With Halloween just behind us, I thought it appropriate to share a spooky story. AND IT'S ALL TRUE!
Last year I won this crazy and amazing trip from the local radio station, and we left Gwen with my parents and headed to the mainland for a long weekend of adventure. One of the things we did was visit the PNE, which I don't think I'd ever been to as an adult. Holy CRAP it was fun. Somehow, in the preparations for this trip, Chris and I came up with a deal: he would ride the roller coaster with me if I would venture into the haunted house with him.
See, Chris is terrified of heights. And I am terrified of being terrified. In some weird way, though, Chris thought he could cure me of my fears by talking me through the haunted house experience. Oho! Did this plan fail spectacularly? WAIT AND SEE!
We rode the roller coaster first, and Chris was stressed and alarmed by the fact that when we went over the bumps, his body rose up out of the seat and was only prevented from flying out of the car (it seemed) by his elbow being locked under the safety bar. Yeah, he's a skinny guy, but kids ride that thing and "woooooo" their arms up above their heads and somehow avoid dying, so I didn't think he was really at risk. Still, he had that utter concentration of the cliched airline passenger who believes that only by clenching both armrests with fanatical strength, as well as devoting every inch of concentration to the matter, will the plane stay in the air. In any case: we survived the roller coaster. Now it was time to deliver on my part of the deal.
I felt pretty nervous as we waited in line to get in. I was curious about whether I could actually be cured, but I was worried about whether I'd be able to handle the experience of being actively terrified. I have a hard time letting go of the scares when they're over. As my friend Sue says, "Watching horror movies once is fine, but watching them over and over in your mind for the next several months is not so great." My brain works that way too. I tried to let go of my nerves and remind myself that it was all pretend.
As we entered the house, a costumed actress reminded us of the rules, such as the fact that no one would touch us and we should not touch anyone. I got a little more freaked out. What were these people going to do once we were inside? The fact that they needed to assure us we wouldn't be touched, for some reason didn't feel reassuring at all.
We went down the first hallway and I was holding myself together reasonably well. Chris was talking constantly, telling me the tricks and effects behind what we saw and felt and heard. For example, he noted that when we walked by certain spots, a sound of puffing air was audible; this indicated that we'd tripped a sensor of some sort, and that some animatronic thing was about to jump out at us. These types of warnings were helpful, as they did somewhat alleviate the startle reflex.
We walked into the first room, which seemed to be some kind of sitting room, where a creepy animatronic grandmother-type was seated in a rocking chair. The sound of a creaking rocking chair was loudly playing over the speakers. Chris was talking me through all of this: "There's someone sitting in the chair, she's not real. There's an actress in the corner." And then the actress in the corner pounced towards us and shrieked, "GET OUT OF HERE!" and I lost my mind.
Admittedly, on the page it doesn't seem that frightening. But it was really dark, it was obviously an unfamiliar setting meant to make me feel threatened and disoriented, and the physical act of getting in my face and yelling at me broke my ability to tell myself it wasn't real. The actress didn't seem like an actress, she seemed like an angry and possibly insane person who wanted me to leave. I wanted the exact same thing - but there was no way out except through the rest of the house.
We walked as fast as possible, but the house seemed to go on for-freaking-EVER. Chris walked in front, with me huddled behind him hiding my face in his back. He continued to talk me through things, warning me when an actor was going to interact with us or when something was going to jump out at us. It didn't help. I was hyperventilating and shaking and desperate to get out, but the hallway kept twisting and turning back on itself and leading us to more and more horrible scenes. Most of which, I'm happy to say, I didn't see at all.
And then we walked into the baby's room.
A baby's room. In a haunted house. Are you freaking KIDDING me? I have never been much for horror, as I said above, but since becoming a mom - well, really, since having a miscarriage - the ideas and imagery around babies or children in peril is unbelievably devastating to me. Saying "I cannot handle it," is a simple sentiment that doesn't begin to do justice to the actual effect it has on my psyche. I can't be the only one who feels this way, right? I mean, even if you don't have children, there's a whole societal belief that children are innocent and perfect and deserve to be protected - that a child's death is so much more tragic than an adult's death. The idea of a child being hurt or abused is a trigger on every level, and so somehow it seems like putting this kind of imagery into a haunted house is going way, way over the line. Then again, maybe that's why they did it.
So there we were, in the baby's room. I knew it was a baby's room because I could hear a baby crying over the sound system. I could glimpse a crib out of the corner of my eye. Chris said, "There's someone here, she's going to say something." And she did. She got out of her chair, came towards us, and wailed throatily, "What have you done? What have you done with MY BABY?"
This is when I realized the enormity of the mistake I had made. It wasn't just a matter of getting out of the haunted house. The problem was, the haunted house images and noises were in my brain now, and were going to keep replaying for months to come. This wasn't just a 5-minute experience, it could conceivably last a lifetime.
I think I may have started crying at this point. We turned to leave the room and were faced with another actress, holding an enormous cleaver and cutting something up on a cutting board. I didn't look at what it was, because I wanted to spend the rest of my life NOT in a padded room.
From that point on I didn't even open my eyes. Chris led me out of there as quickly as he could (not quickly enough), and finally we burst into the sunlight. I sat down on the dirty ground immediately as my legs could no longer hold me. I filled my eyes with sights of normal people, including the shaken Chris, who apologized over and over. (It wasn't his fault - I agreed to it. I didn't know it would be that bad.)
The experience did have its effects. Later that evening in our hotel room, I was quite frightened to be alone, and the way the sheer curtains billowed in the breeze subconsciously reminded me of the gauzy fabric used in the haunted house, putting me on edge and causing me to stare at them anxiously.
Chris's plan to 'cure' me of being afraid by explaining it all ... well, it came from a loving place. But I don't think fear can be rationalized away. If it could, no one would have phobias or anxiety. I am still afraid to watch scary movies, and I'm pretty okay with that. And next time we get to go to the PNE, we have a new deal: I get to go on the roller coaster while he goes in the haunted house, and then we both get to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl as many times as we want.