Tuesday, April 5, 2011
My True Horrors... THE EXORCIST
Fourth grade. Heavy Metal was all the rage and I was listening. Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, the list could go on and on. I would cut pictures out of magazines like 'Hit Parader' and 'Metal Edge' and paste them over every inch of my bedroom wall. I wore a denim jacket with a large Iron Maiden patch covering the back -- Eddie in the fighter-plane cockpit from 'Aces High'. I had a mullet, and sometimes, a couple of shaved lines in the side of my head for no good reason. 'Headbanger's Ball' was the best show on TV, and every last cent allotted to me by my parents went towards buying the cassette tapes of bands I would discover on the show.
Oddly enough though, in another medium, I was not so adventurous. Horror movies scared the shit out of me. Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, Michael Myers: these were the plagues of my childhood nightmares. For some reason, the spooky images and dark iconography of Heavy Metal did not bother me at all, yet several famous movie monsters - and their endless cheesy sequels - were complete agony on my nerves.
Friends would suggest watching horror films at sleep overs. I would counter-suggest raunchy comedies like 'Trading Places', or some porno VHS my older cousin had been nice enough to lend me. Porno would always win out and spare me the nightmare of having to shit my pants in front of my friends. There were certainly times when I was without porn, and my suggestions would fall on deaf ears. Times like those, I had to grin and bear the horror film torture chamber.
For days after viewing certain movies, I would catch bouts of hysterical insomnia. I'd beg to sleep in my parent's room, much to the frustration of my mother and father. My parents were somewhat easy-going about which forms of entertainment I ingested, except when it ruined a good night's sleep. My mother urged me to stay away from the "Halloweens" and "Friday the 13ths" of the film world. She warned that I would eventually have to suffer on my own, and not in her bedroom.
One night, just before summer vacation, a friend and I were listening to a King Diamond record. My father must have heard the high-pitched vocal stylings and demonic interludes blasting from behind my closed bedroom door. He came in and asked what we were listening to. We showed him the album cover. He asked us to lower the volume and left us to continue listening.
After my friend went home, my father sat me down for a talk. He explained that some of the music I was listening to had occult undertones. This led to a serious question and answer session about the essence of good and evil. It was an interesting and eye opening discussion for me as a nine-year-old. As far as I can remember, this was the first time I was an equal in a conversation with my father, not just the recipient of a lecture. He expressed fear that Heavy Metal music (namely King Diamond) might expose me to certain ideas that were not suitable for a young boy, especially a young boy who feared scary movie monsters. I defended the music, letting him know I was more interested in guitars solos than lyrical content, which was true. Towards the end of our long conversation, he brought up 'The Exorcist'.
"Promise me you will never watch that movie," he said. "There is a face in there, a face you will never be able to get out of your mind. Even for me as a grown man, I'm still haunted by it. And I saw it over a decade ago."
I promised my father that I would never, ever, watch 'The Exorcist'.
Two weeks later, enter my summer crush, Jessica. I started hanging out with her randomly - and her friends - after joining a game of manhunt in order to even up the sides. From then on, I was part of their group. This was the first clique I ever associated with that had an equal mix of males and females. There were eight of us in total. We spent summer days riding bikes, going to the pool, playing kickball and eating pizza. It was typical summer wonderment.
I tried to impress Jessica with dirty jokes and meaningless tests of strength. She flirted back, in the innocent way fourth grade girls do, with taunts and teases. One day, she handed me a note which said she liked me. It was shaping up to be the best summer of my young life.
One blisteringly hot afternoon in August, boredom struck the group. We were sitting on Jessica's stoop, passing the time, too hot to exert any energy. The subject of favorite movies came up. I cited 'Weird Science' as my personal favorite. Someone suggested we get out of the heat and into Jessica's air conditioned basement to watch something. We all agreed.
Downstairs, we rummaged through an extensive VHS collection. Sadly, someone picked out 'The Exocist'. Only Jessica had seen it. Everyone else had heard tall tales of how brutally frightening it was. Jessica assured the group that it wasn't so bad. In fact, she claimed to have found parts of it funny, mentioning something about green puke. This blew my young mind. How could a movie have such a negative effect on my father, yet tickle the funny bone of a fourth grade girl I was crushing on? By unanimous decision, we decided to watch 'The Exorcist'. I should have kept the promise to my father.
