October has arrived! The best month of all the months! It's time to immerse ourselves in mysteries, horror films, and ghost stories! I got a jump on the season a couple of months ago when some friends and I went to see Ari Aster's Midsommar. His work speaks to a lot of people, of which, I'm sorry to say, I am not included. However, before that movie started, when I was still able to control myself, before the strain of muffled laughter and choking began, I watched what I thought was the best part of that film, the preview for IT Chapter 2! Having never read IT or watched the Tim Curry version, I decided to go home and immediately begin reading the book so I could watch the newest incarnations of the movie. As the pages unfolded-- the children of Derry being murdered left and right-- I found myself thinking about my own childhood and the connection I felt to the main characters.
In 1986 my best friend Aaron and I were ten years old and spending every day of our summer "down at the creek" catching crawdads and walking over log bridges made by other ten year olds before us. Days down at the creek were full of sunshine, dam building, and absolutely zero parental supervision. So, pretty much the best thing you can imagine for us and our parents. These were, of course, pre-cell phone days so we followed the rules of "be home before dark" or "be home in time for dinner." When we dawdled and missed curfew, the wind would carry the holler of my mother a block away calling me to come home. These seem like fabled days, I realize, but they really did exist.
We weren't the most popular kids in school by any stretch of the imagination. In fact we were pretty much straight-up, bullied nerds. I had so much anxiety as a child that I missed months of school because it manifested into mysterious illnesses. Somehow I managed to muddle through and pass but I remember school being a wretched place when I was a tween; summers were an incredible relief. Despite being social pariahs Aaron and I did have a few friends who would come down to the creek with us to hang out. Sometimes we'd venture the three or four blocks north to The Tunnels. The Tunnels were a maze of secret passageways under the town of Olathe and when we discovered them, we felt like the luckiest kids on earth. Secret tunnels under a town!? Did people know about this!? As it turns out, they did. Our secret tunnels were actually sewers and I can tell you that I have walked, crawled, and shimmied my way through miles and miles of sewers under the quaint little (at the time) town of Olathe, Kansas and have only had the police called on me once. (Turns out people find it troubling to see kids in a sewer.)
"HOLD UP," you might say. "First of all, I'm sorry about your social status as a child. Second of all, gross. And last but not least, this sounds like the start of a horror movie about a creepy clown named Pennywise who lives in the sewers of Derry, Maine and who kills children for fun. That was published in 1986. The same year you claim to be basically living in a sewer?!" I know. I know! But, I didn't know until I read Stephen King's most famous tome last month. It's a strange feeling to read a book about children being murdered by a clown and to feel nostalgic for your childhood.
Spoiler alert: I have never been murdered by a clown.
We were just our own loser gang hanging out in our own version of the barrens, swimming in filth the same year this book about children dying in sewers was published. How did I miss such a monumental part of popular culture? It wasn't for a couple more years that the goal would be to watch as many horror movies at sleepovers (yes, I was finally invited to sleepovers!) as a person could stand. "One, two, Freddy's coming for youuuu," on an eternal loop in my brain. Freddy Kruger haunted our dreams just as he did Nancy Thompson's, turning her high-school hair grey from finger-knifed shock. When I got to high school I fell in love with The Shining, Pet Sematary, and Carrie but that was later. In 1986 I was still making my way through Lois Duncan's entire body of work. Willo Roberts' A View from the Cherry Tree kept me up at night. Both innocent in comparison. Pennywise became just another thing in which I would not invest. Wrong time, wrong place I guess you could say. It's a shame, really, because God knows I love a creepy clown. Poltergeist anyone?
Everyone knows that King is The King of horror who writes incredibly vivid stories of gruesome murders, monsters, and carnage. But, what really grabs me is when he's talking about bullies, young people and the human condition. This is what makes IT so easy to relate to even when the subject matter (hopefully) isn't relatable at all. When I say my life imitated a horror movie, yes, there are strange similarities between my summers and The Losers in IT. But tunnels and creeks aside, the parallels can mostly be found in the relationships between teens and their parents, teens and their friends, and even kids' relationship with themselves. So, although I have never been murdered by a clown, and I have never had pig's blood poured on me at the prom like Carrie, I have, as I would say most children have, felt what it's like to be chased by something or someone bigger than you. I've felt what it's like to be made small just when I've started to feel like I've grown. And these are the reasons why I know that life can, at times, imitate a horror movie.
-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.