Tag Archives: Afraid

I Heard Someone Upstairs When No One Else Was Home


It was about 10 p.m. last night when my friend dropped me off at home.

I unlocked my back door, kicked off my shoes, turned on a light, and lounged on one of my couches, half-watching an NBA playoff game while reading a book.

I live in a two-story cape cod. Sometimes my son wakes up at night, gets out of bed and walks to a bathroom or to find me. So, it’s usually not that weird when I hear the floor creak several times above me.

The problem was: No one else was home.

Every hair on my arms stood up.

Investigate? Ask who’s there?

I’d like to tell you I boldly walked upstairs like a badass ready to take out any threat that might be waiting. I did the opposite of that.

I grabbed my wallet, keys, shoes, and walked out to my Jeep without putting them on.

I backed out of my driveway and parked across the street with the engine running, trying to go over my options.

There were three possibilities.

  1. An intruder was in my house. That was the scariest.
  2. For the first time in more than nine years of living there, I was experiencing a haunting. Also scary.
  3. My house made some noise because it’s 65 years old and I’m being a wimpy spaz. The most likely.

My brain was telling me it was highly unlikely there was someone in there. I live in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there were no signs of forced entry, and I hadn’t seen any visual evidence on the first floor of anything looking out of place, with the caveat being I’m not all that organized sometimes, so it’s not always immediately obvious whether something that shouldn’t be there anyway had been moved to another place it shouldn’t be.

I sat in the Jeep across the street staking out my own house like an insane person. I was looking for movement in the upstairs windows, or in my brightly lit living room. I hadn’t shut off the TV and it was casting constantly moving light and danger onto the walls.

I have only a few viable self-defense weapons in the house. All of them are in my bedroom. I’ll need to rethink that strategy.

My mind was racing. I have a Sheriff’s deputy friend who lives relatively close. He’s a single dad like me. He was the only person I could think to reach out to. If he was free, maybe he’d come sweep the house with me.

“You around sir?” I texted.

I just sat there behind the wheel staring at all the windows, wondering what an intruder WOULD do if he (or she?) was in there, almost certainly realizing I was in an idling car across the street.

The Possible Intruder Profiles

I’m no genius. But there are really only a few types of people who could conceivably break into my house and creep around upstairs while I’m downstairs.


I don’t own anything of great financial value, like jewelry, fine art or precious metals. Televisions and computers are really the only obvious things to steal. I quickly ruled out thieves.

Homeless Tweaker

It’s not unheard of for someone like me (a single guy with a predictable schedule) to have someone borrow my house when I’m away. Homeless person sneaks in. They use toilets and showers and eat and drink, but expertly cover their tracks. I added the word “tweaker,” for the element of danger. A threatened, cornered, mentally unstable person can be a physical threat.

Psycho Murderer

Creepy murderer lies in wait in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of killing you when you come home. It’s REALLY irrational to fear this, but I’d just had a conversation about Charles Manson and the cult killings associated with him over lunch that day, so it was floating around the back of my head.

A Sexy Stalker

Gorgeous, sultry stalker lies in wait naked in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of sleeping with you when you come home. There’s a decent chance the psycho murderer scenario is more likely to happen.

A Ghost

Ray Parker Jr. sang “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” in one of my all-time favorite comedies, but I actually am afraid of ghosts. I’ve seen and experienced exactly ZERO hauntings in my life. Perhaps if I had a bunch of ghost encounters, they wouldn’t bother me. I didn’t like the idea of going to sleep in my bedroom with a footstep-generating specter hanging out in there.

This is bullshit. I can’t just sit here, I thought. I’m sure it was nothing.

I pulled back into my driveway and turned off the Jeep. Just then, my law-enforcement friend texted me back, including in it the fact he had his young daughter at home.

I decided I just needed to go upstairs and deal with whatever.

“How ya doing?” my friend texted.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied. “If I don’t write back, really bad. And if I do, everything will be fine.”

