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Things that go bump in the night
I don’t remember starting to eat solid foods or walking for the first time.
The whole potty-training thing is similarly fuzzy, too, though I imagine it was pretty traumatic; to this day my parents refuse to speak of it.
But when it comes to childhood milestones and rites of passage and phases, I believe I was pretty average.
However, I know my whole afraid-of-the-dark stage lasted longer than it does for most folks. For years I huddled under the covers in my own house, wary of all manner of things that go bump in the night.
But eventually, with enough consolation and the unwavering support of my wife and kids, I can comfortably say I’m no more afraid of the dark than any other emotionally stunted middle-aged fraidy-cat.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that I began riding my bike home from work in the middle of the night. It’s one thing to ride in the light of day, but another in the early-morning hours that happen to just about coincide with bar closing time.
No matter how bright my headlight, I was awfully jumpy my first few night rides a couple of years ago. Every shadow held some danger, every sound some threat.
Now, however, I’ve ferreted out every bogeyman hiding spot, and the familiarity that comes with covering the same few paths a few hundred times makes it easier to keep from jumping out of my own skin.
That said, it’s still awfully easy for the combination of reduced vision, heightened other senses and a wandering, imaginative mind to produce some moments of unease.
Road debris is mistaken for snakes.
Raccoons can be seen as cats (note to self: raccoons waddle; cats do not).
The other night, I was spinning along on a windy night when I saw something brown headed straight for me. My mind became convinced I was under attack by a massive marmot. (A marmot? Really?) It was merely an empty plastic bag, caught by the breeze.
Once I happened upon a couple in a darkened alley, and she appeared to be in some distress. The male half was performing the Heimlich Maneuver. Fearing she was choking and in need of aid, I veered their way to offer assistance, or at least call the authorities, when I quickly figured she wasn’t choking, and that wasn’t the Heimlich he was performing. I rode on.
Just last week, I was riding home and was surprised to see a man walking his dog while wearing a white “Tron” outfit (the man, not the dog). For those without my middle-aged geek pedigree, the actors in the original “Tron” movie wore skin-tight body suits that appeared to be etched with electronic circuitry. Turns out the guy was simply — but equally creepily — wearing a skin-tight, white track suit.
But by far the spookiest sight came a few years ago, when I rounded a corner across from an elementary school later than usual — I seem to recall it was in the dead quiet of 3 or so in the morning, after an unusually late night at work.
I noticed something in the yard of a house to my left and turned to look. To my surprise, I saw a person standing at the curb, looking right at me. I peered and was even more unnerved to see it was a young girl, dressed all in white, with a white sun hat and basket of flowers. In the middle of winter.
Naturally, in the dozen or so seconds it took my pea brain to decipher the scene, I concluded no parent would let such a young, inappropriately dressed girl pick flowers in the middle of a winter’s night all alone. Remembering my proximity to the school, my overworked brain concluded I must have been looking at the ghost of a girl run over and killed at that very spot.
I’m not a big supernatural guy, but in the dead of night, it’s surprising what thoughts take hold. I beat a hasty retreat.
The next day, I returned to the scene and was surprised to see the ghostly apparition was gone, replaced by a simple white, rock signpost.
I laughed as I rode away and gave thanks that though my childhood fear of the dark still might linger, at least the potty training seems to have a solid foundation.