I’ve been watching this righteous storm rage outside the window for three days now.
High winds shake the house, and the rain falls down in sheets, sounding like it will break through the glass at any moment.
The birds struggle in the churning of the tide and the kingfisher that sits on the branch near the porch is gone, huddled somewhere safely out of Mother Nature’s fury.
My fire long ago lost its battle with the gale that keeps assaulting the chimney. I’m freezing, and I’m lonely.
I’ve been on my own for most of my life, but this is the first time I’ve ever been completely alone. For all my lone wolf-ness, I’ve always craved a pack.
My secret, is that I’m afraid of the dark. I always have been. It’s something that I never grew out of as I left my childhood years behind me. I don’t think anyone knows that about me. I also have never grown out of the nightmares that plagued me as a little girl.
I’ve always loved horror movies. My brother and I used to sneak out into the living room at night after our mom had gone to sleep and watch horror movies together. One of the first I ever saw was Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. When the movie ended, my brother tackled me, tossed me outside, locked the door, and turned off the porch light. He stood on the safe side of the glass door, in the kitchen, and told me that if I cried and woke up our mom, I would be in big trouble. So I sat on the porch step, clutching my dog for safety, with 350 acres of dark, scary forest at my back.
He left me out there for what felt like an eternity. He was such a jerk sometimes. If his intent was to toughen me up, it had the opposite effect. I don’t remember being afraid of the dark before that night, but I know I’ve been terrified of it since.
Even as an adult, nightmares are the thing that haunt my life. At times, they are so bad that it makes me afraid to sleep. If you know me, you know that I go through phases of drinking coffee incessantly, even at night. But do you know that it’s because I’m afraid to sleep? When I was in middle school, my parents wouldn’t let me drink coffee, but I learned that if I stole a handful of coffee beans each night they wouldn’t notice. I would sit awake in my bedroom, surrounded by the vast acres of the ranch I was raised on, listening to the Southern Oregon forest speak, and suck on the coffee beans, staving off sleep.
Being alone on this island has forced me to face my fears. My fear of the dark, my fear of nightmares. Solitude is a wild beast, and while I’ve always been content and comfortable with myself, I wonder if total isolation is actually good for a person. We are social creatures by nature. Yet I feel that we also need time alone – time to figure ourselves out and heal from wounds we’ve been trying to ignore.
I’m halfway through my solitude, and while I don’t feel any Buddha-like enlightenment, I do feel as if what I desire from life as a human is set a little more firmly in my mind. And I feel that I’ve accepted things I can’t change; outcomes that have disappointed me. I’ve also felt, at times, like I want to claw my face off with the need to be a part of civilization; the need for a decent cup of coffee and some dark chocolate.
I haven’t been afraid here at night, and I’m grateful for that. I do, however, feel a sense of unease each night as darkness drapes itself over the island. It gets so dark here. I force myself to stand in the far corner of the porch, the corner where the light from the kitchen window doesn’t reach, and I have my conversation with Orion as he hangs low in the winter sky. I’ve talked to that constellation nearly every night of my life. I’ve seen him from both hemispheres; he is one of the only constellations that can be seen from anywhere in the world.
Fear is the most powerful feeling; even more powerful than love. If you think about it, how many people do you know who fear love, at least on some level. Probably a lot. My friend Taylor told me to embrace the fear of being alone on a remote island at night, and I have, because I’ve had no other choice. He’s the only one who’s said that to me. Everyone else has told me to call them if I get scared. But what good would that do? I am so far away from everyone right now, and I’ve spent too many years running from my fear. Darkness is inevitable; it happens each night (unless you’re in Alaska during the summer, of course), and the only way for me to overcome my fear of it, is to embrace it. It’s part of why I agreed to this caretaker position on the island – to face my fear of being alone in the darkness, and to finish writing my book. Check and check. My book will be released next month, and I can now stand in the dark of night without panic twisting my insides into a knot. Though admittedly, I do dash across the porch and into the kitchen, locking the door behind me, and crawling deep inside my sleeping bag, with a really big kitchen knife on the bed next to me.