Friday the 13th does things, or at least that's the superstition. In my case, however, the recent Friday the 13th snagged my brain. Fishhooked something deep. All day I kept thinking that I knew there was something with me and Friday the 13th. I couldn't think of it; almost like my retention was trying to protect me. Like a small, benevolent part of my head just wanted me to move on. But I kept sinking into my chair and doing that frustrated exhale of someone trying to recall something. It went like that all day, until I was riding home on the train and I was staring no place in particular and muttered, "Oh. damn."
It all snowballed into a reckoning. It hadn't actually been Friday the 13th. It was on or about February 26th. That's Bert's birthday. He's my childhood friend and it was at his slumber party where I saw the horror movie, Friday the 13th.
I was 11 because it was Bert's 12th birthday. Twelve is a big year, I think. We were always at Bert's house anyway so a slumber party wasn't a huge change for him, his sister, Willi, and his mom and dad. Especially for kids like me who lived out of town. I lived twenty-five miles away in the exact opposite of an urban metropolis in a place called Gould. At the time there were three kids in the entire Gould area: my brother, my sister and me. We lived in the absolute middle of the woods. People might be tempted to say we lived in the middle of nowhere, but that's a blatant misnomer. When in a town that small, everyone is somebody. And somebody always knows something they're bound to tell everyone. Instead of the middle of nowhere it might be appropriate to say right smack in the middle of everything.
But we were among the trees and only about two miles from Highway 14. That was the thoroughfare that put ample miles on my mom's hand-me-down station wagon carting her children in and out of Walden. I loved being in town, and my time there was precarious. Without the extra time the town kids had with each other, I had to be on my game and make the most of every visit. This slumber party was a huge opportunity for me to make myself a contender among the guys.
There was a slight hitch however. I don't know what it is with me, but I'm just not good with scary movies. I never have been. I just should've taken stock of the situation you're about to read, and made some better decisions. Had I been a bigger, smarter person, I would have walked out. I would have conjured an excuse. "You know what...I need to, um, get my mom some groceries because, you know, we live out of town." I could have gone to the Fair Share, which was just a hundred feet from Bert's house, and gotten food. It might take me four hours, but that's what would have been necessary for me to miss not only the first Friday the 13th movie, but the sequel. At Bert's slumber party in 1986, we watched both back to back.
Those movies didn't seem to faze the other kids. And maybe because of all the trees. I'd seen Poltergiest earlier that year and, I don't know if you remember the incident with the tree, but I didn't sleep for a week. I wandered scared around the house. I'd turn on lights wherever I went. Occasionally getting the exasperated "Jaaaarrrreeed" from my mom who A) was probably worried about the emotional health of an eleven year old who didn't sleep and B) didn't want me to wake my dad to the reality of his son. I'd pace around our bedroom and hope my brother would wake up and want to do something, like throw the football at 2am.
Some months later, with very little learned from a girl swallowed by a television set (Poltergeist), I settled in with the guys to watch Jason Vorhees. He's the main character in Friday the 13th movies who annihilates young adults in the woods. I told myself, Jared, you can do this. It's not real. Look at all of these other kids. Yeah, sure I was one of the younger kids in class. I wouldn't get my driver's license until I was a junior. But those other kids were still kids, right? And they're watching people being chopped to death and they're not scared! So I watched it. I did my best to play along with being faux frightened. And then they'd all say, "that was so dumb!" and I'd join in and say, "yeah, that was so stupid." Of course they were talking about the movie and I was talking about me watching it.
When the movies ended everybody was really tired. They dropped off one by one. Bert went to his room. Jason fell asleep by the aquarium. Eric and Brent fell asleep on the hide a bed. It left me awake on the edge of the couch. Me and the bubbling fish filter which I'd eventually unplug so I could be sure to hear everything. Everything that could be a threat. Anything that could be that shitty forest killer doing that creepy, breathy laugh. Did you have to do that Hollywood? Blood and guts not enough? You have to add this soundtrack of wheezing and terror.
Bert's house was very old. It actually slanted a little bit. If you put a ball in the middle of the floor it would roll away. This is not to say that it wasn't a wonderful place; a scaffold from which we built many memories. However, when you're alone at night, after seeing people slaughtered at a peaceful retreat, it's terrible. For a little bit I tried to keep Brent awake. I’d throw my sock at him and he'd bat it away. Soon, however, he was incredulous. "I'm really tired," he'd grumble as he turned into his pillow. And then, just like that, he was gone. It was just me and the wind.
