I'm not afraid of the dark. As a young child I had a night light in the corner of my room, but the shadowy shapes it cast onto my blankets scared me more than the darkness. When I was a bit older, I had Christmas lights strung up on the bunk bed railing and up on the wall. The rainbow lights twinkled and bathed my sister and I in soft pastel tones. My mother would come in shortly after we settled in bed with the lights on to turn them off. The short-lived life of these lights made me anxious. They were shut off too soon. I wanted to see more of them. I wanted them to be on in the morning. My mother turned them off and sternly told me to close my eyes. If they were closed, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
But I could tell the difference. I begged her to leave our bedroom door open just a sliver, so that the warm lights of the living room could pierce through and settle on my face. Sometimes she'd refuse, but occasionally she'd agree. I could hear the hum of the old computer as she scrolled through forums and news sites, and could feel the yellow warmth creeping in. When she thought I was asleep, my mother would close the door. Immediately it felt cold, and my chest felt hollowed out like a Halloween pumpkin.
The empty darkness was too familiar. I wasn't afraid of it. The dark meant that no one could see anything I was doing. There was freedom and independence and quiet. No baby sister following me, no mother reprimanding, no father yelling. Just me, my heart, and my two hands. There was nothing to be afraid of but myself.
Perhaps I developed an aversion to light. On sunny mornings in high school, I had physical education. We ran laps in the blazing sun, and I had headaches for the rest of the day. I would sit sleep-deprived in the cafeteria, the library, the geography classroom, and the florescent white-lights would dry out my eyeballs. My phone brightness would be set to the lowest. I covered my eyes with my hands and sunk low in my chair, ignoring the people around me.
That day in August was fiercely sunny. I squinted and lifted my head to read the street signs, the sunshine reflecting painful white sparks. I followed his footsteps, looking down at our shadows. They were diagonal and far apart. I reached an arm out, but even then his shadow was too far away.
The lights were off in his room, the lamp tilted off to the side. The blinds were drawn shut, late afternoon sun forcibly peeking in through the plastic slats. Long bright lines scattered across the bedsheets and my body. I opened my eyes, facing the darkness, facing him. Are you cold, he asked, and I answered yes, a little bit. With the lights still off, he crept up into the bed behind me and reached out and around. Is this better?
I closed my eyes.
The sun was beginning to set, but I couldn't tell. The room was still that shade of dark blue, and the lines of soft yellow only wavered slightly with the summer wind. I kept my eyes pressed firmly shut. It's dark now. It's just me. He asked me: Why won't you look at me?
At times I favour the light, in the most practical of situations and the most common of usages. When I am waiting for the subway late at night, I stand under the lights in the designated area by the benches. When I walk to my unit after night classes, I follow the big streets full of people and cars. When I need to handwrite something, I turn on the desk light. I enjoy midday naps. The sun streaming through my window warms me up, and I can shut off my noisy space heater. I feel like a cat.
The darkness directly correlates with nighttime. I'm most productive--or perhaps manic--at night. Maybe it's just because I can't sleep. At night I am full of ideas. I make breakthroughs in my work, I push forwards with my thinking, and I entertain the fruitless dreams and memories that threaten to haunt me in the daytime.
That afternoon, he kissed me. I remember nothing. Perhaps my eyes were still closed. I don't know what he looked like, or what I was supposed to feel. In the darkness, nothing else exists.
I sleep with my lights on now. I'm not afraid of the dark, and to be honest, I prefer it most of the time. When I was alone in Shanghai I would have all the interior lights off, and the only illumination extended from the persistent glimmer of the city life below the apartment building. The cars and summer thunderstorms cast raging waves of muted white and red into the living room where I slept on the couch. The sheet curtains would sway gently as the fan circulated. My mom's friend's dog would quiver as lightning struck, and I would watch as the heavy grey of June was repeatedly interrupted.
As homage to my childhood anxieties, my Christmas lights are on day and night. They brighten my room considerably in the winter months, the little LED lights stagnant throughout the months. The mixture of colours make a purple atmosphere that presides over the bleakness of my cheap furniture and garbage strewn around. In the morning, the bright colours provide a bit of life to my cold body and fuzzy mind. When the sun sets, I turn on my ceiling light. It's a hot yellow, and I end up squeezing my eyes shut after a few hours. Both the lights and my computer screens bleed harsh luminescence all day, and my eyes hurt. I rub them, pressing my fingertips to my eyelids. The brightness is foreign, unwelcome. It invades my body, and my mind, and reminds me that it's not just me.
I don't think I'm afraid of the dark. I'm afraid of loneliness.