Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.
By Cristy Shaner
For the first twelve years of my life, I went to bed afraid. As a child I was always squinting at shadows, searching for something sinister in the dark, feeling certain that soon I would be hurt, irreparably and forever.
I was afraid to close my eyes because I believed something might reach out and touch me when I wasn’t looking. I only succumbed to sleep after hours of staring at the ceiling, and sometimes not even then. Occasionally I would stay up until pale daylight broke through my bedroom curtains, and then, finally feeling at ease, I would rest. I knew, on some level, that my fear was nonsensical, but that didn’t stop me from fearing. Instead I kept quiet and clutched terror to my chest like a treasured secret—I was all alone with it, and that was all I knew. I grew up believing the world was a dangerous place, especially when plunged into darkness. I dreaded the unknown for so long it became a force of habit: everything was either a threat or a trick.
I fall asleep in the dark easily now, but I rarely sleep through the night.
I had a dream recently, that I stood in a long hallway lined with doors, and behind each door was something terrible. It felt very important that I reach the end of the hallway, but first I had to open each door and face what was on the other side. Behind one door was a pile of immaculate corpses, dressed as if for viewing. Each dead face was smiling, and for some reason I felt I had to pose them like mannequins. Behind another door was a girl who belonged in a teen drama, glossy and mean, and she made me say every terrible thing that came to mind before she would let me leave. Behind another door was a girl who looked like me, crouched on the floor and grinning wickedly as she brandished the scissor blades that had replaced her first two fingers: snick snick. She cut my hair violently, and it fell in voluminous piles at my feet.
I never reached the end of the hallway.
Shadows don’t scare me anymore, but sometimes when a man passes me on the sidewalk I feel certain he’ll push me into oncoming traffic. This is, of course, nonsensical, but it doesn’t stop me from being afraid.
I had a dream once that I was hanging by my ankles from the ceiling of a wide, white room. A man stood in front of me, but he was perpetually turning his head so that I could never see his face. He held a knife to my throat and I knew he didn’t want to hurt me—but it had to be done. He slit my throat and blood rushed out of me like a flood, covering the floor and rising in waves. I felt nothing as I watched the blood pour out of me, but I was sorry for the person who would have to stitch up my throat before I was buried.
When I was twelve, my sister’s room became mine, and for the first time in my life I had a bedroom belonging only to me. All along the walls she’d used glow-in-the-dark glue to scrawl spirals and hearts and the names of her favorite bands and early crushes. When I turn the lights off after a long day, the words Grateful Dead gleam yellow-green in the dark.
I had a dream once, in which I watched myself run down a hotel hallway, desperate to reach my room. I watched myself stagger and weave, hair flying behind me. I couldn’t see my face, but I knew what I was thinking as I ran: It’s supposed to hurt less. Now that I remember, it’s supposed to hurt less.
For years I grieved the loss of something I couldn’t name. For years I felt like a guest in my own body. For years I avoided mirrors. For years I felt like a puppet with its strings cut. For years I wouldn’t look a child in the eye.
I had a dream once that I was walking along the side of my house, where the grass gives way to dirt and an ant hill is always thriving. A man I’d never seen before walked towards me, and I flinched because I knew if he touched me something terrible would happen. I screamed, and woke up kicking viciously at the air. For a minute I was sure I had called out in my sleep, and that at any moment my brother’s door would open and he would ask me what was wrong, that I would hear my parents’ footsteps from down the hall. I laid in bed in the dark and waited. No one came.
Cristy Shaner studies American literature at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She eats way too much chocolate and hates paying full price for anything.