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Scared $hitless, literally

Have you ever actually been “scared shitless”? Ever stopped to think about what the sayings we use actually mean? Or read one of the many listicles circulating titled “25 Sayings You’re Using Wrong!”? Could you actually careless? How intensive is your purpose? 

While I have stopped to think about some English idioms over the years, I never really stopped to consider, is it actually possible to be scared shitless? What does it actually mean? Does it mean so scared you poo uncontrollably until you’re out of poo? Does it mean you are so scared you can’t poo? For the non-swearers out there, you may use ‘scared witless’. Substitute ‘poo’ for ‘think’ and it’s kind of the same thing. For all intents and purposes of this story (see what I did there…) both versions can be applied. 

Getting back to the point, I decided this was the perfect first Finland Friday post on my new spin-off blog. If you haven’t read the “About Me” section yet, you should do that, then come back and continue this post… Ok, not really. Here’s the relevant highlight – I’m afraid of the dark. Which, is the perfect phobia to have if you just purchased a small cottage in the woods somewhere that only gets 5 hours and 49 minutes of daylight on Dec. 21st…

We start this tale at dusk, on a foggy November day.

Fun fact, not on the About Me page but also relevant, I’m lactose intolerant. Not in the horrible, a splash of dairy makes my digestive tract come apart at the seams kind of way, but enough that I try to avoid it. Unless I’m traveling and the local dessert has cream in it (it’d be rude not to try it…yep that’s the reason…) or I’m craving some Ben & Jerry’s because I walked through the frozen foods section and their bright pints screamed to me from behind the frosty glass. Those are the times I conveniently forget dairy and I don’t always get along; usually, it doesn’t matter. I take the pleasure with the pain. I happily eat my pint of B&J’s or creme brulee or flan or … (you get the point) and deal with the consequences at home, or the hotel.

Turns out, there’s a major flaw in my dairy SOP. Those consequences aren’t so easily dealt with at a cottage in the middle of the woods. Did I mention my cottage doesn’t have indoor plumbing? I have an outhouse. Actually, I have two. In summer, when I bought the cottage, it stayed light until 22:00 (10pm) and that wasn’t a problem. However, in November, when the sky darkened around 16:00 (4pm), it posed a bit of a problem. My first solution was no fluids after an hour before sunset and at sunset, make my last outhouse trip until day break. 

I used to think dark was dark.

I’ve been in the middle of the ocean on a cloudy, moonless night with no land for thousands of miles and not a light shining on the boat; that was dark. My understanding of dark got ten times darker that fateful November night at the cottage.

There was a heavy fog during the day. So dense I couldn’t see the usual lights coming through the trees, emitted from neighbor’s house 50+ metres/yards away. When the sun goes down, even on foggy nights, I can always see their yard lights glowing. That night, the fog was so dense there wasn’t a speck. My measly porch and yard lights barely lit a 1m radius from their locations and I couldn’t see my outhouse path, 8m from my porch, until I was about 1m away. 

The clear glass wine bottle I upcycled to be my outhouse light/bludgeoning device did nothing to light my way. A moose, or the boogeyman, could have been standing a meter away from me and I would’ve never known until it was too late. It was Dark. And it was quiet.

You could’ve heard a leaf hit the ground. 

Earlier in the day, I went to the grocery store with the plan to be back before sunset. If my hands were full of shopping bags, how could I defend myself from a crazy man I couldn’t see, lurking in the darkness of the woods, just waiting to get me??? At the store, I decided to treat myself to some Ben & Jerry’s since it had been a tough week plus, it was on sale (I don’t know much Finnish but I do know “ale”!) On top of that, I spent at least five minutes translating the paragraph of text taped to the freezer door with my phone to make sure I wasn’t buying expired ice cream. I worked hard for that ice cream. (Like I said, I don’t know much Finnish. The very polite sign was to let me know more flavours were located the next aisle over.) 

B&J’s is expensive in the US at around $5/pint. In Finland, it’s typically €6,95/pint (~$8) for the normal flavours but it was on sale for €4,95! The non-dairy/lactose options are always more expensive and they were not on sale.

Sideline for some extra, and possibly unnecessary, details:

Yes, I could have bought a different brand for 1/2 the sale price. AND it would have been lactose free, because Finns have figured out how to offer lactose free options of all dairy products, without a price markup! What’s wrong with the rest of the world??? But in the midst of the non-stop onslaught of nauseating news from the motherland, I saw a post that B&J’s released a new flavour to offer a little bit of comfort to those of us needing to drown our sorrows.

I wasn’t naive enough to think their just-released flavour would have already made its way to foreign shelves but given the prevailing Scandinavian opinion about current US happenings, I figured there was a fractionally better chance I’d get lucky looking for it in Finland (this was just a few days pre raking/haravointi.) So, that’s how I found myself in the ice cream aisle, translating the note on the B&J’s freezer door.

