This may sound like something out of a horror movie, but it’s not. It happened to me on Saturday night.
This weekend, Drew and I were babysitting. We were staying at his friends’ house, a rustic-looking ranch in Beverly Hills and taking care of their four-year-old daughter, Chloe. About half an hour after we put Chloe to bed, while Drew and I were watching TV, Chloe began to scream. It was no ordinary scream, either. It was the kind of heart-stopping upper-register scream which every parent fears and which sends every babysitter to the edge of panic.
By the time Drew got up to check on her, the screaming had stopped. He peeked into her room, and she was still asleep, safe and sound.
There was a simple explanation. Chloe suffers from night terrors. Throughout the night, every half hour or so, Chloe would scream, probably in the middle of some horrific nightmare. Her parents had warned Drew about the condition ahead of time, so we were prepared. The first few times, we checked on her. After that, we learned to ignore her. By the end of the night, we were even sleeping through the screams.
Then, sometime after 4AM, I woke up completely paralyzed. I was lying on my side, staring toward the dark hallway, and I couldn’t move my arms and legs. I tried to say something to Drew, but I couldn’t open my mouth. I couldn’t even make a sound. I struggled and struggled, but it was no use. My heart was racing. I was completely panicked and utterly helpless. Then, I heard footsteps coming down the hallway. I assumed it was Chloe, but despite the fact that it was a very short hallway, the footsteps kept going and going, getting closer and closer, but no one ever arrived.
And when the footsteps stopped, I heard a voice.
It was a low, bellowing voice. Hushed and angry. “Get out of here!” it moaned.
And then it was over. I regained my mobility and my ability to speak, and I knew that whatever had just happened had passed.
There was a simple explanation for this, too. I have sleep paralysis. Once every few months or so, I wake up in the middle of the night completely petrified and panicked. It lasts a few minutes, and by now I’ve learned that when it happens, I just need to wait it out, then things will go back to normal and I can go back to sleep.
Apparently, the condition is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations, although I can only remember two times in the past that I’ve hallucinated in conjunction with an attack. Once, I thought an earthquake was taking place. I wanted to run for cover, but I couldn’t move. It was so vivid that I checked the paper the next day to see if there were any reports of tremors (there weren’t). The other time, back in college, I thought I had been abducted by aliens. They told me I had a great destiny awaiting me, and that the secret to life was contained in the music of Duran Duran. (No, that’s not a joke.) I have a feeling my neighbor had been playing some loud music while pulling an all-nighter. (It was during the band’s brief early-90’s comeback.)
I usually don’t panic much during my paralysis. I’ve done some research, and it turns out it’s a perfectly normal and harmless condition. Experience has taught me that the best thing to do is wait it out, and everything will go back to normal. The hallucinations, when they happen, aren’t real.
But then again, I can’t help thinking that one time they WILL be real, that I’ll be lying there paralyzed in the middle of a real earthquake or as an unwelcome visitor creeps down my hallway, telling myself just to wait it out. Everything will be fine…