In 1991, when I was 12 years old, I saw the movie When A Stranger Calls at a friend’s sleepover party. It’s the movie where the babysitter, Jill, gets phone calls from a man asking, “Have you checked the children?” until the police trace the calls and tell her that they’re coming from inside the house. The caller has brutally murdered the children with his bare hands. Years later, when Jill has her own children and is out to dinner with her husband, she receives the same call at the restaurant. This time the police catch the creep before he does any more murdering, but not before Jill unwittingly gets into bed with him.
For obvious reasons, after seeing the movie I stopped accepting babysitting jobs. There were a lot of families with young children in our neighborhood and I probably could have gotten a sitting job every weekend. From what I remember, babysitting consisted mostly of watching Carol Burnett after the kids went to bed and being on high alert for murderous intruders. That was even before I’d seen When A Stranger Calls. In any case, my decision to stop babysitting would change my destiny.
After I quit babysitting I didn’t have much discretionary income other than the weekly allowance I earned for doing chores. I probably spent it all on tchotchkes and CDs instead of saving for a major purchase as my dad advised me to do. Fast-forward to 1994 in the weeks leading up to the Homecoming dance at school. My mom and I went shopping for a dress at the mall and I found the one. It was a maroon velour mermaid dress with cream lace around the neck and it fit perfectly. It was also several hundred dollars. My mom, clearly conflicted but sticking to her guns, said no. I played my role perfectly: entitled, ungrateful teen in suburban shopping mall dress store. Thankfully I have the kind of mom whose good sense withstood my adolescent fits. And thank goodness I hadn’t earned enough money to buy the dress myself.
If I’d been able to pay for my velour dream dress with a stash of babysitting money, this is what would have happened. On the night of the Homecoming dance, after being dropped off by our limo driver at the classic Como Inn restaurant downtown, my friends and I would have been approached by former regular Tony Bennett, in town for a show. He would have been stunned by my dress and would have made some suave off-hand comment, “You should be in the movies.” I would have taken that comment to heart and cast aside all plans for college in hopes of making it as an actress.
After high school I would have moved to L.A. and gotten a serving job just to make ends meet until I made it big. However, I would never make it big because I would only go on a few auditions before realizing that I had none of the talent, charisma and persistence required. I would keep working at the restaurant but would have to turn down a lot of shifts when I had severe whiplash after getting rear-ended by a paparazzo that was chasing Jennifer Love Hewitt. Eventually, I would no longer be able to make rent payments and would have to move into a transient hotel, too proud to ask my parents for help.
One night I would have come home from work to learn that a body had been found in the water tank on the roof. I would be admitted to the hospital for testing because I’d been showering and brushing my teeth in the contaminated water for days. Although the doctors wouldn’t find any bacteria related to the corpse water, a pernicious flesh-eating bacteria hanging about the hospital would make its way into a superficial knife wound I’d gotten in my one shift at the restaurant that week. My immune system, weakened by a steady diet of Reese’s Pieces, Ramen noodles and Surge soda, wouldn’t be able to fight it off. I would have died before my family could get there to say goodbye.
It chills me to think about how close I came to meeting this dark fate. I am incredibly grateful that my friend asked her mom to rent a horror movie about babysitting when there were so many other movies to choose from. I wouldn’t be here today if she had picked Ernest Goes to Jail instead.