I used to think it was fun to be scared. In junior high, I liked to watch the latest scary movies and read books about ghosts and other creepy things that made the hairs stand up on my neck. At slumber parties, my friends and I would huddle together on a couch as we watched vampires that couldn’t be killed stalk their next human prey, and we’d all secretly hope we didn’t have to get up and go to the bathroom alone where, obviously, a vampire was waiting to suck our blood. And, the next slumber party, there was sure to be another frightening movie primed and ready to slowly suck the innocence out of us via our eyeballs. And, if those got boring, we’d retell ghost stories and other freaky folklore to tickle our creepy crawlies.
But what wasn’t fun was going home later, into my bedroom, alone, in the dark and trying to sleep and not think about Chucky in my closet waiting for me to fall asleep so he could torture me, or a psycho-killer waiting patiently under my bed, ready to, well, basically do the same things Chucky would. The darkness, when the fun was over, became menacing and frightening. My bedroom, which should be a private, safe place of solace, had become a would-be torture chamber, that is, when I fell asleep.
So I decided it wasn’t fun to be scared anymore. I put scary movies and ghost stories behind me. And, for many years, the scary effect of the dark has been wearing off. Thank. Goodness. I lost enough sleep thinking about my dolls coming to life and acting upon their evil intentions. And, thankfully, most things that were scary to me in the past, I’ve found, aren’t scary anymore.
Except for one thing…
Everyone has their own idea of what a scary costume looks like. Mike Myers. Freddy Krueger. Clowns. Those are enough to make a grown man scream for his momma.
Well, for me, none of those bring about the same rise of panic inside me like… wait for it… gorilla costumes.
It goes back 29 years to the year 1988. I was in Kindergarten at Mark Twain elementary. My brothers were in 2nd and 4th grade. (Somehow, everyone in my family seems vague on their memory of this event but it’s been ingrained in my mine.)
The story goes that it was Halloween. We three kids were dressed up in probably the cutest homemade costumes ever. Andrew was Captain Hook. Peter was Peter Pan. And I was Tinkerbell.
My mom thought it would be fun for us if she paid a man from our church to dress up in a gorilla costume and visit each of our classrooms. She warned us that he’d be coming and even told us who the man was. A real nice guy who always liked to help people out, you know?
Well, the fateful time arrived. I had been waiting with eager anticipation. I wasn’t supposed to, but I had told my friends earlier that a surprise was coming to our classroom during our party. So, all of us kindergartners were happily sitting around our tables in miniature plastic chairs stuffing our faces with candy and orange pumpkin cupcakes, when the door to our classroom swung open. I was super stoked. It was show time. As planned, the gorilla-wearing do-gooder entered and began running around our classroom beating his chest and making gorillas noises.
Y’all, I freaked. I mean terror, hysteria, screaming, crying. And, like a real animal, all my theatrics only served to get the gorilla’s attention and he lumbered over to see if he could “cheer me up” with more of his gorilla antics. Clearly he wasn’t trained in early childhood psychology. His grunting and armpit scratching two feet from my face terrified me more than anything else ever has. My fight or flight kicked in and I scrambled to get away from this fur-covered terrorist.
Instinctively, I knew my mom was in the hallway waiting for her prepaid man-ape to exit so she could lead him to the next classroom to terrorize her other two children. Against my teacher’s wishes, I bolted out the door right into my mom’s arms. I was so hysterical she couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but she urged me to go back to class.
Uh-uh, crazy lady. Not happening.
I clung to her like never before. There wasn’t much she could do but await the finale of my psychosis. Eventually, when the gorilla left, I calmed down, but I wouldn’t let go of my momma. She finally had to leave the school with her daughter wrapped tightly around her leg.
I’m not sure what happened to my party treats. Did my teacher pack up my sweets and give them back to me the next day at school? Who knows. Candy was so far down the list of my needs at that point I can’t even remember it, or trick or treating, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas that year.
But I’ll never forget the gorilla. And I’ll ever be reminded of him each Halloween when some man unwittingly dresses up in a gorilla suit to be funny for the kids. And I’ll laugh, so my kids will think it’s funny, but inside I’ll be frightened and want my momma. Thanks, Chris, for bringing back all the (terrifying) feels for me this Halloween!