Mental Health

The Intruder


scared child

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She lay flat on her back, the covers up to her chin, arms by her side and both ears unobstructed by the pillow… listening. Her eyes were accustomed to the darkness and the familiar contours of her bedroom were abstract black blocks with no visual depth cues. The dark blue curtains with tiny white dots and random triangles in primary colours, let in little light from outside.

Every muscle in her body was rigid, tensed. Her ears strained to detect any sound. She held her breath and wished she could quiet the sound of her heart beating. Heartbeats turned to seconds, seconds stretched into minutes, minutes conspired to convince her that it was just her imagination. She knew if she turned over, covered one ear by lying on her side, she might miss a sound, and somehow, it seemed important to keep watch, listening and waiting, facing the danger. So she stayed frozen, her nine-year-old imagination pulling her towards a widening maw of terror.

There! And then again! – Sounds… unidentifiable, indistinct, but definitely real. What was it? Could it be a burglar? Her heart pounded and her throat was dry. Her eyes hurt from not blinking. Swallowing hard, the noise loud in her ears compared to what she had been listening for, she came to a decision. Shutting her mind to the whisperings of her imagination, an act that was easier now because she had a Plan, she sat up. She would go and see what it was. It was probably nothing to be scared of, and once she knew that for certain, she would be able to sleep.

Ignoring the persistent tendrils of fear, she reached for her teddy bear and slid her legs over the edge of the mattress, wriggling until her feet reached the floor – the mental vision of something reaching for them from under the bed, for once absent in the face of this, more real, fear. She stood, the hem of her rumpled nightie dropping to mid-calf. She froze as she heard the sound again, still indistinct and frightening. At least standing, she felt less vulnerable. Searching the silence with her senses, she waited. Her bedroom door stood slightly ajar. Slowly, she opened it, peering onto the landing. At the opposite end, the door to her younger sisters bedroom with its bunk-beds, was similarly ajar. She thought she could hear their slow deep-sleep breathing. The landing’s flowery wallpaper was bathed in the diffuse red glow of the nightlight plugged into the socket outside the bathroom door. She moved forward into the red-lit space, every sinew striving for silent motion, eyes wide, ears tuned to any noise. On her right was the closed door to the spare room where her baby sister slept in her cot. A little further along, on her left was the open bathroom door. Opposite it, was the dark mineshaft of the staircase disappearing into the blackness of the hall below. The front door faced the foot of the stairs, it’s orange-segment shaped panes fanning above the lintel. To the left was the door to the sitting room. It was closed but a thin yellow line running along the bottom of it told her that her mother was still up.

She could have gone downstairs, entered the warm yellow comfort zone and confessed her fears, but the embarrassment that she knew would result, made that idea a fleeting consideration only.

Another sound! It came from the direction of her parents bedroom. Past the bathroom, on her right, it was not a room that she entered often. It had been drilled into all the children that it was private, somewhere they weren’t allowed to go without permission. Unwittingly, her arm tightened around the neck of her teddy, squeezing him closer to her as, with stiff, hesitant movements, she soundlessly continued on her quest. Beyond the nightlight, her eyes were once again adjusting to the dimming light when, in a sudden rush of movement and displaced air, a looming adult figure moved directly in front her, blocking her. It happened so fast she didn’t have time to think about being scared. What could only have been a few seconds, slid into a slow-motion eternity, before the sound of his voice met her ears and she knew, instantly, who he was…

She spoke first, “Daddy, I’m scared.” He told her not to worry – that everything was fine. He told her to go back to bed. They went their separate ways; she to her room, while he turned to go downstairs.

Nothing else really registered then, she snuggled under her covers and quickly fell asleep, exhausted after her release from the draining grip of fear.

She didn’t hear him enter the sitting room, couldn’t have imagined the mixture of shock and fear that her mother must have felt, upon seeing the man she had refused entry to – locking the front door from the inside so that his key was useless. Only an hour earlier, she had told him, through the letterbox, to go back to the hospital, that he wasn’t welcome here. She never imagined that he would be able to get in.

The girl awoke some time later, to the sound of her father’s manic laughter drifting up the stairs. He was gleefully shouting something about football. He didn’t even follow football. From where she lay, she could make out the sounds of other male voices, good-natured, even and calming. The two policemen amiably bore her father’s exaggerated camaraderie, before persuading him to return to the hospital.

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14 thoughts on “The Intruder

  1. Pingback: Love All Blogs » the non-profit making, altruistic blog showcasing site » The Grand Love Mental Health Blog Hop

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    • Somehow, as a kid, you have an in-built sensitivity about what is supposed to stay “in the family”. Also, because we were pretty sheltered we didn’t have much to compare to. I think I just accepted a lot of stuff unquestioningly.
      As I got older I wanted to run away, but didn’t know where I could go…

  3. Pingback: The Grand Love Mental Health Blog Hop « Love All Blogs

  4. Reading this, I realise that I’ve either been lucky or well-protected, because I only experienced the kind of fear you have just described once in my childhood. I remember it well though. The drugs got better so my dad could go to a day-time only hospital instead of full-time. I’m not sure that it was better for us as a family…

    • Oh dear, in those days no-one thought about counselling etc. especially not for kids. A parent with mental illness takes it’s toll on a family, in so many different ways – what is best for them is not always best for their “nearest and dearest”. Thanks for commenting on something you would probably rather forget.

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