Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine.
Remember when you moved into your current house or apartment, and how unsettling it was to go to sleep there for the first few nights? Or is that just me? New noises, odd lights, and unfamiliar surroundings all seem to combine to awaken some deep and primitive insecurity that leaves me feeling as exposed and vulnerable as if I were sleeping on the side of the highway.*
This phenomenon was probably more pronounced than usual when we moved into this house a decade ago. It's big, it's old, and it's oddly shaped, so it made lots of noises and I was forever getting lost in it at first. The quietness of the street seems to make the noises all that much louder, and the streetlight at the foot of our driveway throws odd shadows through the front windows. Frankly, it was terrifying.
Of course, we accommodate quickly, so the anxiety faded in a few days, and now eleven years later I feel more secure in our old boomerang-shaped house than just about anywhere else in the world. At least until two nights ago.
That was when Biscuit woke me around 3:30 AM saying that someone had just pounded loudly on our front door. I don't know if you've ever had the experience of waking to a sudden loud or frightening noise, but it will get your heart going nicely. We wandered the house, peeking furtively out of windows, finding neither prowler nor any indication of anything unusual. We both eventually slept a little more, but it made for a long night and a long next day.
Maybe she dreamed the noise. Maybe not. The fact that I didn't hear it doesn't mean much. I once slept through a tree falling on my house.** The part that is interesting to me is how quickly that first night feeling can return, and our safest refuge once again seem as insubstantial as a house made of straw.
Our monkey brains are excellent at papering over our more primitive systems, so by the next night all was back to normal, and I once again slept the sleep of the dead. Though I'm still a little more attuned to the odd creak or shuffle.
Stephen King once said that what really frightened him was the thought of an unexpected hand closing over his as he fumbled for the light switch in the dark. I think I know exactly what he means.
* I've slept on the side of the highway. I don't recommend it.
** True story. Though in my defense, it wasn't a really big tree.