IT and our childhood fears

pennywise.jpg

Recently, I saw the movie, IT, based on the classic Stephen King book. While I’ve read several King books over the years, I’d never read this one and didn’t know much about it except that there was a scary clown who goes after children.

(Spoilers below for those who haven’t read the story).

In a small town in Maine, a parasitic creature wakes up and needs to feed, and what it eats is fear. Using some sort of telepathic abilities to read the fears of children, the creature then appears as their very worst fears and terrorizes them before consuming them, distorting reality around them as it becomes what they are most afraid of. For one kid in the film, its zombies, literal creatures from the undead. For another, he turns into a leper, representing the boy’s fear of germs and disease. For one girl, he is a creature of hair and blood, somehow manifesting her fear at the hands of abuse from her father. For the young boy at the opening of the film, the creature becomes a friendly stranger, who then does harm to the boy.

As I watched the movie, trying to figure out its secrets and intrigues, I grew fascinated by this concept, and my brain immediately began going back to my own childhood, and I wondered what fear the creature would have manifested for me. When I was six, I was convinced that there were ghosts living in my mother’s closet upstairs (and no, the irony of the closet here is not lost on me). When I was ten, I was constantly afraid of rejection by my peers, being picked last at recess for team sports or being called a sissy for not knowing how to ride a bike. When I was fourteen, I was frightened that my friends might discover I was gay. At sixteen, I was most afraid of condemnation of God.

I wondered how IT would have shown up at each of those stages: the ghosts in my mother’s closet escaping me and pulling me inside; my peers morphing into horrible creatures who made fun of me and exposed my secrets; the vision of God himself shunning me and striking me down.

And yet the fears for everyone would be different, at differing ages. My mind wandered to my clients, my loved ones, my children, wondering what they might be afraid of. It was a brilliant, and absolutely horrifying concept.

The creature took his primary, and preferred, form as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. And he was damn scary, with frightening off-centered eyes, flaky white face, and dripping red lips, standing there creepily with a single red balloon.

I sat next to my boyfriend Mike in the film, and part way through, when a needle came out for an injection, I watched him squirm like he hadn’t before. “I hate needles,” he muttered, and later, during a scene with lots of blood, he similarly exclaimed, “I hate blood.” Out of all the scary things we were seeing, from demons in basements to headless running creatures, it was the needles that got him.

I began wondering what my own current fears would be, and it immediately hit me. The thought of my children being in danger with me unable to help them, that filled me with a dread I could hardly comprehend.

Ad it was around that time that I noticed the small child sitting behind me. The movie was about one hour in when I heard a mother in the row behind me whisper, “Cover your eyes on this part, honey,” in reaction to a bully in the movie literally using a knife to carve his name into the abdomen of another child. But before this, there had been severed arms and horrifying clown monsters, and now this mother was asking her daughter to cover her eyes.

I turned my head and saw a young mother with a few friends, and her three-year old daughter seated next to her. And suddenly, I was overcome with fury. How could someone drag a three-year old child into a film like this, filled with blood, gore, dismemberment, and death? Did she assume the child wouldn’t remember? Maybe they watched frightening movies at home regularly. I mean, as a parent, she had the right to make her own decisions, but I couldn’t imagine my children in this room, withering and crying out of fear, and the nightmares that followed. For the rest of the movie, I was aware of the child sitting behind me, and I wanted to snatch her up and cover her eyes, and also to yell at her mother.

As the final credits ran and the lights came up, I sat there. I turned my head, making eye contact with the mother for a moment and conveying my disapproval, but she averted my gaze and quickly got her child out of there.

Mike and I sat in silence briefly.

“Um, that was good.”

“Yeah.”

“And scary.”

“Yeah.”

“And I’ll be thinking about that for like three days.”

“Yeah. I’ll probably have nightmares.”

(And later, he did. And so did I.)

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