The normal, everyday items that hang around the house are ready to change, to turn into something terrifying, sinister. A doll, propped up against the computer table is staring at me as I walk by and as I turn my back I can see it in my mind jump down looking evil, after me. The plant on the sideboard shivers slightly in the draft near the door, startling me, expecting something or someone to jump out from behind the curtain. I reach into the fridge to pull out a can. Just opening the fridge was bad enough, as though something unexpected was lurking inside. But my right hand holding the door feels exposed, I cannot see the other side of the door and my fingers tingle, waiting for something to grab them. I shut the fridge quickly, panicking.
Turning the lights off as I progress back through the house is terrifying. As the lights go out, my back faces darkness, an unknown danger. Mirrors must be avoided, what will I see behind me when I look into them? Darkened windows are sinister. Will there be someone the other side or will they show you approaching me from behind. I go up the stairs, the wood creaks beneath my shoes and behind me. They do not sound like my footsteps. In the children’s bedrooms I turn off the lamps and the huddled shapes under the duvets are monsters which will spring out to attack me as I walk through the door. A sleeping bag on the floor looks like a dead body.
I cannot sit with my back to a door or open space. I need to see everything around me to check constantly that it has not changed. I am always ready to flee. Startle at the wind pounding the window, the drip in the water tank, the cat jumping off a top, a knock on the door and the ring of the phone. I lie in bed tense, too tense to sleep, late into the night, wide awake. Then come the dreams, deformed cats appearing between stairs, an island which keeps changing, you, chasing me through the night, and I wake more tired than I went to bed. The chink of glass as I misjudge the distance between the pumps at work, the bar door opened by punters I saw coming, the sudden squirt as a barrel runs out, the click of the glass-washer as the cycle ends, the sound of a crisp packet being suddenly torn, someone brushing into me as they walk past. When will it all stop startling me, making my heart miss a beat and my pulse race?
Nothing is safe. Everywhere danger is lurking. Everything is a threat.
I can reason with myself. I tell myself that I am just jumpy, nervous and that everything is normal, just toys, just clothes strewn around, the same room light or dark. The doors are locked, the windows closed and all the children asleep in bed until the morning. I tell myself I am over the top, paranoid, there is nothing to be scared of. Not now. And I tell myself to breathe slow, to breathe deep, and try not to run from my shadow.
And I say to you in my mind. Thanks, this is what you have done to me. You have destroyed my world. The world which was safe, which I knew, you took away. Time and time again you told me I was safe, that you loved me, that you would not hurt me. And time and time again you betrayed that trust, you hurt me, you, who had assured me security. You took away my belief in a friendly safe world and replaced it with fear. The most intimate, normal and known things died and were changed into evil, dangerous, threatening objects. I cannot be sure that anything is as it appears to be. And you did that to me.
And you say with a smile, don’t dwell on the past. Draw a line under it and move on. But do you flinch when you’re touched? Startle at passing cars? Shriek when a child wakes you at night or steps out of the dark? Are you trapped in your nightmares? Chased in your car from within? Or scared in the light? How do you feel when you know we must meet. Does your stomach churn or your head spin? Do your hands feel cold and clammy? Do you hear yourself talk from far, far away?
So I carry on. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow there won’t be monsters lurking behind the eyes of a doll, under the table, outside the window, behind the mirror, behind my back. Tomorrow I’ll get up and the world will have changed. It will be a safe, friendly place to live again. My hand will be steady as I light a cigarette and drink my tea. And I’ll step out the door as everyone does, knowing things are okay. But that is tomorrow.
Tonight I will try to visit the bathroom and not flee back up the stairs from the dark. Tonight I will try to get into bed without hands gripping my feet as I climb in. Tonight I will try not to panic as the cat moves in his sleep. Tonight I will try to block out the sounds of some evil thing moving downstairs. Tonight I will try to just go to sleep without curling up into a ball. Tonight I will try not to sink straight back into the country I’ve seen so often before. Tonight I will try not to be scared.