His cop alarm went off.

“You need to call me,” he said.

So I did. And I told him what was going on. He said he would come over but I’d have to stay outside with his daughter. I didn’t think that was in her best interest, so I declined.

He then suggested the police. “I’ve been on those calls before. They do it all the time.”

I was a little bit more afraid of calling the cops and it turning out to be nothing than I was being attacked by a stranger.

“It’s probably nothing. Seriously,” I said. “The only thing I’ll say in defense of myself is that I’ve lived in this house nine years and know the noises it makes. This is the first time I ever felt scared enough to leave because of noise.”

He asked me to stay on the phone with him while I cleared each room. I systematically walked through each room in my house, turning on every light, looking behind every door, inside every closet, under every bed—the entire time, waiting to be ambushed by an axe murderer, junkie or ghost monster.

It’s incredible how much braver you feel with someone on the phone with you. At least there will be an audio witness to the brutal slaying!

I found nothing, of course. I was not murdered or even attacked.

Nothing yelled “Boo!” or impaled me with a demon spear.

Perhaps someone had been there, and they left during the 10-15 minutes I sat in my car across the street while my elder neighbor lady gave me WTF looks from her living room sofa.

Perhaps there had been a ghost of some kind in one of the closets and it stared right at me when I opened the door, but never realized it.

Or perhaps it was nothing at all. That’s usually what it is: the simple explanation.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I feared for my safety. I didn’t bravely and boldly run upstairs to defend my turf and protect what’s rightfully mine. I didn’t brazenly yell at the would-be intruder with warnings of imminent harm if he didn’t leave immediately. Instead, I grabbed a few things and hurried out of my own house without even waiting to put on shoes.

I feel more courageous with my writing.

I feel more courageous professionally.

I feel more courageous socially.

But when I thought I might have to fight an unknown assailant or a ghost monster, my first instinct was to run away.

I don’t necessarily know what that means, or what I should do about it.

I only know that I don’t like it, and should definitely do something.

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Too Many Spiders, Vol. 2

There always there. We just don't always see them. The things we're afraid of.

They’re always there. We just don’t always see them. The things we’re afraid of.

I am afraid.

I am afraid a lot. It’s because I scare easily.

Not over things I’d consider irrational.

Horror films don’t frighten me. I’m not scared of the dark. I’m not afraid of being home alone.

That’s me trying to convince you I’m brave sometimes.

But I’m afraid of many other things. Things I would thoughtlessly describe as rational, even though a wise person might tell us that all fears are irrational.

I’m afraid of people I love being hurt.

I’m afraid of rejection.

I’m afraid of failure.

I’m afraid of things I’m too afraid to tell you about.

Sometimes Brave

My almost-six-year-old son was running around the yard with me while I was mowing. I asked him to run to the garage and grab the push broom so I could sweep the sidewalk.

He ran back to me a minute later, empty-handed.

“Where’s the broom, cheese?” (I call him random names. A lot.)

“Dad, you have to come get it,” he said.

“Bud, it’s just leaning up against the wall. Please bring it.”

“But there’s a spider!”

“Why don’t you just use that big broom to take the spider to Chinatown?”

“It’s too scary,” he said.

We walked to the garage together.

“I don’t see any spiders.”

He pointed toward the gas cans, about five or six feet away from where the broom was leaning against a wall. There was a barely visible, super-small spider just waiting for my kindergartener to grab the broom, so he could then expand into a snarling, truck-sized arachnid and capture my son in his giant web with the rest of the neighborhood children and pets.

I walked over and grabbed the broom without being attacked.


Or was it just me being confident that everything would be okay?

When I was little, I was really afraid of spiders, too.

One time my dad put a large toy spider (that could move) on my face, and I cried.