The actual viewing is a blur. I don't remember if I whimpered in fear throughout or sat there in stoned silence. All I know is that the film was like a sledgehammer to my brain. It caused massive amounts of damage, which to this day, has never fully healed.
I left Jessica's house and held it together long enough to ride my bike home. Once home, I bawled. In the sunlight or in the dark, lights on or lights off, it did not matter; a young girl's demon face - and countless other horrific images - were all I could see. I tried to take a shower, but couldn't bring myself to close the bathroom door for fear that a demon would possess me. I couldn't go near my own bed, for fear that it would start shaking, and then a demon would possess me. I couldn't even pray to Jesus for help. The infamous crucifix scene convinced me there was no use.
My parents remained my only solace. I confessed to them that I had watched the film and they allowed me to sleep in their room that night. But, sleep did not come. I sobbed, and shivered, and eventually just passed out from sheer exhaustion. The movie was a third degree burn on my psyche.
This went on for weeks; the uncontrollable sobbing, the terror, and the insomnia. Eventually, my parents grew fed up and would not allow me to sleep in their room any longer. As a compromise, I was allowed to sleep in my younger brother's room. It was no use. I would bawl myself to the brink of exhaustion and plead to be let back into the semi-safety of my parent's room. They remained fervently against it. Enough was enough, I needed to overcome my fears.
The last week of summer vacation, my mother grew desperate. She did not want my hysterical insomnia to spill over into the school year. I was keeping her, my father, and my brother awake at night, and she was afraid that I would eventually have some sort of nervous breakdown in class. She tried to reason with me during the daytime, explaining that 'The Exorcist' was only a movie -- demons, ghosts, and monsters do not exist. She even went so far as to have a priest come from the local Catholic church to bless our house. The gesture proved useless. I was convinced the devil was real and he was coming to get me. Sleepless nights and constant crying continued.
Finally, one September night before Labor Day, everything came to a head. I began my usual bawling and pleading in the dark. Suddenly, my mother rushed into my brother's room in a frenzy. Her hair was messed up, she wasn't wearing any makeup, and her skin was pale from lack of sleep. There was a wild look in her eyes. She grabbed me by the arms, shook me, and shouted like a madwoman...
"IT'S TOO LATE! THE DEVIL IS ALREADY IN YOU!"
She dragged me out of my brother's room, deposited me into my own room, and slammed the door shut. I stood there in the dark, fully shocked out of my frightened mind-state. I contemplated what had just occurred. Slowly, the wheels began to turn in my mind: If the devil is already in me, and it's too late, what is all the fuss about? I've been crying myself to sleep for weeks... and I'm not possessed yet! In fact, I'm standing here alone, in the dark, at this very moment and nothing is happening.
Somehow, it seemed a rational explanation. The devil was already in me. It was too late.
I turned on my bedroom light. The familiar faces of Heavy Metal musicians stared down at me from the walls. They were a forgotten comfort. I grew calm, and oddly enough, I was no longer scared. I climbed into my own bed for the first time in weeks and rested my head on a pillow. Slowly, but surely, I dozed off. Slumber presented me with pleasant dreams.
To this day, I am convinced my mother pulled off one of the greatest psychological tricks ever pulled in the history of motherhood. By telling me that it was too late, that the devil was already in me, she knocked an irrational fear of movies out of my head. Her surprise tactic was over the top, but I can't blame her; she was at the end of her rope. She tried to reason with me, but reasoning didn't work. A true scare proved to be exactly what I needed to snap my young mind back to reality.
Now, as an adult, every once in a while I'm visited by a young girl's demon face in the middle of the night. I tense up and turn on the lights, but I do not cry. I usually take a moment, collect my thoughts, and smile. The devil is already in me. It's too late. I fall back to sleep with a clear mind, zero fear, and a knowing smile.
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