Sometimes I'm not sure what's in my room. But something is there.
I had the worst night terror of my life back in July of last year. The next day, I met someone I would ultimately fall in love with and spend many nights sleeping next to, alleviating the terrors for the few months while we were together.
When he stopped returning my calls, I started having nightmares. Just to be clear: nightmares are different than night terrors. Nightmares are really bad dreams of horrible things while you're asleep. And sometimes you can be lucid enough to realize that you're dreaming, and cope just long enough until you wake up (or manage to wake yourself up, if you're one of the lucky ones).
But night terrors happen when you're awake. Or, you think you're awake. You wake up, and the terror begins. You see things in the room. You don't know what you see, but it feels threatening.
You wonder how it got in. You wonder what it's doing there. You wonder what it wants.
I've even called out, wide awake, "What do you want? Hello?"
I've also exclaimed, "Hey!" As though that would do anything.
Usually I'll just bolt up in bed, turn a light on, grab my glasses, and blink a lot – anything to just help me see what's happening a little better. The more I blink, the more the vision fades away. I've never actually woken up and had to confront someone in my room who answered back.
But a few times, I've jumped out of bed. A friend had flown across the country to come stay with me, and during her visit, I ran into the kitchen in the middle of the night, swinging the door open and turning on the light, repeating "HEY HEY HEY."
This, of course, woke her up, and when she asked what was going on, my chest heaved, my eyes fell, and, defeated, I said, "Nothing. Never mind. I thought I saw something."
I was probably running to her defense. I'm not used to it happening when someone else is there.
Since then, my nighttime visitors have gotten worse and worse. When the night terrors first started, they appeared mostly as shadows, reflections, fleeting images flying through the air. Every now and then, I would think there was a person sitting on my couch. But it wasn't very terrifying; it was just annoying to wake up and be batting my hands against the curtains or into the bedside lamp.
But now, if its not shadowy figures of people standing over my bed or lurking in the kitchen, it's snakes and rodents and the usual cast of creeps that populate one's nightmares. But these aren't in my dreams, they're in my room.
At least, I think they are, until I blink enough times.
Two nights ago, I woke up staring at something moving on the floor by my kitchen door. Since Christmas, I'd been leaving a red bulb lit in the kitchen all the time, even when I sleep, so as to never be completely in the dark. Sometimes the night terrors are better if I sleep with the lights on. But on Monday night, without influence of alcohol or hallucinogens, I saw the silhouette of a small body, some animal, some creature, wriggling around in place, in the dim red light coming from underneath the closed kitchen door. It was particularly terrifying because it wasn't so easily dismissed. After all, I spent two years living in Brooklyn when mice actually would crawl out from under the stove, through the kitchen, and into my bed. I would wake up batting at the blankets and comforter at the end of my bed almost every night, something I initially dismissed as nightmares (or an early incidence of night terrors) until I found tiny droppings and urine stains in my bedding.
Maybe I'm just still traumatized by that. I try not to think about it.
So when I imagined that I could be experiencing another infestation, I used the flashlight on my phone to illuminate the area in question – of course, revealing nothing. I was still disturbed, but I didn't bother getting out of bed.
But last night, after falling sleep unusually late having not gone out or had a drop to drink, I woke up at 3 a.m. seeing a few things in my room. I sat up, blinking, as I normally do, which makes the visions go away, but there was one particular creature that refused to disappear: a person, hunched over, obscured by some gray hooded costume or shawl, lingering between my armchair and CD cabinet. While I would like to think they were browsing for some soothing lullaby to play me, I suspected otherwise. I gave it enough time to disappear, ever blinking, checking to see if I was really awake, and when it didn't, I got out of bed purposefully, and approached it. Its back was facing me, and when it didn't turn around upon my arrival, I reached out to touch it.
The figure collapsed the minute that I felt what I had touched: the furry throw blanket from West Elm that sits perched on the back of my chair. I could see clearly now. Nothing was there.
I returned to bed and checked the time on my phone, heart pounding. I put my glasses on and looked around the room again. I saw nothing, but I still felt the presence. I didn't feel watched, but I felt threatened somehow. Was it evil? Or just ready to attack?
Not exactly sure that nothing else would happen, I took my glasses back off, and tried to settle down, short of breath, chest exploding. I fell back asleep because there was nothing else to do.
I used to love sleeping so much. It gave me some relief from the trauma of the world.
Now sleeping is just as bad – if not worse – than waking.
No relief to be found.
These Terrors of the Night
That Which Haunts Me