It was a cold, dark night in October. I huddled with my friends from Riverview Junior High, shivering to stay warm because seventh graders don’t wear coats. I was dressed in my Levi’s 501 button-fly jeans with pink leg warmers and a pink Levi Strauss T-shirt.
I was 12 and not only was I cold, I was terrified.
If I could have been anywhere else on the planet I would have been. But it was my friend’s birthday and she’d scheduled a visit to a haunted house. There was no escape.
When I received the invitation to her party, my heart dropped. There were three things I dreaded more than going through seventh grade without a boyfriend: dentists, vaccinations and haunted houses.
Since birth, I’d been convinced sharp-toothed monsters lived in my room, and snot-dripping goblins hid in the closet.
“Dad!” I’d scream in the middle of the night. “There’s something under my bed.”
“Yep, it’s either a troll or a hungry alligator. Don’t let your toes touch the floor.”
I didn’t sleep for 10 years, afraid my foot would slip out of the covers and I’d wake up with a missing toe . . . or worse.
I could never admit to my friends I was petrified of a) creepy clowns, b) chain saws or c) peeing my pants in public, and I had two weeks to stress about the experience.
Even though I prayed for a serious illness or the apocalypse, the night of the party arrived and I was on my way to the scene of every childhood nightmare. We pulled into the attraction where a long, slow-moving line snaked around the building. My heart leaped! Maybe we could go home! Maybe we could watch funny movies!
But everyone ran to get in line, excited for the adventure ahead. I had no choice but to follow. Like the cheerleader in every slasher movie, I walked toward certain death. The two hours in line were the longest of my life as screams echoed from inside the building.
I had plenty of time to worry. What if a real killer had sneaked into the attraction? What if the people hired to scare the daylights out of teenagers didn’t care about the “no real knives” rule? What if that blood wasn’t fake?!
When it was our turn, I took a deep breath and walked into the darkness. Suddenly, strobe lights flashed, claws clutched at me, and I ran in place for 30 seconds before my knees kicked into gear. I ricocheted off three walls and crashed into a door frame before escaping into a foggy graveyard where witches hung from trees and zombies staggered in my direction.
I darted from room to room, barely registering the hair-raising images, wanting only to get to the exit, wanting only to survive. Creatures lunged toward me. I elbowed an alien in the head. I dodged a deranged lumberjack with a chain saw. I punched a clown in the kidneys. Somehow, I made it to the end, falling across the threshold, gasping for breath, so happy to be alive.
Here’s what I learned from that experience: I should wear a coat when I’m cold. Pink leg warmers are never a good idea. I hate haunted houses.
It’s been many years since that night and, except for a few incidents with my foolhardy daughters, I’ve avoided haunted attractions (and leg warmers). But sometimes I still hear my dad’s voice, “That noise in the closet? It’s just the bogeyman. Now go to sleep.”