Sunday, October 16, 2011

Confessions of a Scaredy Cat*

My name is Sherry, and I am a scaredy cat.

When I was 5, Mom took us shopping for Halloween. I picked out a “scary black cat” but when I put it on at home, I couldn’t stop screaming. Terrified by the angry feline face staring back at me in the mirror, Mom dutifully took the costume back. I was a Cinderella princess instead. Thus began my love hate relationship with all things frightening.

The next summer, a fireman came by the neighborhood to campaign for all homes to purchase smoke detectors. (We did). He talked about fire safety and showed a film of a home burning to the ground. Shaking my hand when I answered “Stop, drop and roll.” He awarded me an Inflatable Smokey the bear. That evening, nightmares of my home, my parents, even my brothers burning plagued me. I begged Mom the next day to call the fireman and return Smokey.

That Halloween, there was a carnival at the community college. Many of the volunteers were friends of my parents. Some had been at our home and even babysat. Going into the spook house, I saw the three witches at the cauldron and froze. Mom and Dad’s friends were upset to see me so frightened. They immediately took off their masks but I wouldn’t stop sobbing until Dad carried me out.

My latent cowardice was concealed for a few years by avoidance of all things creepy. By banning spooky costumes, movies, and haunted houses, I pretended to forget that I was indeed, a chicken. I didn’t even watch Scooby Doo.

Somewhere in adolescence I began a crash course of attempted self correction of this character flaw. I read “Jaws” at the beach and couldn’t swim that week. I watched Dracula films in October, with the lights on, clutching a bible and the rosary. I also went to the bathroom frequently during these films. Playing dungeons and dragons and slaughtering the undead mercilessly, I told myself I was growing out of it.

Every fall, the state fair came to our town. My brother and I were now old enough to venture forth on our own for an hour or so while Mom took our other brother and cousins to the baby rides. My brother was 2 ½ years younger than me, we had that unhealthy standing sibling rivalry perfected. We loved beating each other, academically, physically, morally. Most anything from grades to getting in the car first could easily become a sudden death contest.

When Mom turned us loose, I was ready. “Let’s see who can be the bravest.” I dared.
“You’re on!” Joe grinned, he had been plotting too.

Joe started strong. He went into the room with the man who became a Gorrilla. He was the last to run out of the room. I was first.

I went on the Super Buggy Roller Coaster, the second biggest at the fair, in the front seat. He sat in the last. Joe ate a hot dog and went on the Zipper while I watched.

I had an ice cream and went on the Gravitron, but he went with me. We both felt a bit green afterwards. He threw up first so I won that round.

Pre-lims were over. Now, it was serious.

Joe touched the python in the creepy creatures tent. Now how could I top that? I tried to wrestle the greased pig and failed. Then we went to the freak show and Joe was grossed out by the leering advances of the bearded fat lady. Victory was slipping so he went on the SuperLoop by himself. I had never done that ride, not even with Dad.

Working my nerve up, we both went on the Yo-Yo swings and then I spied it from the air. I would go through the Spook House alone. Joe looked doubtful but impressed. That clinched it.

Sitting in the little cart as it rattled towards the dark entrance, I began to get cold feet. “If I bolt, I lose.” I thought. Fear was making me seriously consider quitting. I glanced at Joe who looked both awed and a bit worried and I set my teeth. I would do it. The door opened. It was pitch black. I couldn’t see.

“That’s it!” my brain exclaimed, “I’ll keep my eyes shut, and Joe will never know! GENIUS!” I grinned, “two minutes and I win!”

I could see light through my lids so I covered my eyes with my hands. Then I heard screams and laughter and moans and the clicking and whirring of motors and track and chains pulling the cart along, so I plugged my ears. My cart rolled and stopped and turned and dropped, but I wasn’t nervous. Nearing the end, the cart had slowed down.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I ignored it.

Someone tapped me again. I brushed it off, still not looking.

A third time, the very real hand stayed on my shoulder.

I turned around, opened my eyes and found myself face to face with a live monster. I screamed and punched it right in the nose with all the force I could muster.

He jumped off the cart cursing and ripping off his mask, howling and swearing “GIRL!” and hopping away quickly as I looked back in shock.

The ride exit opened into sunshine. I came out laughing. Joe couldn’t believe I had done it and survived. I didn’t tell him what happened. We met at the exit line and ran towards the livestock exhibits to meet Mom. I bought Joe a caramel apple and got to bask in the fake glory of being both brave and a good sport.

That Halloween, I was a ninja zombie slayer and Joe was a vampire. We stayed up watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I had nightmares galore, but didn’t tell anyone. I still get creeped out easily by things but every once in a while, I watch or read them anyway, because now I know I know, my left hook is killer.

*Originally printed in Beaumont Enterprise Halloween 2006

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