I was scared of the dark as a kid.
Now when I say ‘scared’, I mean petrified. I was frightened when I was in it, didn’t want to be near it, afraid to the point of shaking, terrified of the thought of it.
Maybe there’s a psychologist out there surmising that it was the manifestation of my greater fear of the unknown. It really wouldn’t have been the slightest bit comforting to nine-year-old me. All I knew was that I was absolutely shit-scared of it.
I vividly remember despising having to put the rubbish in the bin outside at night. To put this in perspective, I grew up in a town of 5,000 in a street of maybe 50 houses. It wasn’t exactly Wolf Creek. You pretty much couldn’t walk down the main drag of town, let alone our street without knowing more than half of the people occupying the space. The distance from our back door to the bin (which also resided inside our gate) was about 10m. I would rather have cleaned the toilet with my toothbrush and then have to use it for a week than put that dreaded black plastic bag in the red lid bin after 8pm.
So, when I was asked by mum or dad to fill the dreaded chore, I would drag my feet, whinge and whine and delay as much as possible. Rational 29-year-old me can see in hindsight that delaying was a terrible idea. It only got darker and therefore scarier, the more I procrastinated and protested.
After an eternity of bargaining and trying to hype myself up, I’d finally relent. The sliding door would rattle along its tracks, the bag would be clutched in my sweaty palm and I would run what must have been quicker than Matt Shervington to the bin. Inevitably, due to nerves, there’d be a fumble of the lid handle followed by a thrust open, an unceremonious toss of the bag into the abyss and a second, even faster gallop back to safety.
Tough guy, right?
Another job was taking the dog out for a wee. Even worse than the bins, this job lacked any control over the time for the dog to do his business.
What was I afraid of? There were certainly no axe murderers hanging out looking for the kid taking the dog to his backyard. I am likely to have expelled more urine than the pooch did in nervousness while I waited for him to finish.
My fears may have been centred around the limited amount of muscle bulk my body has possessed for the duration of my childhood (and persist today). How was a wringing wet 20kg kid with no fighting experience meant to defend himself? I picture it like a hatchback taking on a semi-trailer in a head-on. I felt like roadkill waiting to happen.
As I was just starting to get over my fears and I reached double figures in age, my dad sat me down for a heart-to-heart about the dangers of the dark (i.e. that there aren’t any in a country town such as our own).
He told me of how robbers and murderers didn’t come at night because they knew that the whole family would be home and would be outnumbered and that the police would catch them — after all, they much preferred to rob in the day when they knew no one was home.
Dad assured me there was nothing to worry about, that I was safe at night and that I would learn to overcome my irrational fear.
It helped, it really did.
I was now able to put the rubbish out in a gentle jog, rather than a white-knuckled sprint and the dog’s nightly ritual no longer caused my heart to beat outside my chest.
There was one issue with his advice though.
During school holidays at 1 pm in the afternoon, Mum asked me to look after the house while she went into town. I remembered how thieves loved pillaging houses in the daylight.
So, thanks to my Dad, I had developed an equally paralysing fear of the light too.