Lessons Learned From A Haunted House

Ah, October! Season of so many things dark and horrific! Everything that is beautiful! The one holiday I adore! How it makes me reminisce, back to my younger days, working in a haunted house. And the things I have learned from it.

After transitioning high schools, adjustment was tough. I was friendless again, and trying not to make all the stupid mistakes I’d made in junior high. So, what was a poor girl to do? Be nice to everyone, rule number one. Second, try to join some clubs. Through my short-lived association with the drama club that year, I found out that the local haunted house needed actors. Well, having been a fan of suspense and horror for the last couple years, I was quick to fall for the idea.

Haunted House

Yes, the haunted house in question looked just like this.

At the meeting I was directed to, however, were not a bunch of drama geeks. Nah, these were the kids I’d always been afraid of—and admired a bit. The rebels. The goths and emos. And there I was, probably the only person not wearing black!

But I got in with ease, and devoured the cast manual. Though I failed in my first role as an asylum patient, I was given a new role within two weeks. Zombie.

And that was when I met her. My haunted house role model. A very short goth in her early twenties, who didn’t take crap from anyone. She was the queen of that room, and we all appropriately worshiped her. Her motto, which I instantly absorbed? “Suck it up and deal with it.” Or, sometimes, “Go hard or go home.”

I only got to work with her a few weeks before my throat gave out and I had to be transferred to a quieter role, but those weeks formed my perception of my work at the haunted house. According to the owners, I became one of the best, most versatile actresses they had. I didn’t whine if I wasn’t given the role I wanted. And I did my best, every single night of every single season for five years. I got bruised, cut, groped, suffered allergic reactions, and lost my voice repeatedly. It didn’t matter. I sucked it up, and dealt with it. I emulated her take-no-crap attitude.

Since then, of course, I’ve learned. You can’t always suck it up and deal with it. Sometimes, you can’t give your all. But sometimes, you can. And when you do, you shine. Heck, you’re freaking made of moonbeams!

As to the other lesson in the plural title of this post, you know why I love horror, even though I’ve now got a pretty permanent fear of the dark? It’s looking that fear right in the face. Acknowledging it. I’m facing something that’s meant to scare me, and staring it down. Telling it that it can’t. Proving I’m stronger than that. Pushing back against my fear with everything I’ve got.

Beyond anything else, I think those were the most important lessons I learned in those five years.

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EHS and Lockdown: The Summers of Hell

My mother has always had a thing with trying to separate my sister and I from our friends, all the while assuring us how much more intelligent we are. We weren’t allowed to play with the most popular (aka, richest) girls on the street, after one of them was mean to me one time too often. As a result, all the other girls had to make a choice: and it was made to exclude the crybaby. And, by extension, her longsuffering older sister. Lucky for all of them, though, as the cooler sister she had the brains and guts to sneak out. The crybaby never did. Two awesomes for the price of one, right?

As a kid, I wasn’t used to having many friends, let’s just say. All the girls my age that I knew well enough (a grand total of three) never wanted to be around me. The older girls just took pity on me. Sure, I’m grateful for that pity, but sincerity was always preferable.

I was ten years old when I became friends with one girl I could trust—my best friend to this day. Together, My sister, our friend, and me were an inseparable team. Except how my sister would go to this friend’s house without telling my mom. Or stay out too late with this friend.

This was where the trouble in our newest paradise really started. Mom started being quick to condemn this friend as a greedy little brat, and paint me and my sister as two angels Too Good For This Sinful Earth. Since the greedy little brat was having such a bad influence on her two angels, Mom started forbidding us to see her, except at church activities. That didn’t last too long, though, as I recall.

But, when we started going to school, it got worse. See, my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved into the neighborhood. This aunt is my mother’s sister, who’s a Type A personality you do not want to mess with. You get on her bad side, she is terrifying. Oh, and around her, my mother goes completely (and very unnaturally) passive.

Well, my aunt supposedly overheard our best friend calling my cousin fat. And the crap hit the fan.

Now, first of all, let me point something out. My best friend is pretty overweight. And a nice person by nature. Her saying such a thing about my totally awesome cousin, whom she always liked, is totally implausible. But our protestations amounted to nothing. Even as the excitement of going to school for the first time loomed, my mother was chewing out my best friend and her father. There was a very tense scene in my best friend’s front yard where the three of us had emotional breakdowns while Mom argued with my friend’s dad, about why we were never allowed to see this friend again. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears of a crazy woman. And my sister was sent to school with my cousin, in a different city.

So, the only time they got to see each other, really (since during that time we were forbidden from going over to our friend’s house), was when we had church activities. And when our friend got a license, she would drive us to and from those activities. And she would take long detours so we could just hang out for a few minutes. That certainly didn’t help matters.

But school was an instant love for me. I was practically a straight-A student throughout middle school. I loved learning new things—like about paragraphs and cells.

With my aunt living so close, though, she decided the golden trio (me, my sister and her daughter) needed to work harder, because there was no way our parents could pay for our college. So, the solution was to graduate with our Associate’s Degrees. How were we to do that? Electronic High School during the summer, of course! My sister and my cousin, both being actually in high school, were immediately signed up, of course. Me, I was offered the opportunity.

