“A little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness.” -Jewish proverb
Racquel always felt nauseous when she tasted darkness. Other people think the dark is quiet, serene, and cool, like a summer’s evening, but it was really bitter, hot, and moist like a swamp, and tiny, beastly things swarmed unseen in the ebony abyss. If she wasn’t careful, she could swallow them, and even one would torment her for days before being eliminated into the toilet.
She wasn’t always like this. It used to be that light was light and dark was dark. The sun rose, she turned on a lamp, she walked into her office building, there was always light. Then the sun set, she left work, went home, went to bed, and turned off the lamp on her night stand. Then it was dark. There was no good or bad to it.
But then things changed.
“If you don’t learn to turn off the lights, our power bill will be through the roof.”
“Shut up, Jason. Shut up, shut up, shut up!” She wanted to scream at him but she never did. Racquel passively nodded her head, and holding back her tears, she’d turn off the lights, one by one, and go to bed. She hadn’t been afraid of the dark since she was very little. Why was she afraid of it now?
He tried to make love to her afterward. She supposed he thought it would comfort her, or maybe it was his way of saying he was sorry for yelling at her again.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t feel well right now.”
“Fine!” He turned his back to her and made a good show of causing the bed to bounce, and then pulling more than his fair share of the blankets over him and away from her. She spent a lot of nights sleeping on the sofa, a small, battery-powered night-light tucked under her sheet.
Thank God they hadn’t any children together. Racquel cried herself to sleep for a week after he left, refusing to realize it was the best thing he could have done for her.
Then he came for her in the darkness. Nothing could keep him away. When she turned on all the lights in the apartment, there was a power outage, or the circuit breakers all tripped, or for no apparent reason, the lights just wouldn’t stay on.
Batteries in flashlights went dead, and candle wicks refused to catch fire. Her home was in as much darkness as her soul, and it was that darkness which attracted him.
At first, he did nothing, just sat in the chair she kept in the corner of her bedroom and stared at her. Racquel felt paralyzed. He was no ordinary intruder. He wasn’t even human. He just stared, as if he could see through her blankets, through her nightgown, gazing longingly, lustfully at her naked body.
The most horrible part was that she not only felt ashamed but aroused.
“No, I don’t want this, I don’t want any of this. Go away.”
“I will only take you by invitation, but I know you want me. I can hear it in your voice and taste it in your sweat. I can smell the powerful odor of your sex, the musky dampness oozing out of your nethers.”
His voice was smooth, like silken lingerie. She rubbed her tummy and felt the sensation of taffeta on her fingers and in her ears as he spoke. She also felt the heat of her body and the desire. He was right, but it was so very wrong.
Ever since she left home, she’d been in and out of unsuccessful relationships with the wrong men. Jason was just the latest. How many men had she let inside her bed and her body? Now the wrongest of men desired her. No, that wasn’t right. She desired him. But why?
“No. Please go.”
“You haven’t changed. You’ll never change.” He was just a shadow on the chair in the dark, but if she were able to turn on a light, she knew his face wouldn’t come close to matching the sophistication of his voice.
“Let me alone.”
“You always expect a white knight and instead you get the dragon, and I am the best of them, the ancient serpent, the snake slithering across your garden and into your secret womb.”
“I don’t want just sex.”
“Then why do you crave it with me?”
“Stop it! Please!”
“You know how. Either make me leave or invite me inside of you.”
“No!” She yelled at him and then pressed her hands against her ears the way she used to when Mom was screaming at her for getting home past curfew when she was in high school.
“Oh God, please.” It came out as a whisper but he heard it anyway.
“What did you say?” He didn’t sound surprised.
“No, say it.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, you did. I heard you. You called for Him, didn’t you?”
“No, I can’t. I shouldn’t.”
“Because…because…” She finished her sentence with a sob.
“Because of what, Racquel?”
She wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked back at the shadow in the darkness. “Because of what I’ve done.”
“You mean the men?”
She nodded, hot shame burning her face.
“The sex. You thought if you gave them sex, they’d give you love, starting with that block headed buffoon you surrendered your virginity to when you were fifteen.”
She said nothing because there was nothing to say. Her tormentor was right. She kept making the same mistake over and over. She couldn’t help herself. Racquel was like a moth perpetually drawn to a flame. She’d been burned so many times before, but with each wound and scar, she kept going back, eyes wide open, drawn in by its beauty, and scorched by its heat.
“You have a decision to make.”
“Whether or not to keep making the same mistake again and again.”
“I don’t know how to stop.”
“I think you do. You just don’t want to.”
“You know that answer, too.”
“Just get it over with!” She screamed at him again. He was so infuriating, torturing her with his words, yet keeping his body just out of reach.
“Are you inviting me in?”
“Yes. I mean no. I don’t know what I mean.” Her body shuddered and for a second, she thought he was going to rise from his chair and come to her.
“Do you want me?”
“What’s the use? It doesn’t matter. You or some other man, it’s all the same.”
“I am not like other men and in fact, I’m not a man at all. You know that, of course.”
“You’re tempting me.”
“No more than you’ve been tempted countless times before. You always fall.”
“I don’t want to fall anymore. I don’t like being in the dark.”
“Then run to the light.”
“I can’t. You’ve turned them all off.”
“There’s one light I can never turn off.”
“The light of the world.”
A flash of memory put her back in Sunday school. Mommy and Daddy used to take her to church. She learned all about the light, and being good, and praying, and…
And then Daddy left and she and Mommy were alone. Mommy hated being alone and took it out on Racquel. She missed Daddy so much. Why didn’t he love her anymore? Why didn’t he come and see her?
Racquel was six years old when she convinced herself that she had a man-sized hole in her life, and if her Daddy wasn’t going to fill it, she’d have to grow up and find someone else who would.
She’d been doing that ever since and it never worked. Those men didn’t love her anymore than Daddy did.
“God, make him go away.” She was muttering her first prayer in almost twenty years.
“Perhaps if you said it with more conviction, child.”
Then she leapt out of bed and the soul of all the rage, pain, and humiliation she’d kept hidden inside since she was six years old sprang forth like a screaming demon.
“I told you to get out and I mean it. Get out. God please, if you’re in Heaven, make him go away forever. I don’t want to be like this anymore!”
He stood. There was something slimy about him, or perhaps just a hint of the grave.
“You win. Congratulations.”
All the lights came on but there was no one in the apartment except her.
Now she walks in the light all the time. No, she’s not afraid of the dark anymore and it’s not that kind of light, but she is illuminated.
There’s still darkness, but she’s found a way not only to light her own world but to spread that glow to others. It’s not easy. She can hold a lot of light, but in order to share it with those who need light the most, she has to enter the darkness. It makes her sick, but only for a little while. After that, she starts to feel better again and when the light pushes the darkness away and she can see inside, there’s a face of someone who had been hurting who is starting to feel better, too.
Yesterday, she found Daddy in the darkness along with a half-empty bottle of vodka. She helped him throw the bottle away. He wouldn’t need it again now that he had the light.
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I’ve been so wrong for a long time.”
“I forgive you, Daddy. I forgive you.”
That was when she discovered forgiveness was the brightest light of all.
When I saw the photo, I immediately thought of the Jewish proverb I quoted above. Then, I developed Racquel’s story as I wrote. I’m sure you have guessed the identity of her mysterious, shadowy visitor.