Our eighth-grade science teacher Mr. Underwood asked for a volunteer – someone to spend three hours in isolation, blindfolded, in a dark and quiet room, and then write a report on the experience, what you thought and felt.
One big hand on a scrawny long arm lifted high. Three hours free of my three sisters. Three hours of not hearing my mother tell me to go study. “I am studying,” I could tell her, in all honesty. Three hours of peace and quiet.
“No television or radio,” Mr. Underwood warned, perhaps considering me a bit too eager. I nodded my understanding. This would be an assignment as easy as eating a piece of chocolate cake. I looked around the room. Nobody else had raised a hand.
Ah, but none of them had three pesky sisters.
I informed the family at supper that I was conducting an important experiment for science class and that none of them must disturb me. I would be busy between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. “Mister Underwood said to tell everyone in the house to be quiet,” I warned. “Or you’ll ruin the experiment.”
A few minutes before seven o’clock, I retreated to my room in the back of the house. At seven o'clock my mother rapped on the door. My privacy didn’t last long, I thought as I said, “I’m trying to do some science here.”
“We’re all leaving,” my mother said. “Your daddy’s taking the girls up to Buck’s for ice cream.”
“Everybody’s going?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
I said, “Thanks,” but balked at the idea of being left alone in the house. Hesitantly, I turned off the light, put the blindfold over my head and sat down in a wooden chair I had placed against the bedroom door. Just in case someone tried to sneak up on me.
“Piece of cake,” I told myself. I had the evening planned out. I intended to imagine a baseball game from first inning to last just to pass the time. Imagine eating hot dogs and drinking soft drinks. “Yes, a quiet evening.” I began by imagining the singing of the national anthem. Then I imagined the public address announcer blaring out the name of the first batter. I got through the first three pitches and the fly ball out to center before I heard the floor creak.
The house settling? Sometimes it did that. I held my breath – and imagined someone crawling out from under the bed. They held a knife. They approached. I could hear their breathing. I yanked off the blindfold, my heart pounding. I turned on the light. I was alone. I moved the chair, opened the door, entered the kitchen. I looked at the electric clock. Seven minutes after seven.
I went through the den and hallway to the front door. I looked in the front yard. The car was gone. And they had left the front door –unlocked. Unlocked? Did they not know I was sitting in that back room with a blindfold over my face? Didn’t they know someone could have walked in to that house and slit my throat?
Re-entering my bedroom, I checked under the bed and in the closet, and then locked the door. I put the chair against the door and reached for the blindfold. No, I told myself. It’s dark enough if I just turn off the light. I turned off the light. It was too dark. I turned the light back on.
I tried to think of the baseball game again. “Fly ball out to right. Aaron circles under it, pounds the glove, and he’s got it for the second --.”
The phone rang – loud. My heart leaped into my throat. I let it ring a second time before picking up the receiver. It was a friend wanting me to come spend the night on Friday. I kept him on the phone for ten minutes or so before returning to my seat.
It was a long night. I went into the den and waited for the family to return. Eight o’clock. Dang! How long does it take to eat ice cream. Almost nine o clock! The car ascended the driveway.
I ran to my bedroom and turned off the light. I strained to hear their voices. I heard nothing. So I entered the den where my mother and father sat. I told them, “I can’t do this science stuff with y’all being so loud in here.”
“We’re being as quiet as mice. You go on back.”
“No, I think I’ve messed it up now by coming in here.”
The next day I turned in my report. Mr. Underwood looked at it, his eyebrows raised. “You say it was peaceful and quiet.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “My sisters didn’t bother me.”
“Did you ever get anxious?”
“No, sir, I just imagined I was at a baseball game.”
“Did you ever feel – scared?”
“Oh, no, sir,” I said, hoping he would leave it at that. “I never got scared.”
It was the truth. I never got scared. I got terrified.