Now, I could tell that my aunt thought this was a great idea, when she brought it to my attention. But I had my misgivings. I was just out of seventh grade, which I’d only had one semester of. I’d taken in a lot of new information. I couldn’t handle what was in ninth grade classes when I couldn’t even fathom what eighth grade would hold! So, walking on eggshells, I told her very carefully and submissively that I didn’t think it was right for me, and I’d really rather not.

The next day, she returned, literally cornering me and yelling about how I had to do it because I was smart enough, don’t lie to myself. And my dad wasn’t going to pay for college. And I was getting enrolled whether I liked it or not.

It seems so minor. But that day was the day I climbed my favorite apple tree, sitting high in the branches where nobody could see me, and started dragging a sharp piece of apple wood across my skin.

So, much of the summer consisted of going to a computer lab at the local university extension and getting on computers with my sister and cousin. I tried. I really did. I submitted a few assignments for the Earth Systems class. As in, the first two. But when it got to abiotic and biotic factors of the environment, I was completely lost. Besides, next to me on either side, my sister and cousin were playing around on the Internet. Of course, this was a classic thing with me. Everyone else played around while I got stuck with the short end of the stick—like when my sister always snuck out. I wasn’t about to let that crap happen again. So, I also began Internet playing.

But one day, my aunt came along, and sat beside me. Without thinking about it, the first thing I did was check my email. She glanced over at my screen and whispered, “Mac, what are you doing?”

“Checking my email,” I whispered back.

“No. Get to work.”

I blinked, about to say that my sister and cousin had been doing it too, and why was I getting blamed, but looking over at their screens, I saw strictly aunt-appropriate things. Traitors. But I wasn’t about to sink to that level. So I said nothing. I tried to do the work, I really did. But online classrooms are not my environment. I struggled (never making it past those darned abiotic factors) before they finally stopped taking me. Summer passed, and I started eighth grade that fall. I never said it to anyone, but in the back of my mind, I referred to that summer as the Summer of Hell.

While my sister was going to school in another city, I was allowed to go to high school at home. So, I got to go to school with our friend during my freshman year, when she was a junior. It was a great time. After school, she’d sometimes drive me home (again with the long detours), and others we’d go over to her house for a while and play Kingdom Hearts.

But, of course, the good times were not to last. Near the end of the school year, my sister got in trouble for staying out too late with this friend again. And now, my aunt was here to back my mom up. So, they devised the plan to put my sister on “lockdown.” She was sent to live at my aunt’s house (my cousin had moved out by this point), allowed no contact with friends, no computers, no phone, no TV, no music. Only books and school.

And then, my turn came. The last day of freshman year. Nobody taking roll, of course, so my friend, myself and some others decided to have a mini-party at A&W a couple blocks away. We were going to take my friend’s car, until she realized that was what had gotten my sister into so much trouble, so we walked. Had a great time. At the end of the day, I went home and took a nap.

Only to be yelled and shaken awake by my mother, who wouldn’t tell me what was going on, or what I had done wrong, just that I was getting in a car with my aunt.

Enraged with the dim disgruntlement of the half-awake, I grabbed my iPod (music always helps calm me down) and headed outside. I couldn’t argue with my aunt. I was too afraid of her. That’s the kind of woman who will steamroll you if you so much as look at her funny. Except, no sooner had I got out there than the iPod was confiscated. And it was a very quiet drive to her house.

There, I was told it was my turn on “lockdown.” Because I had been accepting rides from my friend when I wasn’t supposed to. And I had gone out with my friends, leaving the school grounds, without telling my mother. (Who had, actually, confiscated my cell phone when hers was broken a few months previously.) Never mind that I didn’t have her number memorized and didn’t know how to contact her without my cell phone. Or that I didn’t even think about it. My aunt assured me that yes, I did think about it, and I did deliberately spite my mother. No matter how much I protested my relative innocence in tears, I was assured of my damnation. And, realizing I was trying to break down a concrete wall, after that I just stopped talking. I listened silently as I was informed that I would not be going back to the local high school, but separated from my evil friend, and sent to the same high school as my sister. I cried myself to sleep, still trying to figure out what in the world I had really done.

Thankfully, the next day, I was taken to the library and told I could get one book. The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, as I fondly recall. That book was my escape—my refuge from the madness of real life. I spent all day reading it until my parents came to pick me up, out of the blue.

Of course, I still didn’t have a cell phone. And I didn’t have computer access, as I was still on a less strict lockdown. So, I was cut off from all the friends I’d made once more with one brutal stroke. Most of them, I haven’t seen since that day.

And that fall, I started at a new school. Discovered the escape to be found in working at the local haunted house—an outlet for my issues. Developed the Mormon Goth persona, so there would be no more crying protestations against what I was considered too young to understand. I learned my lesson. Shut up and take it. Suck it up and deal with it. You can’t fight crazy with tears. You fight it by yelling louder. Drowning them out.