I’m still kind of afraid of spiders. Not like jump-around-flailing arachnophobia, or anything. But a healthy fear of the occasional large spider I find in the house. I tend to use shoes and rolled-up newspapers, as opposed to a simple paper towel in my hand.

After all, as soon as I grab the spider, it would certainly chew right through the paper towel and crawl all over my hand doing scary spider things.

Sometimes Afraid

In September 2008, a large 85-foot wild cherry tree turned our backyard into a scene from the television show Ax Men. The tree’s root system had decayed and high winds from a severe storm blew it down. The impact destroyed our detached garage.

Our four-month-old son had been napping in our upstairs bedroom. Had the tree fallen toward our bedroom and not the garage… he might not have made it.

The realization of how close that came to happening made me cry.

I’m not even embarrassed about how scared I am of something happening to that boy.

But I am embarrassed about how scared I am of many other things.

Sometimes I’m scared to try new things.

Sometimes I’m scared of some of the things I think and feel.

Sometimes I’m scared to write things because of what you might think of me.

I subscribe to the theory that EVERYONE gets afraid. I think feigning fearlessness is a foolish endeavor. A wiser choice is to embrace the fear, face it head on, and overcome it. Easier said than done.

We get afraid in competitive situations.

We get afraid in our social and professional lives.

We get afraid in any situation in which we are forced out of our comfort zones.

So we sometimes play it safe. We maintain the status quo. Because it’s easy. Because maybe we won’t get hurt.

One of my favorite things I read this past year was this fantastic Forbes article by Margie Warrell where she encourages readers to take risks, drawing the following conclusions:

1. We over-estimate the probability of something going wrong.

2. We exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if it does go wrong.

3. We underestimate our ability to handle the consequences of risk.

4. We discount or deny the cost of inaction, and sticking with the status quo.

(Please read it. It’s infinitely more important than this post.)

You know, it’s funny.

If you asked me whether I’d rather be someone who always succeeds at everything I do, or someone who was courageous in any situation, I wouldn’t know how to answer it.

But—gun to my head?—I’m leaning toward courage.

You know what’s interesting about that?

I can control how courageous I am. I can choose courage. There’s nothing stopping any of us, ever, from choosing courage, regardless of outcome or circumstance.

Too Many Spiders

Traffic was typical for a Friday morning commute—busy—only it was moving briskly as opposed to the highway traffic jams we often incur.

The rolled-up sleeves on my button-up shirt allowed me to feel the tickle of movement on my left arm.

I looked down.

A brown spider—not gargantuan like the imagined one my son thought might attack him in the garage—but large enough to make someone who doesn’t love spiders (like me) very uncomfortable.

It was dangling from a single web strand attached to the arm I was using to pilot the Jeep.

If I had been standing in my backyard, or anywhere not involving dozens of closely packed vehicles traveling three-wide at 75 miles per hour, I would have quickly swatted it away and watched the hair on my arms stand up.

If I do anything like that, I’m going to cause a massive Interstate pile-up.

So, I held still. The spider just hung there, but was certainly going to crawl up to my arm soon enough. I was not pleased.

But I wanted to die and kill other people much less than I wanted a brown spider crawling on me.

My mind overpowered my instincts. I switched hands on the steering wheel and managed to reach the button that opens my driver’s side window.

Window open, dozens of speeding cars to my right, just behind me and in front of me, I slowly pulled my arm up hoping the rushing air would pull the spider outside.

I felt the spider fly off, but couldn’t tell whether it flew out the window.

I realized immediately what I had done. In a moment of fear, my entire body told me to do something.

But I didn’t.

I did something else. Something smarter. Something braver. Because, in that moment, it was the right thing.

Good for you, Matt.

Maybe that spider flew out.

Maybe it didn’t.

In a few hours, I’m going to get back in the Jeep and drive home.

Maybe I’ll have another run in with the eight-legged passenger.

Maybe I won’t.

If I do? I know I can handle it. No matter what’s going on around me.

I’m not afraid.

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