I’m pretty sure I hate television. And movies. And anything else that is meant to be entertaining but instead elevates my levels of paranoia. I miss the lighthearted sitcoms and animated shorts of my youth. And while my mind should be strong enough to resist the frightening images that pelt me today, I guess it just isn’t.
Rewinding… Last night, I went home to visit with my mom, pick up the last of my clean clothes, eat some Chinese food and remove my groceries from the fridge – the final stages of moving back to my apartment. After I forced her to watch “The Moment of Truth,” that terrible FOX show in which people are subject to lie detector tests for money, she reclaimed the remote and turned on one of the “Law & Order” spin-offs. The first two minutes featured several disconnected images, one of which was a woman being shot through her kitchen window while (I think) washing dishes. She was a Supreme Court justice’s wife. The scariest part was that this “professional” shooter first hit her in the shoulder, after which she had time to reach up, touch the wound and grab the lip of the sink for support. Then he shot her in the chest, equally silent, this time deadly. Immediately, my chest tightened and I started imagining my loved ones being shot through their kitchen windows for no apparent reason. I envisioned all the lunatics who have televisions, watching “Law & Order” and other shows to figure out more awful ways to kill and torture people. I know the population of cold-blooded murderers is probably pretty small, but why give them more with which to work??
I’ve always had this issue with entertainment. I have refused to watch horror movies since my dad dragged me to the theater at the age of 4 to see “Arachnophobia” with the rest of his new family. I was literally cowering under the seat, crying, the soles of my tiny sneakers all sticky from spilled soda. Who does that to a child who’s already timid and shy and obviously skittish? I won’t say it was “Arachnophobia” that ruined me, because I know the paranoia started before that. I’d been sleeping with my mom since my parents divorced, which continued until I was deemed “too old,” and then took to dragging a sleeping bag into the living room after spending the night on the other end of a mostly empty house was unbearable. Seeing “Scream” at a friend’s birthday party in 1996 worsened my condition, taking my paranoia in all directions at once, leaving me yanking back shower curtains, checking under beds, refusing to crawl under the covers until I’d opened the closets and pushed back the clothes to find all the serial rapists and murderers that surely were hiding therein.
Those last few habits are with me today. I’ve abandoned the nightly “checks” of the house – are the doors locked? are the windows whole? are there large men with clubs in the pantry? – and the monthly bat checks of the basement (not for bats, but with a bat), but I still slide open the glass door on my shower, crouch to look under my bed before getting in it, push back the longer garments in my closet. I flip on the hall light just one more time to make sure the door is bolted and chained. I stand in empty rooms for at least 15 seconds, allowing my eyes to adjust, checking for movement, strange lights, disturbance. This is me at 23 – what will I be like at 40?
One of the most striking things about this paranoia of mine is how vividly I remember what most people would consider the lamest moments in movie/television history. Many tendencies of mine stem from precisely those moments. For example, the disembowelment scene that kicks off “Scream”? I was in tears and had visions of that for months. The “Scream” mask flashed in front of my eyes every time I pulled open a shower curtain too fast or couldn’t see in the dark quickly enough to discern movement. There was an episode of “Married with Children” in which Al and Peg go to a seedy hotel in Florida and end up with a fugitive ax murderer under their bed. Now, people, “Married with Children” is a COMEDY, but I couldn’t get past the image of an ax coming up at me, right in the middle of my bed. Hence the crouching. After that sniper moment on “Law & Order” last night, I had a nightmare about someone breaking in to my apartment. I hadn’t locked the door right after entering (which really happened last night and made me momentarily panicked) and someone had slipped in. When I realized my mistake, I reached for the door, knowing in my gut someone was inside with me. At that moment, something snapped inside me, like a big twinge in my spine, my brain, then a ringing started in my ears, a buzz that took away my hearing altogether, like I’d been hit on the head or shot. I woke up shaking, glancing around with wide eyes, guarding my face with my flannel comforter and outstretched arms.
When I’m alone at night, I insist on falling asleep on my back, a position from which I can see my entire bedroom. I don’t put my hands over my heart as often anymore, having realized the tiny bones probably wouldn’t shield my internal organs from a bullet fired at close range. I need to have a fan going so the quieter nighttime noises won’t keep me awake. Finally I’ve been able to start leaving my bedroom door open at night, knowing it’ll be an icebox come morning if I close myself in with said fan.
I can’t blame all my fears on entertainment, but they are a significant part of it. The well-crafted images of horror and strife do a great job of sticking with me for years. So much so that I can’t bear to watch any more than are forced on me by others, in inescapable situations. The only scary movies I can handle are ones that are obscenely unrealistic (“The Village”) and/or involve 1960s monsters that resemble giant sea turtles. “Cloverfield” was tolerable, but nothing – and I mean nothing – from the Ring-Hostel-Saw-Massacre genre ever will be. I watched an entire episode of another “Law & Order” spin-off in which a man was keeping bloodied women in his basement. Somehow I emerged unscathed, but it was nothing short of a miracle. I thoroughly dislike basements now, unless they’re finished, warm, well lit and homey. Dark corners and hidden rooms are not OK with me. Also, if a place has chains or hooks hanging from the ceiling, count me out. You’re planning a trip to an old, abandoned mental hospital? I’m busy that day; don’t bother asking.
I’d like to say I hope to get past this some day, but while I do hope that, I’m almost certain it won’t happen. It’s gone on long enough to be a defining part of me. It makes me want to boycott movies and television altogether… you know, besides Style, TLC, HGTV and the Food Network. And at least I know I’m safe when I curl up with a “Gilmore girls” DVD. I’m glad there’s one series that will never let me down.