Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
I’m proud to say that one of my many crippling, irrational fears is finally – after more than 10 years – completely, utterly gone.
I grew up a fearful and highly suggestible person. Afraid of the dark (especially passing in front of doorways leading to dark rooms); afraid of critters under my bed (literally “critters” … because of the cheesy 80′s horror flick of the same name); afraid of my house burning down (because my third-grade teacher asked us if our house was on fire what one item would we grab); afraid of neon green, slanty-eyed aliens (thanks, Unsolved Mysteries).
So it’s no wonder the Southern Baptist churches of my youth left their mark, too. In the strictest versions of the Southern Baptist world, God would punish you for doubt, for sin, for not taking the “right” side in the inevitable preacher-banishing, church-splitting melodrama or sporting event. In this world, the devil and his minions were not only very real, but they also had time to go around tempting people into gossiping and lying and shoplifting and having premarital sex.
I had a youth minister who taught that ghosts were demons masquerading as spirits of the dead to make people stray from the truth about God and heaven. I was afraid of ghosts already, but ghosts that were really demons were way worse.
That’s not to say all Southern Baptists are so hardcore, but to someone as suggestible as me, I was too afraid not to believe it all. Thoughts of all those baddies around got me a little keyed up. I slept flat on my back because I had a better view of the room as I fell asleep. In the darkness, the glowing red light on my stereo could become a demon’s bloodshot eyeball, or a squirrel scratching in the attic could be a murderer who hid there during the day just waiting for his chance to come kill me after everyone else was asleep.
Then came the fateful day 10 years ago when I (foolishly) watched The Exorcist on TV with my sister. I’d heard so much about it but had always been afraid to watch it. This was the edited-for-television version, so I told myself it would be okay.
It wasn’t okay. For the next two years I was on constant alert as I lay in bed at night. Every twitch of the bed covers, every shimmy of the headboard could signal a demon taking over. I prayed fiercely for protection.
It didn’t seem at all far-fetched to me that a demon might move into my body and set up shop. I considered myself susceptible – when I was about the same age as the girl in The Exorcist, I’d had recurring nightmares in which a man with a deep, cruel voice laughed at me and said things I could never remember when I woke up, sobbing and hysterical.
What was probably a manifestation of my deep-seated insecurity and a really bad year at school, I chalked up to Old Scratch.
If you’re thinking this neurotic person doesn’t sound much like the Kristin you know and (sometimes) love, it’s because I’m mostly not that person anymore. Over time, my fear of possession faded, as did my general anxiety. In college, I started feeling safe enough to sleep on my stomach for the first time in my life (and still do). I grew up and got married and trained myself to squash most of the other irrational fears, too.
I’ve become very good at rationalizing away quiet shufflings and scratchings in the night – the cats get blamed for a lot – and I don’t let myself dwell on the subject of murderers and rapists and zombies and alien spaceships, though the loud humming noise that sometimes comes from the hospital around the corner makes me nervous some nights.
Also, I’ve learned what to avoid – scary movies at night, Lifetime movies about women who are victims of violent crime, those “A Haunting In …” shows on The Discovery Channel, and last but not least, The Exorcist. In 10 years I’d never even entertained the idea of watching it again.
That is, until this weekend. D and I were watching a marathon of scary movies on TV (28 Days Later, Psycho, Dark Water), and I saw it coming up – The Exorcist.
Before I could reconsider, I set the Tivo to record it and we proceeded about our dinner plans. That night when we got home, I decided to break my rules. Not only would I be watching THE most traumatizing movie of my life, I’d be watching it at night. My only concession to my fear was that I wouldn’t be watching it alone.
The movie started slow – there were seriously 20-30 minutes without a single chill, thrill or even freaky music to trick me into thinking it was creepy.
Then came the stuff that struck everlasting terror into my 16-year-old heart – the shaking bed, the backwards talking, the self-stabbing with the cross, the “HELP ME” written with a finger on the inside of the stomach.
Sure, it was slightly creepy, but the 70′s special effects and the over-the-top repetitions of “the power of Christ compels you!” were kind of hilarious. I finally understood why this movie is a staple of campy horror flick awesomeness.
We went straight to bed afterward, and I am happy to report that I slept on my stomach as usual. I fell asleep peacefully, without so much as a pea-green image in my head.
The Exorcist’s spell on me is broken. I think I can say the same for the devil.