As you probably know, I’m from Maine, right smack dab in the middle of Stephen King country. His legendary mansion is located in Bangor, just a few blocks from my college apartment. I graduated from the University of Maine at Orono, where Stephen King is one of our most famous alums (and benefactors) and can occasionally be found wandering around campus. In 1990 my best friend was an extra in Graveyard Shift, a portion of which was filmed in the very small town of Harmony, just a couple of miles from my childhood home. My parents were fans, and all growing up I remember the biggest hardcover books on the shelves said Stephen King in that big, distinctive font.
My point is, Stephen King has always been this big character in my life for many reasons, and none of the ones I’ve already mentioned are the most significant. It’s what happened when I was about 10 that really ensured the demons of this man’s imagination were to haunt me well into adulthood.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? I may have oversold this story, but here goes:
I’m 10 or 11, and my parents are headed off for the weekend, leaving me with a 16-year-old babysitter. This was the early 90s, and we lived in the suburbs with neighbors and family all around, so we were perfectly safe. However, the babysitter was given one major instruction: do not, under any circumstances, allow Erin to talk you into letting her watch the movie IT.
Yes, it’s sort of strange that this would need to be stated, but I’d been on some sort of pre-pubescent independence high and the title scrawled on the forbidden VHS tape taunted me every time I tried to choose a movie. I’d wanted to watch it when I was 9 and it was on television as a miniseries, but my parents had said absolutely not–it was too scary, and they knew I’d have nightmares. Of course I scoffed! This movie had a clown in it, how scary could it be? Besides, I could ride my bike a whole mile to the convenience store by myself now! I was a veritable ROAD MONSTER–on our cozy, quiet little side streets.
Anyway, you can guess what the 16-year-old babysitter did on the VERY FIRST NIGHT, can’t you? Well, I can tell you that like all parents mine knew me well enough to know that I should NEVER have watched this movie. Hence, the ban. Why they didn’t simply take the VHS tape with them or hide it somewhere I’ll never know. Who has this kind of child-scarring material just hanging out for impressionable kid to watch, anyway? Sheesh, mom!
Ok, so seriously though I really was scarred. Say goodbye to riding my bike to the store; the streets are now a killer clown paradise. I knew that kid they said moved away really didn’t move away! He’s down there now, FLOATING! Pennywise is coming for me next, I just know it.
I start to have anxiety about walking to school, and set about creating a route that won’t take me anywhere near the sewer grates–nearly impossible without trespassing through several fenced-in yards. I’m sleeping with the light on, when I’m sleeping at all. It’s not good, and the babysitter has been blacklisted from the entire neighborhood. And still, my full scarring was yet to come.
The apartment we lived in at the time only had a shower stall, no bathtub. I’m not sure if a tub would have been better or worse, honestly, but regardless I forced my dad to STAND GUARD outside the bathroom door every time I took a shower for a whole month. One night, I’m hurrying through my shampoo and I call out (as I did every 45 seconds or so) to make sure my he’s still there, but this time I hear no reply.
Dad’s in the living room, watching Lois and Clark, entirely unconcerned about my impending death. I immediately start screeching, as only a true drama princess can do, until he returns. I make him promise not to leave again, and he makes me promise (through clenched teeth) to hurry up and finish my shower. I do, and that’s the end of that. I don’t want to press my luck. My dad is by no means scary, but I know he’s pissed, so I just finish up with Superman and go to bed.
Except my idiotic 10-year-old brain forgets about how irritated my dad is the next night and I read him the riot act about not leaving the door because wouldn’t he feel bad if I got taken into the sewers with Pennywise, on his watch? It would be all his fault, and he wouldn’t want to live with that for the rest of his life, now would he? I’m pretty sure my dad would have paid Pennywise to come get me right about then, and now that I’ve had some distance (and kids of my own) I totally understand.
About five minutes into my shower, I have a heart attack–seriously, I’m surprised I don’t have a Rogue-style white streak in my hair to this day–because a clown hand rises OUT OF THE DRAIN, grabs me, and tries to pull me down to hell!!
Just kidding, it was my dad, scaring the ever-loving shit out of me. He had sneaked in, reached under the curtain, and grabbed my ankle like some sort of sadist. He, of course, amused himself to no end, and also effectively divested himself of the whole “sworn protector” title.
Now, I’m not saying for sure that my dad’s shenanigans are the reason I fictitiously kill people for a living, but perhaps there’s a connection there! 💗☠️😄