Now back to your regular programming. 

I took a break from reupholstering the wingback chair that came with the cottage to enjoy some ice cream (and ice my sore fingers.) 30 minutes later, around 19:00 (7pm), I was back to removing countless staples from the chair when the consequences of my little indulgence hit – it had cut right through me. I quickly slipped on my shoes, grabbed my light-up wine bottle/self-defense weapon and as quietly as possible, so as not to draw the boogeyman’s attention, scampered into the intense darkness towards the outhouse.

So, there I was sitting in the outhouse, on my third or fourth go around of mentally cursing myself for buying the ice cream, when the whole world stopped. Footsteps. I heard footsteps on gravel. I couldn’t move a muscle. All consequences of ice cream evaporated.  I was literally scared shitless.

I have never listened so hard in my life.

As I saw it, whatever was out there was big. My gravel driveway was at least 5 meters away so there was only two ways for the whole thing to end: stay in the outhouse, that way when the moose or the crazy woodsman killed me, I was already in a pine box; or open the door and get put in a pine box later, assuming they ever found my half dressed corpse.

I slowly reached for my trusty weapon (see wine bottle with lights above) and held it up by the neck, ready to bludgeon whatever opened the door. After my first strike, I planned to scream, really loud. More than once as a teen, fuddy-duddy pop concert goers asked me “not scream so loud”. Assuming my neighbors have well insulated windows like mine, that under-appreciated skill was finally going to come in handy! I was definitely going to need their help. What did I care if they found me with my pants around my ankles? 

It could hardly be worse than my first neighbour encounter…

Day two of owning the cottage, as I filled a bucket at the water pump, an older gentleman yelled from across the way to tell me the electricity would be turned off at 9:00. I was wearing a pajama t-shirt that only half covered my blue underwear… hey, I was in the middle of the woods and he’s Finnish. He thought nothing of it, I’m sure. But then again he hasn’t made contact since. But then again he’s Finnish. Wait, would a Finn come to help if they heard a scream coming from a stranger? (The social culture of Finns is a whole separate blog post on buying-a-cottage-in-Finland mis-calculations…)

My internal dialogue continued along that fairly witless vain while I sat statuesque, listening for any indication of how close my mystery attacker was. I was perched on my tiptoes, trying not to move a muscle. I’m short. My feet can’t touch the ground when I sit on the outhouse seat. I made a mental note to move ‘adding a foot platform to the outhouse’ up to number two on my to-do list. Installing lights over the path and inside the outhouse were now number one. 

After about ten minutes, my feet started to go numb.

I decided it was time to do something. I couldn’t sit there, scared shitless until the sun came up in 13 hours. Plus, how could I kick the boogeyman in the nuts (after I bludgeoned him with my light bottle, of course) and then run away if I couldn’t feel my feet? The whole time I sat there, I had only heard one more footstep, right after the initial two, so I decided I might as well rip off the band-aid and make a run for the cottage. 

Ok, so it didn’t end up being a rip, more like painfully slow motion. I started by covering the button to the wine bottle light with my sleeve, to muffle the clicking noise as I turned it off – that way, whatever was out there wouldn’t be able to tell the outhouse door was opening or see my lethal weapon until it was careening towards their head… It was so quiet I actually heard the toilet paper land in the tank. Continuing my noiseless snail strategy, I pulled up my sweats as I stood up, then closed my eyes and started counting, in my head of course.

As I stood there counting, a horror film scene played out on the back of my eyelids: when I looked through the outhouse window, a pair of eyes were looking right back at me… I probably would have pooped my pants if I weren’t already poopless. When I had counted to 30, so my eyes would be well adjusted to the dark, I tilted my head down so I would be looking at the middle of the door when I finally opened my eyes, instead of the window.

Then I ripped.

With a swift kick – to knock over whatever was on the other side – the door and my eyes went flying open. I leapt over the two steps down to the path and sprinted to my cottage door. Once inside, I placed a couple of dining chairs in front of the door – just in case. I spent the next 12 hours reupholstering my chair and drowning out any potential creeper noises with a Netflix binge. 

Needless to say, there will be no more ice cream, lactose free or not, at the cottage. Except maybe in June, when it doesn’t get dark… I’ll admit, it’s been a challenge but I had to make the tough call to save me from myself. I also put the staple gun I splurged on for upholstering to much better use and hung remote controlled outdoor Christmas lights along the outhouse path and in the outhouse. 

In the end, the whole experience taught me two things.

First, I learned for me ‘privacy’ definitely loses to security – I no longer shut the outhouse door when I’m using it; day or night, it doesn’t matter. If something’s going to get me, I want to see it coming so I know where to aim my wine bottle.

Second, I now know the true meaning of being “scared shitless” (and witless, all at the same time!) 

Night lights – success!