I’ll let you into a little secret – I am afraid of the dark. I am in my 40’s and I am afraid of the dark!!
Why am I afraid of the dark?
I think it may have a lot to do with the way we were brought up. We were always told that bad things happen at night. Not only was it a time for dancing ghouls and scary spirits but that the dark streets were for people with evil intent. There were always reports of girls going missing at night, sex supposedly always happened at night, single girls walking home, alone were always murdered at night…
My parents always demanded that us (girls) be home by 5pm on a weekend. 6 during the summer holidays. It is no wonder they worried for the safety of their daughter(s) – for evil indeed lurks in the shadows of the streets – we’ve only to tune into the news of late. Nothing seems to have changed in 30 years.
Whenever I find myself in the dark – which is not very often now as I have a car, but like any ‘good girl’ I tend to stick to main roads with street lamps. I make sure I am walking facing the traffic, like I have always been told to throwing the odd glance behind me. I also take out my head phones so that I can hear the sounds around me; cars slowing down, footsteps on the other side of the road, laughter/loud voices coming towards me from the other direction. My heart starts racing whenever I hear loud, raised voices. I’m always amiss to know whether they are the voices of an argument, drunken bravado, or just an enthusiastic discussion.
Big groups also make me feel uncomfortable, particularly if they are men. I have been accosted by drunken men on trains and in the street using the C word or shouting at me, saying stupid things – just to frighten me. It would always leave me feeling dirty. Their stale alcohol breathe polluting my personal space as they sprout degrading offensive notions about women. You say something back and shrug it off as ‘normal’ and carry on. It wouldn’t happen during the day – there are far too many people around for them to scare a lone woman. Why did they feel they could behave this way? Why is it alright for a man to slag off a woman, his own wife included? Is this normal behaviour and was/is my instinct wrong about this kind of conduct? Am I demonising men?
I used to live in Huddersfield. It’s where I went to university and I stayed on after completing my degree. I lived in cosy little flat, alone, in the centre of town. It was an attic conversion in a block of 4 flats. The ground flat and my flat were always occupied; I lived in the top flat and the other tenant Mr… lets call him ‘Johnson’, Mr Johnson lived on the ground floor. Mr Johnson was an alright man during the day. I have no idea what he did for a job and our interaction never went beyond a hello. Mr Johnson’s life didn’t seem too great as far as I could tell – he would often be found in a drunken stupor most nights. I once found him laying at the foot of the main door. The sight of him gave me a fright – I thought it was a dead body laying outside our building. Unable to wake him, I left him there. He was gone the next morning – back into his flat.
One night, passed midnight, I was laid in bed with the little lamp in the living room switched on. Although the flat was cosy and warm, I lived alone and this end of town was very quiet. You could hear every bump, thud or scrape against the walls from the neighbours. The little glow from the lamp was my comfort and a signal to the outside world that someone was home. The flat had skylights which I was grateful for. I could see the outside world, I could see the sky and the stars – I didn’t feel trapped. It also reminded me of the times me and my sister used lay on her bed and look up at the star studded sky, waiting for shooting stars. It was my connection to home.
Thoughts of home made me sleepy and I started to drift off when suddenly I heard this tremendous bang that bolted me out of my sleepy state. My heart pounding, my chest and back instantly dripping with sweat as I panicked, trying to summon my senses to listen to what it could be. It came again – harder, louder this time that the whole building shook. I shot out of bed not knowing really what to do. I didn’t dare open the door. It was 5 flights of stairs down or up (which ever way you looked at it) and what ever it was that was banging could be up in minutes. There was only one way in and one way out unless I climbed out through the skylight. I raced around my tiny flat and the loud bang came again. This time the lamp went out and I screamed. So loud, the sound pierced my soul. What the hell was banging? Why was it banging at our building and was it coming up the stairs? In the hiatus, I crawled back to my bedroom – which meant passing the front door – I needed to in order to get my phone. Who would I call? The landlord, the police, the fire service? Mr Johnson? WHO!? As my mind raced and I scrambled for numbers in my phone, the banging stopped. I listened for a few more minutes and… silence. It remained silent for the rest of the night.
