All Eyes, Everywhere


It’s autumn. It’s October. It’s spooky season, my favourite time of year, and I have an online journal again. What better time for me to share some spooky personal thoughts and experiences?

If you are scopophobic this might not be for you.

In my first (only) year of university, I took a psychology class. I don’t remember the professor’s name, or the assignments, but a couple of the lectures are burned into my mind because of things that happened outside of the presentation format.

We did an exercise in class one day where the instructor read out a list of terms that related to one another, and as a class we were asked to remember as many as possible and write them down after hearing them. He didn’t tell us how many words were in the list beforehand, and I think it was around twenty, but I don’t remember all of them.

He read the list out slowly, with even pauses between each word. They were words associated with nighttime, going to bed, or going to sleep; blanket, pillow, pyjamas, night, tired, etc. I distinctly recall that the word sleep was said four times consecutively, and that a few people chuckled after the first few times it was spoken.

We were given five minutes to recreate the list. Our words didn’t have to be in the same order as the ones read, and we didn’t have to list them all, simply as many as we could recollect, and sleep did count as four separate words (despite it being the same word four times). We didn’t compare with the other students in the room. It was an exercise, not an assignment.

After our time elapsed, the professor read the list again, everyone compared the number of items on their list with the original, and we learned two things. First, that no one fully recreated the list. There were a few people that got close, but the majority had around half of the items. The second, and really interesting part, was that nearly all of us had added the same word to the list, but it was not included in the original list read aloud.

The word bed.

I don’t remember what this exercise was an introduction to, but I do remember the discussion afterwards, and that the professor brought our collective attention to a student who had fallen asleep. He did so by commenting idly, “Yes, he’s asleep,” to another student, sitting next to the young man, who was taking in the state of this unconscious person. A few people turned to look, but returned their focus back to the lecturer because he had carried on.

He didn’t do anything to wake the sleeping man, but did remain fixated on this person for the next few minutes. It was distracting, and people eventually stopped asking questions and began giving this unaware individual more of their attention than the presenter. The professor didn’t discourage this, or make any attempts to wake this person, but as more and more people began to lose concentration, he commented on it.

I don’t remember the exact phrase, but he said something akin to, “He’ll be aware of us any moment now.”

We all turned to look at this sleeping man, saying nothing. And after mere seconds, he awoke with a small jolt. People chuckled, and the lecture continued. I remember nothing else from this day.

I think about that occurrence a lot.

I have noticed that if I stare at a person who is unaware of me at first, they will turn to meet my gaze. And most of the time, this happens near instantly. Within seconds. If a person doesn’t notice, they are usually too engrossed in what they are doing, or are encumbered in some way that dulls their senses and ability to give a shit (intoxicated).

I’ve also noticed that I can detect this myself. Whether it’s something psychological, or some latent underdeveloped sense of awareness left over from evolution, I’m not sure. I wish I could remember the rest of the lecture and if anything else was said about it specifically, but I don’t.

What really bothers me about noticing when someone looks at me long enough to gain my attention, is the sense of awareness I feel. It’s hard to describe. It’s a tingling sensation on the backs of my arms and neck. A slight stirring that lets me know “there are eyes nearby.” It’s not a specific thought. It’s an alien awareness that happens at its own will, and I cannot use it voluntarily.

I hate it. It’s unsettling. I’ll find myself reactively looking around, when I’m not even sure what I’m trying to find. If I see someone I know, I’m set at ease and I wave or we speak. Regularity will be restored. If I look around and I notice someone that I don’t know staring at me, the relaxation doesn’t come. Even if I awkwardly smile, and try and force my way through the intrusive interaction, I don’t relax.

Worse still, I’ve had instances where I’ll be completely engrossed in something like reading or work, and I’ll have this sense of awareness tickling at my skin, letting me know there are eyes nearby… but I’m totally alone.

When I was living with my father while attending Digital Media Design, that sensation woke me in the middle of the night. On more than one occasion.

Staying in that house was the only time I’ve ever lived in a ground-floor level bedroom. It was located at the back of the house, facing the deck and the yard. There was a fence and a garage between me and the alley, but the floor level was high set, so my view wasn’t obstructed. I kept the blinds closed ninety percent of the time during the day in order to maintain privacy.

Most nights, after dressing and turning off the overhead light, I would open the blinds and leave them open while sleeping.

I enjoy the subtle shift in awareness that comes from the creeping increase of sunlight as morning draws near. Plus, after my alarm goes off, I’m much more inclined to get out of bed if the room is already bright.

I remember the first time I woke in the middle of the night. I was frustrated. I assumed I’d had a bad dream and simply failed to recall the details. I didn’t get up to look around, I merely rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. In hindsight, I should have been concerned, because things kept getting weirder up until I moved out. But I’m no stranger to waking without reason. I live with chronic pain, so insomnia is a regular occurrence.

The next time I recall waking at night was a few weeks later. The tickling sensation that previously ensnared my attention in a gradual manner, similar to a predator stalking ever closer to their prey, instead, shocked me awake. I sat straight up in bed. I was tense, and cold. Even though I was under my covers. I didn’t notice anything amiss in the room. I didn’t hear or see anything from the window.

Yet the feeling persisted, and I found it difficult to go back to sleep.

I spent a few hours on my phone, and on my laptop in bed. I had a terrible following day in class. But nothing was out of the ordinary. Weeks passed, and I put it out of my mind.

The third time this happened is the instance I struggle with the most.