So yes, I do have social issues. I don’t tell people what I’m really thinking or feeling, most of the time. I’ve worked very hard to separate myself from feelings. That way, it doesn’t hurt as much when I’m second-best to yet another person. When I’m invisible. When I’m treated unfairly.

It took me a while, but I realized the Summers of Hell were plural. More than I could consciously remember, with all Mom had put us through over the years.

Hi, my pseudonym is Mac, and I’m a Mormon. Believe it or not, my life in a “good Mormon family” was my own hell.

Yeah, My Childhood was Kinda Crappy

I guess there are a lot of people out there who look upon their childhood with affection, remembering the good old days, when things were easy. Not perfect, sure. But easy, with little responsibility. I’m sure there are people who would love to go back to those days.

Not me.

Sure, my childhood had its good times. It wasn’t one bleak, dark tunnel with no light visible at the end. But it was depressing, sure enough.

Mommy wanted me and my sister to be different from our peers. Unlike the savage, crude, unladylike little girls of the nineties, my sister and I didn’t wear jeans, and quite often wore dresses. We didn’t have those trashy ear piercings, and we didn’t wear the equally trashy nail polish. We were taught knitting, sewing and needlework, and took ballet and tap classes. We weren’t enrolled in the evil of public school. We didn’t draw on ourselves or wear temporary tattoos. One of Mom’s favorite expressions when we asked why we couldn’t do the cool things everyone else did was, “It’s not appropriate for a young lady.”

I suppose I can kind of understand where she was coming from with that. She was born in the fifties, which I swear was like the Victorian era of the twentieth century. That was when girls always wore nice dresses to school, and things like that. Knitting, sewing, needlework and cooking were feminine arts, whereas combat of any sort and technical skills were more masculine arts.

But that certainly doesn’t mean I liked it. I resented it with a passion. I wanted to learn martial arts, but was made to take dance and be a pretty little ballerina. I wanted to wear jeans with lots of cool zippers all over them, but they were too goth, so I had to wear bright, pretty dresses instead. I wanted to learn how to work with cars, but I had to learn how to knit. I wanted to shoot, I got to sew. I wanted to learn computers, I got to learn how to cook.

But, of course, I can’t knit or sew to save my life. I have no rhythm required for being a good dancer. I can barely cook, and nothing complicated (I just barely learned how to use an oven). I spend my summers at a scout camp shooting, climbing, rappelling, belaying, and not giving a darn if I look pretty. I can be a passable computer tech, although I know next to nothing about cars still (trying to fix that). I have pierced ears, I usually have black nail polish on, and I wear what I like, nary a dress or skirt in sight.

But none of that’s important right now.

Mom succeeded in setting me and my sister apart. And the other kids in the neighborhood didn’t like us—me, more of. I was a sensitive little crybaby, you see. My name was the one that was so easy to make fun of.

In our neighborhood, there was only one boy. And the eight girls were split into two groups: the Big Girls and the Little Girls. Three families with one older and one younger girl, you see, and two with one girl who was old enough apiece. My sister and I went to our respective groups.

Mine didn’t want to put up with the tall, gangling crybaby with the funny name. I got ditched all the time, but I was still so sure that those two girls were my best friends. My diary of the time is filled with glowing reviews of them, never mentioning the bad stuff. Even though I spent a lot of days at home crying.

My mom did the worst thing possible and took it into her own hands. (Everyone knows that’s the ultimate no-no in a child’s world.) She restricted me and my sister from seeing one of the two families, because their younger daughter was the one in charge of my ditching. I believe that was after that same girl put dog crap in my brand new roller blades.

So, I spent a lot of time on my own. Playing my own games, because this was before I discovered reading. If I had to guess, I’d say that was when I really became an introvert. Sometimes, I’d still play with those girls—do anything to try to fit in. Love them in spite of whatever they did to me. Blindly believe the lies of passive aggression.

Luckily, I grew out of that. At the age of ten, me and my sister met the girl who would remain our best friend to this day, and I’ve made good, lasting friends of my own.

When I was a freshman, though, I was walking home from school, and two of my childhood bullies were right behind me, laughing and talking. Then one of them shouted to me, calling me by the nickname they knew I hated. At that point, I was mature enough to just look back and grin, thinking, Seriously? Grow up, already. I just wish I’d said it.

Gotta say, I’m delighting in being grown up. I don’t live with my parents anymore, though I come back to visit sometimes. That thought makes me feel better every time I see Childhood Bully #1, who still lives across the street with her parents and sister.

Childhood Bully #2 is a hopeless blonde who would have failed a project in eighth grade science, had I not been in her group. Boy, she shrieked at the stupidest things.

Childhood Bully #3 wasn’t as bad. She was the one I considered my best, best friend. She grew out of it pretty quickly, and we’re still friends to this day.

Probably like every other former bullying victim, I’m still looking for ways to shove all that I’ve achieved (though right now it isn’t much) into the first two’s faces. But apart from this petty desire for vengeance, I’m feeling pretty good. This story has a happier ending.