain being removed seemed to lull my body to sleep.
But as I got older, I discovered that there were all sorts of other things to be afraid of than the dark or closing my eyes, things thousands of times scarier, than waking up without my mom, dad, and my brother. By the time I was four years old, I was pulling a blanket over my head for good measure.
I was born in a small Washington town in the eighties, and even when I was younger, the population was less than three hundred people. As a general number, three hundred sounds like way more than it actually is. I mean, try living off three hundred bucks a week. It's a relatively small number. It goes by much more quickly than anticipated.
And my whole town was less than that.
Aside from the lack of people, my family also didn't have a TV, so that paired with a practically nonexistent crime rate, I'm not entirely sure where my fears even began to evoke from other than instinct.
I just remember that one night, I was a normal, happy child who was ready to enter the land of dreams, and then, just as suddenly as my mom flipped the switch to my bedroom light, the feeling that I was being watched began to course through my veins, making it feel like my blood was ice. I opened my eyes as wide as I could, trying to make my pupils dilate, but in the dim around me, I could see nothing out of the ordinary, and I reluctantly closed my eyes and tried to sleep anyway. I tossed the blanket over my head, just to be safe.
Every night seemed to go like that until I finally admitted to my mother that I was afraid, and her response to go into a neighboring city and buy me a nightlight. The nightlight was a normal reaction to a child being afraid of the dark, but my mom had gone all out. She must have gone to every store until she found the most beautiful nightlight that she could find.
I remember the way it sparkled when I opened the box because at first I thought it was a tree topper—an angel for our Christmas tree, but when I gently lifted it out by what I saw were infinitely delicate branches, I realized it was a blown glass weeping willow. The wiring ran through the glass to meet little LED lights, embedded in the glass. When they were plugged in, they twinkled like stars.
My mother asked me if I liked it, and I responded that I loved it, and gave her a big hug before I ran to plug in my grown-up gift. Now at night, I didn't want to close my eyes for a whole new meaning. I never wanted to stop staring at that tree.