When I was little, my favorite nights were the ones I spent with Grandma Ann watching scary movies. After Grandpa went to bed, we’d pop a frozen Tony’s pizza in the oven and huddle up on the couch for hours until the TV went to static. Tony’s pizza and late-night movies were our little secret. Grandma and me, we loved our vampires and foggy cemeteries and dark alleys and eerie organ music. Being scared was fun.
When I was 12, Mom and I lived in the downstairs part of an old rental house. One night, a woman who lived down the street picked up her grown daughter from the airport, and when they got home a man was hiding, hiding in their dark house, waiting for them. He killed them, yes, but there were also so many rumors about what he’d done to them.
Their house was on my way to school. I walked by their boarded-up, empty house every single day for the rest of 8th grade. Being scared wasn’t fun anymore.
I’m 47 now. I got scared this summer. In June, I spent 2 weeks at the Yale Writers Conference. One day — the middle Sunday — I decided to wander off campus and explore New Haven. I’d been in crowded rooms all week. I couldn’t talk anymore. I wanted to be alone.
I remembered that I’d read about a famous old pizza joint and figured I’d try to find it. Off I went. I hadn’t gone 6 or 7 blocks when I first realized I was somewhere I didn’t belong. The first prickly hairs on my neck. I ignored those prickles, told myself I was being silly —- It’s 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, for god’s sake! Relax! —- and kept walking. A few more blocks and I was completely out of downtown. Where had all the traffic gone? The businesses? The people?? I turned another corner and stopped. Just stopped. I was alone but didn’t feel alone. And even though I turned around and saw no one, I still ran, literally ran, ran like the alone, scared woman I was, all the way back to campus.
I was reminded of the New Haven incident this week. My Yale workshop leader, the brilliant and generous Eileen Pollack, has an essay in the latest Ploughshares about this very subject. About being a woman, out in the world, alone. About being scared. About pretending you’re not scared. About what can happen.
This issue is dedicated to nonfiction. Here’s an excerpt from Eileen’s essay, “Didn’t Anyone Tell You.”
One evening, I came home from work to find Ron in his usual spot. He offered me a beer. When I declined, he muttered, “Snob.” I climbed the stairs, fixed dinner in Mrs. Plummer’s kitchen, then showered in the bathroom Ron and I shared. Even when I switched on the fan in my bedroom window, the room remained stifling hot. Dejected, I took off my clothes and crawled beneath the sheet to sleep. Only to be startled awake in the middle of the night by a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound naked white guy—Ron—towering above my bed.
You can read her entire story here. Go on. It’s worth it.
As for me, my mind drifts back, back to my treasure trove of late nights with Grandma Ann and TV cemeteries and frozen Tony’s pizzas. Her couch was my safe place. I wish I’d appreciated those days more, those days of feeling scared for fun. Scared and safe, all at the same time. Imagine.