I have always struggled on starry nights.The ones, especially in the summertime, when the sky is a blanket of glittered navy, and the trees are still. When you can stand outside and feel the gravel under your feet, or blades of grass between your toes, and not even a whisper of wind caresses your skin, rustles the leaves, bends the branches.
I link it to a night in my childhood, when I woke to a home invasion next door. I remember it well. I’m not sure what woke me, but I recall being carried outside by my mother and down our two front steps to where a collection of neighbours had gathered. I was wearing my nightie and no underwear. It was warm. I don’t know what time it was, but at all of four years old, it felt very late.
On the other side of the white picket fence, my neighbour’s ranch slider was open. He was lying on the floor,unconscious. He was not a good man; I knew this. His anger frequently found its way to his wife’s face. He always seemed to be looking for something at the bottom of a whisky bottle and he would stand at his picture-perfect picket fence and hurl abuse at thin air, and those unfortunate enough to be outside at the same time.
A siren sounded from somewhere down the street.
‘That’ll be the ambulance,’ I heard someone say.
It appeared in the driveway, lights flashing blue and red. My neighbour was carried out on a stretcher. He had a bandage around his head with a red stain and looked like he was asleep. The police questioned my mother, asking her what she had witnessed. Some twenty years later, she would rediscover her journals from that time. She had written that she hoped it wouldn’t affect me.
It seems inevitable really, that I developed separation anxiety and a fear of home invasions. This would follow me throughout my childhood and adolescence until, as an angry and confused young woman, I would learn that my neighbour had raped a woman. His brutal beating; the invasion on his home, the endangering of his life was a consequence. A consequence for the invasion of a woman’s body. I had always known to some degree but this revelation confirmed it: he was not innocent.
Innocent people didn’t get hurt for no reason.
If only that were the truth.
By now, those still nights brought anxiety which had shape-shifted into many different forms. I was fearful of people being too close, fearful of night sickness, of making people angry. I hated making people angry. I still do.
Through my mid-twenties and now in my early thirties I find myself working with anxiety-ridden people. I listen to their stories, their fears, their ruminations. I validate them, coach them, remind them of skills to manage. I am supposed to help them heal. But I wonder if they look like me, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the darkness, shaking out their hands like someone deranged, desperate for the adrenaline to pour out of their fingertips; paralysed in bed and then bursting through the door gasping for air. I wonder if they feel the navy blue blanket pressing down on them, smothering them in the silence, wanting to scream, but not wanting to bother anyone.
I wonder if their breath shudders in their bodies, the way mine does; if they wake in the mornings exhausted, aching muscles, worn out bones, relieved that they’d finally caught up to their runaway heartbeats.
As a result, I am a turtle. I carry my home with me and retreat into my shell when I feel threatened. I am my own safe place. Unlike many young women I enjoy people at an arm’s length, rather than a hair’s breadth. I am never close; always distant.
I remember a night a couple of years ago, when staying with a friend in the wilderness. The anxiety spun me out of control until I shot out of the yellow gable doors and stood outside in the dark, turning in circles, short of breath, shaking out my hands. Above me, the sky was mother Nyx’s shawl, and the stars, so many stars, were tiny shards of shattered glass looming above me, threatening to fall. Strangled by the stillness, it was dream-time, and the only ones awake were the nocturnal animals and me.
All of these experiences have instilled in me a deep love of rain. I love it for its cleansing properties. I love it because when it rains nothing is thirsty. I love that it dampens the silence with its steady pitter patter. But the original reason I loved it was because I thought nothing would hurt me when it was raining. Home invasions would be called off. Stomach bugs would take a sick day. No one could hear my anxieties. Billowing clouds would stamp out the stars, and I was safe.