I will make this confession quick: I, Amanda, am a sissy.
But not about normal things. I’m okay with spiders (as long as they’re not on me), and rodents (as long as they don’t run at me from their hiding place in the garage), and visceral things. I could probably get through life easier if those were the things I was afraid of. Instead – as soon as the lights go out – my mind conjures soft, even footsteps coming from elsewhere in the house; it sees deathly pale faces staring at me through my bedroom window; it imagines whole scenes of horrific murder, these days focused on axes. So believe me when I say that I would rather be afraid of spiders and mice and cringe at the sight of blood, because at least those things are real. If they’re real, they can be gotten rid of. But the things in my head are not so easy to wash away, and once an image appears, it sticks until my mind comes up with something more gruesome to taunt me with. Granted, it does not help that I like to read books and watch movies with elements of the supernatural, with danger, with violence. I was the kid whose mom had to hold my Goosebumps books from me because I would read them before I went to bed and subsequently not sleep for a week.
I have been house-sitting recently, in a house that I had never stepped foot in until I came to stay there. You must bear in mind that the imaginings outlined above are things that have scared me in my own house that I have lived in for twenty-one years. When I go somewhere new – be it a night at a friend’s house, or a hotel, or a house for a week – it is pretty much guaranteed that the first night will be sleepless, with my mind whirring as it tries to pick the worst of the hundred horrible things it is drawing up.
Sitting alone in that house even in the middle of the day was too much for me, thinking about when night would come and I would have to go upstairs by myself, in the dark. I made a long and slightly-panicked text to my friend Melissa and literally begged her to come and stay with me. Her acceptance was exceedingly gracious considering my pathetic and fervent request, and she moved in that night.
Now, Melissa is not a superhero (that I know of…). I don’t know that there’s much else she could do in the event of a haunting or an axe-murderer intrusion that I couldn’t do. But in my head, just having her sleeping in the next room offered not just comfort, but protection. By just being there, she became my knight in shining armour, truly rescuing me from myself. In my head, between her mad ninja skillz and my… I dunno… ballet skillz, we could outwit and survive whatever horrible thing could happen.
Which leaves me to believe that my imagination is as capricious as a Greek god. It will grant me favours when I engage it for writing, to envision entirely new places and people and plots. When I read a book, it takes the words and paints the scenes for me, speaks the many different voices, echoes the descriptions of wind or water or swords crashing together. In the dark, any control I thought I had over this beast in my head is gone. While it creates awful things that can lead to my doom, it offers me nothing. I can imagine all of the things that can harm me, but I can’t imagine myself to be stronger, or have magical powers, or even simply turn these things into thoughts of butterflies and bunnies. I am utterly at its mercy, and all I can do to combat it is put on episodes of QI to draw my senses elsewhere. Listen to the soothing sound of Stephen Fry’s voice – ignore that strange rattling coming from downstairs. Watch the screen – pay no attention to that flash of movement outside the window.
And yet, my imagination is a god I still worship. I rely quite a lot on it, and if that means I have to take some bad with the good, then I have to accept it. And it is a great blessing to have somewhat-saner friends who are willing to help me keep the minotaurs, the undead, and, of course, the axe murderers at bay.
I found that I have a kindred spirit in Allie, the brilliant creator of Hyperbole and a Half. Click the picture to follow a link to “The Scariest Story,” which spoke to me on many levels. And made me laugh so hard that no sound came out.