When I was 4 years old, I was terrified of the man who lived inside my closet. He had brown hair and a thick mustache, and every time I went to bed at night, I’d stare at the closet door, my heart pounding with fear that I’d see the door slowly crack open as his face peeked in, staring at me bundled up in my comforter. That man was my mom’s Magnum P.I. poster that she hung in her child’s closet because she was too embarrassed to keep it anywhere else in the apartment, unaware of the turmoil it caused me.
I was scared of tons of things as a kid. I accidentally saw a few minutes of Pink Floyd: the Wall while my dad watched a VHS copy in the basement, and had nightmares for weeks of people falling into a meat grinder. I saw a few minutes of the original IT miniseries and became terrified of sewers and red balloons (and it’s now happening again!!). And I was probably the only 11-year-old on the planet to ever develop a deep-seeded fear over the black and white 1937 Cary Grant screwball comedy Topper, but something about the thought of wisecracking ghosts disturbed me so much that I started crawling out of my bed at night, creeping across the hall, and climbing into a twin bed with my 5-year-old sister for protection. I was a super-lame 11-year-old.
I grew out of my scaredy-cat phase eventually, but my childish fears morphed into teenage social anxiety. On top of being painfully shy, I suddenly put on a lot of weight thanks to the one-two-punch of puberty and my fitness regimen of finishing bags of Cheetos while reading Sweet Valley High books in a single sitting. I had terrible eyesight and for some reason chose thick pink acrylic frames for my glasses, which I wore atop my one eyebrow. But thankfully, I had one very important thing going for me: I had a best friend–someone I could be my true weird self around. With her, I felt safe revealing all of my secrets, like that I wrote fan mail to figure skaters, and loved reading Jackie Collins books (totally appropriate, normal taste for junior high). Or that, while our classmates were getting into Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I rocked out to Broadway Original Cast Recordings–“Miss Saigon” was my jam. And she shared her secrets with me, too–like she had a weird obsession with forcing people to sniff her retainer and her favorite movie was Oh God! Starring George Burns.
In the fall, our favorite thing to do was go to the local Blockbuster (R.I.P.) and rent a bunch of horror movies. We both were total weenies when it came to scary films, but watching and screaming together made it fun. During our junior year, I saw the trailer for a new supernatural thriller coming to theaters and immediately knew that we HAD to see it on opening weekend. That film was the 1996 classic, The Craft, which blew my sheltered suburban
mind. I went to Catholic school for most of my life, but I never looked as cool or tough in my plaid skirt and white blouse as Fairuza Balk’s character Nancy, with her dark eyeliner, layers of crucifixes, and thigh highs. I wasn’t as self-assured as Sarah, the main protagonist, or strikingly pretty as Rochelle. In reality, I was a Bonnie, the meek follower played by Neve Campbell. Luckily, my best friend and I never had a major falling out that required us to do battle magic against each other. Sure, we had some typical teen drama, but never did I need to bind her from doing harm, harm against others, harm against herself.
I think one of the things about that movie that struck a chord with me was the idea of having witchy powers to actually control my life and the world around me. I loved the fantasy of it all–the ability to become outgoing and popular, to get a hot boyfriend, to be able to pull off the combo of mini-skirts and thigh-highs with those chunky Mary Janes literally every single person owned in the late 90’s. As a teenage girl, I felt like I had little control over my life or my surroundings, and I was super-into the idea of being able to call the corners to change who I was, a shy, awkward dork with a collection of Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan autographs.
Going away to college in Chicago opened the world up to me; I no longer lived in a homogenous suburban bubble. Finally, I could surround myself with art and culture and diverse opinions–it was pretty much like being on an early season of the Real World. But suddenly I learned to have whole new set of fears that came with my new adult life. During my rush hour ride to class on the Red Line in a crush of commuters, I learned to fear the stranger’s hands that brushed up against my body and the moment of realizing it was no accident as fingers groped and grabbed, and the lingering shame I’d feel afterwards. I learned the way my stomach plummeted when walking beneath a dark viaduct and seeing a man standing there, messing with his belt buckle, and wondering to myself if he was just going to pee or if I was about to be flashed. I learned the discomfort of being stuck in the back of a moving taxi when the driver turned the conversation sideways by starting to ask me questions about my sex life.
But I also learned more about my own powers. I learned about strength in numbers by traveling in packs with my roommates, keeping an eye out for each other at parties, like a coven but with kegs instead of cauldrons. I learned that my friends would never leave me alone anywhere I would be unsafe because they cared about me and loved me. I also learned the strength of my own voice when I started to study comedy writing and improv. One night at a party, a guy from school told me that I was the funniest girl in class. I looked right at him and said “Thanks, but I’m one of the funniest people in class.” I learned the power that comes from collecting my own life experiences and cultivating my weird eccentricities into art and gave me something interesting to say.
Now, in 2017, despite the strengths I have amassed, I have more fears than ever. Where do I even start? There’s giant terrible things constantly happening, like mass shootings, hurricanes, and forest fires, and on top of that, alarming legislation is getting snuck through while we’re still processing the last horrific event: actions like the rollback of the Federal Birth Control Coverage Mandate, and the House passing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
The only explanation I can wrap my head around goes back to the concept of fear: if old, elected men in power are trying so desperately hard to control us, they must be afraid of us. They’re desperately trying to dismantle us, one revoked right at a time, because they know what we are capable of being more powerful than they are. I remember a sign that I saw last January at the Women’s March on Washington; it said: We are the granddaughters of the witches you couldn’t burn.
Every morning as I read the latest news, I want to cry, or hide under a blanket to calm my racing heart. But I also know that there’s a way to combat fear, and that’s by sticking together and protecting each other. And that’s why, when I hear your stories, and your fears, I believe you. It’s been horrifying to see the Harvey Weinstein story unfold over the last week, and to read the graphic detail of the things he said and did to so many women. But I take heart in seeing how many women and men have gained the strength to come forward and tell their own stories, and to see people believe them and support them. And in less than one week, by raising all of these voices, a predator has been stripped of his power, his company, and his family. But that’s just one person, and there’s so, so many stories like these. But also, so, so many of us. Time to dig up those thigh-highs and chunky Mary Janes, witches, we’re calling the corners.
This piece was written for/performed at the October edition of Feminist Happy Hour: Resting Witch Face.