A scary story

I’ve been reading IT for the first time in my life. I read in the evenings mostly, after work, or throughout the day on the weekend. Forcing myself to rearrange between chapters as I feel my neck and shoulders stiffen. The age of reading. I bought the book at Target, 20% off. How hilariously the book fits in my hands. It is short and squat. Fat. Over 1,000 pages in length. I finally feel I have made progress with only 300 pages or so to go. There still feels like so much story waiting for me.

I went to the theater alone and watched the movie. I told no one I was going. Asked no one along. Randomly picked a theater and a time on a day with heat that was too oppressive to do anything other than sit in a dark, cool room. I sat near the front because my visit was so impromptu I didn’t have my glasses. I put my feet up on the rail and suffered through the previews. Waiting. Waiting. I raised my eyebrows at a lady, older than me, who hustled up to the top of the seats with 4 children in tow. One of them a boy, probably no older than 12. I wasn’t convinced he would enjoy what was coming.

I don’t remember a time before IT existed. Imdb dates the miniseries at 1990, which makes sense. I would’ve been 3. I don’t remember a time before clowns scared me, before I was anxious around drains and grated holes in the ground. Seemed like every summer the miniseries would air on TV or on one of my dad’s many movie channels. And I would curl up on the air-conditioned soaked couch in the afternoon. Eager and nervous to pass the time with Pennywise the clown. I don’t remember the first time I saw it. Surely I watched it with a parent or an older cousin. Maybe at my Uncle John’s, where we watched all the horror movies for the first time. All of us feeling safe in a group with our aunts and uncles hovering at the periphery. Their rambunctious laughter reminding us of the safe world we lived in. A world without murderous clowns.

As a child who spent countless hours alone, I found IT to be especially terrifying, as a creature who preyed on not just single children, but independent children. Children who were not afraid to go play in a rainstorm or take a bath by themselves. Children who rode bikes around the neighborhood while their parents were at work. Those children were me, as I passed the Arizona July afternoons on the couch sitting by myself in front of the television.

My father owned the book IT. The book cover had been lost in some countless move. The book stared out at me from the bottom corner of the bookshelf. Gray and hard with the title loud and red on its spine: STEPHEN KING IT written in glossy red font, pretending to bleed down the edge. I picked it up once. The beginning seemed ordinary enough to me. But it was the length of the book with the sections and the chapters outlined so meticulously that convinced me there were too many horrors lying in wait. I had a vision of myself, my 11 year old self, unwilling or unable to finish the book because of all the gruesome details the story would entail. The miniseries alone had made it difficult for me to take showers in the empty apartment, to lock the door when I went to the bathroom, convinced that something was waiting for me, would start calling to me, from the drains. If I read the book, if I let that world inside of my head…then how would I escape? Would I ever? What would come for me then?

I didn’t like being alone as much as I was. I was often bored. I often tired of the silence of myself. But in my summers, the Arizona heat compelled me to stay inside. The thought of going to the pool alone seemed just as boring, if not more lonely, than staying on the couch. I would channel surf, time out my day, count the hours until my dad would come home and end the monotony. I would stay awake as late as I could to ensure a late sleep the next day, which meant fewer hours alone until dad came home. These memories of being alone are vivid to me, although the logical part of my brain reminds me that my brother was around somewhere. Always around. And there were other people, other siblings and cousins, who would often come around. And we would go to the mall or eat lunch or watch tv together. But my memory of that empty, cool, quiet apartment is not wrong.

Ultimately, that was the draw of IT every summer. Not the bloodthirsty shapeshifting clown. Not the feeling of dread and terror that welled up in my chest throughout and after watching it, alone in the shower or in the apartment. I like to scare myself, but not that much. No, what kept me coming back to that semi-melodramatic film every summer was the bond between the kids, first as monster fighters and later as sad adults obligated to face their pasts. I was drawn to a world where kids were not alone, not always. Where they had like-minded peers to spend part of their day with, every day. Where their fears were realized and affirmed. Where they found a place to hatch a plan to use their togetherness. Where friendship meant something. Where it meant adventures and jokes and stories that spanned time.

I sat in the theater as an adult and was reunited with those characters. I knew their backstories and knew what horrors (in some form) awaited them. I laughed with them. It was an odd sense of familiarity, of recognition. More than I was comfortable fully acknowledging. To have grown up with a horror story and to have identified so strongly with the make-believe and with the minds of the children. What did that mean?

So I read the book now. And that old, creepy dread has found me again. Alone in the house, I look up at every creak. I shower when the house is full and loud and bright. I have many vivid nightmares. I am reunited with a me I felt often on those summer afternoons. On edge. Alone. Imagining. But when I’m not reading I want to be. It consumes me. This desire to reconnect with another me. Another self with feelings that informed the infrastructure of the current self. To be an adult is everything King said it would be.