I was never afraid of the dark; I just couldn’t see! As a young child I didn’t question my night-blindness. I thought that no one could see after the lights were turned off. Sure, I ran into the bathroom door in the middle of the night on occasion. But didn’t everyone? After the sun went down we turned on lamps (Thank you, Mr. Edison). We turned them off at bedtime. We can see when the lights are on, and when the lights go out, we don’t see. That was my reality.
There weren’t many opportunities to have to navigate at night during childhood. We had to be inside before dark.
Then at age 10, I went to Girl Scout camp, where I slept in a tent with three other girls for two weeks. Each night after dinner and campfire activities we made our way back to our tents in the dark. We all used flashlights, per our instructions.
One day we walked out into the woods. We were each to find two trees about 12 feet apart to which we would attach our hammock. Over the hammock we strung a heavy piece of rope between the two trees, and placed a tarp over that. Our own little pup tent in the air. That was to keep us dry in case it rained.
It did rain. Hard. In the middle of the night I was awakened not by the rain but by one of the counselors. She shook my hammock, pounded on the tarp and called my name. Instead of allowing us to apply our newly learned survival skills and stay in the outdoors (my preference) we had to go back to our tents. I groped for the bare essentials. I found my shoes, then grabbed the duffel bag that supposedly held the rest of my gear. I could not find my flashlight! I tried to keep up with my fellow campers, tramping on the wet ground under a heavy rainfall, using what I could see of their flashlights to find my way. They were hurrying, their lights darting randomly like a bunch of fireflies ahead of me. Still, I could sense the general direction, and tried to stay near their voices.
A counselor walked past me and told me I needed to put on my socks. We were to never be without socks, due to the likelihood of running into snakes, briars, or poison ivy. I just kept walking, afraid that if I were to stop to look for my socks I would fall helplessly behind, out of ear range of the others. I got a few scratches from twigs and low branches, but I finally reached my tent and quickly settled in my bed. I learned that one of my tent mates also had hiked back without a flashlight. “How could you see?” I asked her.
“Oh, I could see okay. Most everyone had on something white.”
Really? I began to realize that my inability to see at night was not typical.
“I couldn’t see anything,” I told them. Only some of your flashlights.
They began testing me, holding things up right in front of my face and asking what I could see. Nothing.
Nothing at all.
To be continued