An excerpt from my memoir, in which I relive a memory of one of my very first experiences with friendship, a birthday party, and trauma incited by an urban legend.
My anxiety disorder formed into what it would be for the many coming years of my life. I still wet the bed well into my fourth-grade year, although I would always be reprimanded for it. I was punished whenever it would happen, my fear of the alarm clock in the middle of the night not enough to keep me from wetting myself. That horrific sound of metal striking metal as the sharp ringing of the purple clock would wake me from a deep sleep, often causing me to panic and slip beneath my bed sheets as I looked out into the darkness of my room. I feared the dark more than anything, and at times I would fear the silliest of things. I think I remember having a sleep hallucination of Jesus once that caused me to panic as the desire for it to go away gripped at my heart. It seemed that even as I child I found no comfort in Christian images or the idea of it. Regardless, I would climb out of bed once my bravery was there, no matter how small, and crept to the bathroom. The next morning my bedclothes would be wet, and I would be chastised and punished.
My pediatrician, Dr. Suk Kang, was a shining light in my life and also the reason for my parents having finally understood why my bedwetting wouldn’t cease. Not only was he one of the best doctors around, he was kind and very invested in my healthcare. Every time I visited him he would give me a quick kiss on my forehead or cheek and smile widely, happy to see me doing well. His accent was strong and he spoke broken English, but he spoke it well and was also a friend to my parents. He absolutely adored Disney and we often brought him posters and memorabilia back from Disney World, or any time we saw something relating to Disney for him. He always put them up in his office, and his place of practice was a Disney Wonderland in itself. Everything from the wallpaper to the decor was Disney centric. I always loved seeing him even if I was afraid of the doctor’s office in general.
He informed my parents that my late bedwetting was no fault of my own, but due to my body’s lack of producing a hormone to be able to hold it while asleep. I developed this eventually, of course, but it was a constant strain on me and my parent’s relationship, as well as me and my friends. I could not spend the night with others unless I had Pull-Ups with me to my own embarrassment, or friends would have to sleep on the floor instead of in my bed with me. I often got made fun of for this in school, and I remember having to wear Pull-Ups even during the day while I was there. The bullying started very early for me and caused a fear in me that led to agoraphobia, which is a fear of public places or certain places in general. I was afraid of everything and everyone.
This became worse and worse over the following few years. The other kids who I had thought were my friends turned out to be humoring me and nothing more. I had maybe one or two true friends in elementary school who I cherished and who did not use me as the butt of a joke as the others often did. I was pushed, physically assaulted on the playground, laughed at, mocked, and any secret I dared to trust my first best friend with, or who I called my best friend, became public knowledge and another teasing point for the other kids. A birthday party and sleepover at this best friend’s house ended up being one of the few childhood memories I have that is so vivid. We were still only in elementary school.
The girls and I were standing around in my friend’s room. There were two twin-sized beds there, one for my friend and the other for her older sister. There was a dresser to the side by the door and a large mirror over it. The room was of average size, but the memory of the small details are hazy now. I just remember spending a lot of time there and a lot of my childhood memories of any semblance of friendship formed there as well, but as we all stood there and faced the large mirror, a new memory was forming that wasn’t so pleasant. The girls were attempting to invoke Bloody Mary.
As most people know, the legend of Bloody Mary is an infamous one that is often brought up during parties. Back then it was popular due to the success of Alvin Schwartz’s ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ series, illustrated with ghoulish amalgamations by the talented Stephen Gammell. The urban legends within the series of three books were not softened for children at all, except to be worded in a way that would be easier to understand. This led to the book going through a short time of contention with school librarians, and for a time it was almost banned from public school libraries. The gruesome nature of the stories remained the same and survived the legal struggles, and the Bloody Mary legend could be found within their pages.
I don’t believe I’d read about the legend yet, or even had read the ‘Scary Stories’ trilogy, but I was introduced to the traumatizing practice that night of looking into a mirror to conjure a violent spirit. She was to appear with blood on her skin and a vengeance that would pull the conjurer into the mirror, lest the foolish conjurer switch on a light instantly. The light remained on while we all stood in front of the large mirror that night, and I don’t remember if we switched it off at any time, but the fear was there. I was scared, but I was surrounded by my friends. That is, until they asked me to leave the room. As I stepped out into the hallway, I was alone to watch the bedroom door as it closed in front of me. I stood there for some time, my anxiety eating away at me as I heard the room erupt in laughter. I knew deep inside it was at my expense, but I stood there anyway, hoping that something special would happen and it was all just a joke.
The door was opened by my friend who was still giggling, and they invited me back in. I don’t remember what happened then, other than the party seemed to resume for a short time before I was coaxed into going into a dark bathroom by myself with a small flashlight. I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid of the dark and I knew that to try the Bloody Mary chant alone, as was suggested by the girls that I do, I was invoking danger upon myself. I believed in it wholeheartedly as any child would, and I was shoved into the bathroom before I could protest any further. The door was closed behind me and weight was pushed against it, and no matter how hard I pressed into that door with my body or pounded on the wood, no one would let me leave. I was trapped.
I backed away and I tried to calm myself. I was told that I was not allowed to turn the light on, and being as easily controlled back then as I was being a child, I listened. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends or lose them, so I looked into the mirror. With nothing but my anxiety and a small flashlight to guide me, I tried to stutter out the Bloody Mary chant three times – loud enough for them to hear. I began to cry. I was terrified and my heart had started to race against my ribcage. I was at the door again, pushing on it and pounding against the wood. I was begging to be let out but no one would listen. They stood against the door, pushing against my efforts cruelly to keep me trapped in that small room of danger. I cried louder. I screamed. I pleaded to call my mom because I wanted to go home. I just wanted to be safe again, and I knew that my mom’s presence would be enough to show me that everything would be okay.
After a short time, an older woman’s voice was tense out in the hallway in question as to what was going on. It was my friend’s mother. She finally released me from my dark prison and I stumbled out into the hallway, tears streaming down my face. I repeated over and over that I wanted my mom. I wanted to go home. It was all I could manage to say after the trauma I’d experienced, and it seemed that my friend and her sister weren’t too happy about their mother’s reaction to it all. Words are muffled in my memory and the rest became a blur as my parents were on the phone with that woman, I snuggling with my Winnie the Pooh security blanket I’d latched onto as an infant, and then they were in the driveway late at night, guiding me into their car as I tried to come down from the shock that I’d experienced.
To this day I am still afraid of dark bathrooms. Mirrors bring me discomfort in the dark and I don’t dare to look over my shoulder at them. The pounding heart and the racing mind – the fight or flight sensation that I still feel any time I have to walk across my hallway to get to the bathroom at night in my own apartment as an adult… It just won’t go away.
©2018 Shane Blackheart