I can't remember the first time they came. Memory is so treacherous. How much do we forget? How much do we invent?
There was one occasion I can recall clearly, if not reliably. And I have reason to believe it's the oldest of my memories of such visitations. But it can't have been the first time. There must have been occasions before that. Because as night fell, I was already afraid.
We were living on Cape Cod. Through an old Army buddy my father had got a winter job as caretaker of a trailer park. He changed jobs a lot back then and we moved from one to the next, up and down the East Coast. That was around the time he sold his Silver Star.
It was another world. Out of maybe sixty or seventy trailers, only half a dozen, give or take, were occupied year-round. The rest, I was told, were for the summer vacationers. I never saw that. We'd moved on long before the weather turned warm enough for tourists.
My father painted and fixed stuff. I had no idea what. I was nine years old and all I knew was that our trailer was cold and damp and I hardly saw my father at all. Except some nights after he got back from the bar and needed help getting to bed. Or the times I made him angry.
Mostly I was left alone. I explored the park imagining I was the only survivor of a nuclear attack. This would have been 1982, I guess. Reagan was in the White House so it felt like the End Times were happening already.
I liked it most when the fog rolled in and the whole world beyond the trailer park vanished. I never went outside much anyway, except to school, when I had to.
I hadn't seen my father for four or five days. It wasn't that he was coming home so late. He wasn't coming home at all. And for some reason that has always eluded me, I have never been able to recall how my mom was taking this. It was like he was there, still with us, so there was no cause for comment, nothing to discuss. He was just invisible.
My teacher sent me home with a note. Sleeping in class again. There was no dinner. Mom was going out. It was still afternoon, only just dark, but she was already putting on make-up and was wearing her best dress, the one my father said made her look like a slut.
She read the note. I thought she was going to slap me but she just shook her head and sighed. Then she looked me up and down and laughed at me the same way she used to laugh at men when she told them to "beat it" or worse. I wanted her to hit me.
I spent the evening wandering the trailer park. A few times I thought I saw my father and wondered if he wasn't coming home because he was just too busy. But it always turned out to be shadows or, once, the weird old guy from trailer eighteen. I was supposed to keep away from him.
About midnight, I crawled into bed. It got real dark in that trailer park because they kept the floodlights - the lights that normally lit up the pathways and roads - turned off to save money. And my father got mad if we left lights on in the trailer for no good reason.
Our trailer was near the park entrance and the only light I could see came from the bar across the road. I guess that's where my mom was. It was just enough for me to make out the shape of my room, the stains on ceiling that I spent hours forming into shapes - sometimes they were countries in new continents of my own design, sometimes mythical beasts, or just clouds.
Sleep took me at some point.
I woke in a timeless state, at an unknown hour in an unknown century. I could make out my bedroom ceiling but knew myself, somehow, to have been removed from my normal existence, that during my sleep I had traveled outside of myself, beyond the trailer and the park and the life I knew.
I couldn't move. Nothing but my eyes and barely those.
And I was not alone.
Something dark occupied all of the space in the room that I could not see. I could smell it. I could hear it. I could sense its proximity. And I knew it was watching.
My breaths came in hard-fought gasps. My limbs were paralyzed and numb but an electric anticipation thrilled through my body. Whoever, whatever was there had a purpose and it involved me. It was there for me.
I experienced sensations that night I would fully recognize only many years later. I felt myself touched, contacted, engaged in strange and wonderful ways. I became connected to a level of spirituality I believe few have experienced.
I have no idea how long it lasted. There were other times, of course, many of them remembered only after extensive hypnotherapy. Since that night, I have suffered and enjoyed more significant experiences. But none more magical. None more strange.