On Halloween, one person’s trick may be another’s treat
Around this eerie time of year, I marvel at how many shared phobias exists. Snakes, abandonment, public speaking – it makes my, and countless others’, hands sweat. Woody Allen’s famous line about not being afraid to die, just not wanting to be there when it happens vocalizes a sentiment felt in some form by everyone except kamikazes, Buddhists, and suicide bombers.
Perhaps this is because most of our fears have the same root. For starters, there’s learned fear: as children, we see our mother recoil from a lunging German Shepard and soon we’re running from every wiener dog that comes our way. The unknown or inexplicable are other great fear generators, as is one’s own imagination.
For my sissy self, it’s that last one – my brain’s wondrous ability to go far beyond reality – that’s responsible for my wide array of trepidations, which include the conventional but also rocket into the bizarre, dare I say, fantastical. I’ve been known to sweat under the sheets as a chipmunk caught in the air conditioner morphs into an unseen axe murderer and known to squirm when handling large quantities of paper for fear that I will get a paper cut, not on the finger, but right through the middle of my eye – Bunuel-style (eoran.com/unchienandalou/francais).
Most of the examples cited in my Halloween article from last year (graffitiwv.com/page/content.detail/id/501075/You-want-to-know-what-s-scary–Being-an-adult-.html?nav=0) were culled from personal experience as a child: crossing the street to avoid gory costumes, not sleeping for weeks after a scary movie shown at a sleep-over, wondering with each bite of Snickers whether that would be my last, my tongue sliced to a bloody pulp by a discreet razor blade. (Notice this did not keep me from indulging in the bite-sized fun. No, I bravely kept chewing.)
While my peers could experience a conceivably frightful event but move on, I became fixated, not on the reality, but on my imagination’s contortion of it. One year, our elementary school class had the local fire department visit to discuss fire safety. What most kids quickly forgot as we were ushered to lunch, I labored over. That evening, I charted our home’s floor plan for the most efficient evacuation route. This grew into a mini obsession as I envisioned the house catching fire, my room engulfed in flames, the window my only exit option. In hopes of escaping this fiery hell, I made The Safety Rope: a glorified piece of twine duct-taped to the leg of my 15-pound metal bed frame. Assuming the rope even came close to getting me to the ground, I’m guessing as soon as my full weight was exerted on the dangling rope, it would’ve pulled the bed crashing down behind me, adding a broken neck to two already broken legs. And yet, this latter scenario never broached my imagination.
Which highlights an usual caveat to my cowardice: there are a lot of scary things I don’t find very scary at all. Despite the primal, traditional, and extraordinary fears, my selective imagination does not flinch at tornado-birthing storms, bike-riding through rush-hour traffic, donating blood, large tattoos, or needles. Rather than imagine my body ravaged by a Great White Shark, I’m saving money to suit up and submerge myself in a cage off the coast of South Africa’s Seal Island where some of the biggest Great Whites come to feast.
In the end, we probably won’t ever understand why certain things give us fun but others give us fright. Why one person’s treat is another person’s trick, why one person’s trip on a haunted hay ride is another person’s imagination-fueled journey through an endless hell that left me vomiting off the side of a tractor … Whatever your fears, I wish you a delightful, razor-blade free Halloween.