I lay awake in my bed till day break worried about what I might see when I stepped outside my door.
I got ready for work and opened the door to my flat. The stairs down were clean, no sign of disturbance or traces of weird activity. I climbed down, step by step scanning the hallway for fingerprints, writing anything. I got to the bottom and stood a moment outside Mr Johnson’s flat. Listening. The door to his flat was slightly ajar and the front door to the building was open. The lock has been broken and there were scratch marks along the bottom of the door – like someone or something had tried to kick the door down. I instantly called the landlord and asked him to investigate.
When I came back the landlord had fixed the lock and said that Mr Johnson was in his flat seemingly all fine. None of it made sense. How did the lock break, why was Johnson’s flat door open and what was the explanation of unidentified marks on the outer door of the building. With no real answers, it was instantly dropped.
That night I was on edge as no explanation had been given for any of the occurrences. I didn’t really trust Mr Johnson to save us, so I felt quite alone. Midnight hit and I started getting ready for bed. Still on high alert with every sound, the tv noise coming through the walls of the living room, muffled voices coming from the other side of the wall in bedroom. There was activity around and although I was super sensitive it was good to hear familiar sounds… which all soon fell silent.
BANG. BANG. BANG. Three times, I was convinced it was coming from the main door of the building. Like someone was trying to break in. But who?? It came again BANG. pause. BANG. pause. BANG. And just like the night before the walls of my flat shook, violently. Such was the strength of this…thing. Cursing god and everything under the moon I prayed for it stop. Only it didn’t, it got worse and it set the fire alarm off. Deafening shrill mixed with the thunder of banging – what the fuck was going on. Instinct had me grab the first jacket I could find, wrap it over my knee high nightie, trainers on and run down the stairs as fast as I could to get away from what ever it was.
I didn’t care that I might see it on the way down or that it might take me, all I knew was that I had to get out. As I ran down the stairs, passing the deafening fire alarm setting off a feeling of nausea within me, I flung open the door to see Mr Johnson standing with his back to the door… leg lifted… ready to BANG the door once more. It was HIM! Tormenting my nights. It was HIM, in his drunken state having forgotten his key, trying to break the main door down. IT WAS HIM!!!! The fire alarm was still going off and I headed towards it to turn it off. As it silenced its bell still ringing in my ears, Mr Johnson stepped over the threshold. I turned to look at him, the door, and back at him, tears welling up in my eyes.
“Sorry about the door. I forgot my keys” he said in a slurry Irish accent.
I could have, should have, punched his lights out. I wiped my tears as they fell from my eyes, gathered myself and turned around heading back up the stairs. As I walked away he turned around and said “Sexy! Nice Legs” as my knee high nightie betrayed me. I felt ashamed, disgusted and awful.
The day after, I complained to the landlord and all I will say is that Mr Johnson remained in that flat until I finally decided to leave, 7 years later. I had many similar encounters with him. He wasn’t thrown out on charges of damage to the property, on causing a nuisance or even on sexual harassment of a long term tenant. Nothing happened.
And all these occurrences only ever happened at night. With no one else around – my word against his.
I wasn’t expecting to write about this. I am aware of recent events that have come to light re Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and many other women. I am not here to blame ‘all men’, and I am not for one second saying that ‘all men’ lurk in the dark to terrorise, hunt, murder or rape women. I am also not saying that I am afraid of the dark because of men. However, the warnings that come from our communities are always directed at women about men – “be careful being out on your own after dark” and we know exactly what they mean. My parents, at first, were against me living on my own because of something like this. “Who will protect you?”
Is it not time that we stopped saying all of the above and instead told men to take a look at their behaviour. Should I, or anyone else for that matter, have to put up with Mr Johnson’s behaviour? Why did the landlord not do something about it? Because he didn’t think it was important enough. He didn’t want the hassle and he saw Johnson as being a lad, doing what men do; get drunk and having fun. He never even had a conversation with him about the terrorisation or anti social behaviour that had me living in the shadows of fear for so long.
The dark is not a nice place to be when you are alone. Danger always seems to lurk in the dark at night? Why is that?