Again, it was a weeknight and I had class in the morning. I’d been up late working on projects and fell asleep fairly quickly when I finally turned in. I was in bed sleeping when I became consciously aware that I was being watched. It woke me, but not fully. I wasn’t able to move. The foot of my bed faced the window, and I was laying on my right side with the pane outside of my sight line. There was a light streaming in through the window, and moving across the room. When it panned over the bed, I shut my eyes and willed myself to disappear.

My heart was racing, and I was clenching my teeth, but I still couldn’t get up. The light lingered on me for what felt like eternity before shutting off. When that happened, I was finally able to sit up. I threw the covers off and went to hide in the bathroom out of view from the window. I forgot my phone. I didn’t go wake my father. I just panicked and hid until I calmed down.

I didn’t go back to sleep.

The next day I told my father what happened. He offered a rational explanation; the neighbour across the alley had headlamps on the rack of his vehicle, and likely had come home late. He assured me I would have heard if someone was walking around with boots on the deck, and they would have left footprints behind because it was winter when this occurred.

I allowed these reasonable ideas to comfort me. I tried not to think about how I’d never heard anyone walking around on the deck, no matter what type of footwear they had on. I ignored the knowledge that people speaking directly outside my window were muffled by the barrier and I never clearly heard their words. Collectively we glossed over that my father was so diligent about keeping both the deck and walkway clear of debris year round, that I’d scarcely seen my own footprints in the snow, but I let him provide that justification without objecting. I wanted to be consoled and to put it out of my mind.

The things that happened next were much harder to ignore.

One day, in the spring, I came home after class and found the back door ajar. It was open about eight or ten inches. Definitely under one foot.

In our family the back door is the primary entrance, with the front routinely blocked by various items and seldom used. The doors were always kept closed, and locked. Even if my father was putting his dog in the backyard for some exercise, the inner door would be open, but the outer door would be bolted. When we were kids, playing in the yard, the door would be open, but one of my parents would be in the kitchen supervising both us and the back door. Coming across an open, unlocked, and unattended door was without a doubt, irregular.

And like a fucking moron, even though I was alone and encumbered by my school supplies, I walked directly inside without hesitation. I was more concerned that there might be something wrong with my father, than worried that there would be someone inside. Horror movie murderers would love my dumb ass.

Fortunately, there was no one else inside.

If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t look around very much. I walked the main floor, called for my father from the base of the stairs to the second floor and from the doorway to the basement, receiving no response. Nothing appeared to be out of place, and Gizmo wasn’t making anymore noise than usual (he was a hyper dog who jumped and barked constantly, but he wasn’t growling or upset).

I went back to my bedroom and phoned my dad. He hadn’t been home yet, but he often stopped at home during the day for lunch, and had done so earlier. Nothing was amiss then, and he offered that perhaps he forgot to lock the bolt, and suggested that maybe the door wasn’t fully closed when he left.

Again, a reasonable explanation (barring every routine my family has firmly established about entranceways in my lifetime).

I ended the call and continued getting ready. I was only stopping home to drop off my school supplies and retrieve my car so I could meet up with friends.

Then I noticed that a couple of my drawers were open, and there were a few pieces of clothing scattered across my bed.

I make my bed every morning. Some days it’s the only clean area in my room. I have this superstitious belief that if I don’t make my bed, it will be difficult for me to fall asleep later. I started doing it when I was a child, maybe around age ten, but back then I only did it directly before getting into bed. It was my way to check for monsters before becoming vulnerable to the night’s shadows. And it’s a routine I maintain faithfully to this day.

The only items I regularly leave on my bed are my night clothes. The things that were on my bed that day were my underwear. I picked them up and was going to put them away until I noticed the breaks in the fabric. Two pairs had been cut, jaggedly, as though with the row of teeth in pinking sheers.

Even more odd, the removed pieces of fabric were not present.

When I’m faced with an uncomfortable situation, I tend to go on autopilot. I’m a person who wants to fix things, and in a crisis that’s great, I take control and get everything looked after. In the face of something surprising, it’s not that great. My typically rational brain failed me that day. I took the ruined underwear and discarded it. I tidied my room. I closed and locked the back door. I got in my car and I left. As quickly as possible.

Hours later, I’d gone over these details with the people that I met up with, and they did not try and allay my concerns. It was agreed that that was an odd occurrence, and they insisted that I reach out to my dad to make sure things at the house were normal. I did so, and everything was fine.

The next day I told my father what I had found in my room. Neither of us could explain it. Not even the dog could be a scapegoat, because he was housed in a specific area when left alone.

Shortly thereafter I spent a couple weeks at a friend’s house to look after her dogs while she was out of town. This weird circumstance was firmly fixed in my rear view mirror and was steadily decreasing in relevance. It was during this time away that I learned at some point before I moved in, my father had given his spare key to my older brother, who in turn lost it. And my father had never changed the locks or had replacement keys made.

Near the same period, we found out that a friend of my brother’s had been arrested for sexual assault, and this same person was with my brother when he received the keys. He had been to the house several times with my brother while he visited our dad, and had stayed over with my brother on more than one occasion, so he was familiar with the interior.

And even more unsettling, my father confessed that he’d found the door slightly open, just as I had, on additional separate occasions.

I ended up staying at my friend’s house well beyond their return, for this and other reasons, and they graciously tolerated me. When I did eventually go back home to live, my insomnia reoccured with astounding regularity. I stayed there for another two years, and nothing else happened. The locks were eventually changed, and when I bought my home I was able to remove myself from the reminder of the strange string of events.

I still sleep with my blinds open. But I’ll never live on the ground floor again.

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