Walden is cold and much of that cold is from the wind. Normal cold air, just sitting there, isn't all that bad. But that's not enough for Walden. It's got to move the frigid wash into a tidal wave of ice daggers. I realize that it gets cold all over the country, but Walden is an angry cold. Its wind, this wicked air, is cast away from the mountains and left to seek vengeance across the barren planes
By the time it gets to Walden, it's pretty much set on violating you. It would hit Bert's house with these sporadic blasts. It would be quiet, just me and my thoughts, and then a baseball bat of forced air would hit the side of the house. That was pretty terrifying. I remember thinking that whatever or whomever was out there had to be pissed. The vile wind would derange them enough to burst into the house to rip from me my life.
Soon it was 11pm. I'd lie down and try to sleep but there was a tiny slice of window showing from behind the curtain. It wasn't much, like a wood shim thickness of naked plastic. And not that they had plastic windows, but winter in Walden you had to have plastic over the window, and then one layer of curtains and then another. Often one of those layers being an itchy blanket that no one wanted to use employed as a curtain. Still, I could feel something looking at me. I didn't want to go directly at the curtains and close them, so I stood on the completely closed side with my feet away from the underside of the hide-a-bed, knowing full well that something could grab them. So, watching my feet, and watching the curtains, I used a long lamp stand to seal off the aperture.
I had this brief moment where I thought if I were to break the window--or shatter anything for that matter--how wonderful it would be for everyone to be awake again. We'd be cleaning up glass and I'd be under suspicion but we'd all be together and conscious! I might say that there'd been a squirrel in the house. The adults wouldn't believe me but the kids would be enamored and that's I would need. Everybody would keep me company and I might maintain more kid cred than--well far more--what you're about to read.
I stood in the middle of the room. I listened to everyone and their deep, restful breathing. I was the free radical. The abberation that would be rushed out of a sick body. I'd been lost in the woods before--a lot actually--but I'd never felt as desperate as this. It was just past midnight and very late for me. My dad was a strict 8pm-in-bed guy. I'd tell him that my in-town friends got to stay up late and he'd say, "well, then, move into town." I'd often fall asleep wondering how I could.
1am. I was so awake. I needed water or food, but I didn't dare leave the room. The kitchen had a massive set of windows that looked out into the night, and the door to the outside was perilously close to the refrigerator. I thought about how just a few hours ago the room was filled with the jubilant chiding of young boys taking on the world. I thought how it was only that morning my mom had been making pancakes in our well-lit home under a mountain sun. Now I was weighing my options. My mind was turning everything into a hazard. Emotional havoc was setting in.
Looking north was the TV. The boxy living room necessity gave me an empty dumb look like it had nothing to do with my predicament. It lied (Poltergeist). To the right of that was Willi's room. How was this ten-year-old girl sleeping through such peril? To the right of her door and against the adjacent wall was the fish tank, and just to the right of that was another door. This door was opposite the entrance to the kitchen. It opened to the hallway that lead to Bert and Willi's parent's bedroom.
I wish that at the time that an older me could have walked in and told me to relax and get some sleep. He'd tell me that crawling into bed with your friend's parents could result in social suicide. But that guy didn't yet exist. That guy is here writing this story now because of what I did.
I whipped open to the door to the hallway. I flicked on the light as fast as I could. Bert's mom, being a mom, slept lightly enough that someone panicking in the hallway outside of her room woke her. She would emerge awake and worried. A maternal angel. A warm blanket in white hair and a nighty.
At the time I thought it was a very brave thing to tell her that I needed to sleep with her and her husband. Of course the far braver thing would be to tell her that everything was OK. I'd just heard something but I'm nearly twelve so I'll go back to bed. Because that's what I'd been doing. Sleeping. No problem. Love the big windows and wind shrieking and mental portraits of a soulless mad man coursing a chainsaw through me. And maybe she would have offered me some comfort and a glass of water, instead I just dove right in. I mean I literally made myself at home in her bed. In between Bert's dad, Bob, and Kathy, was me. Two warm parental masses and me, sleeping so soundly. Bob's snoring took me away on a magic digeradoo. I drifted...having no idea what I'd wake up to.
When I did rouse, no one else was in the bed. That gave me time to realize my full situation and appropriately gauge just how far from the inner circle I'd forever be. From the living room I could hear all of the well-rested kids running around and playing. I stood at the door and wondered if there were a fire alarm I could pull. Or if it would be believable for me to go out the front of the house and show up at the back as if I'd just been out all night?
And then I heard it. I heard Bert ask, "where's Jared." It was nice of him to think of me, I thought as I stared into white walls of my friend's parent's bedroom. Everybody joined Bert. Where is Jared? They asked. Sweet god kill me. Take me now. Star Trek, take me. That would be awesome to teleport home. Or anywhere else, really.
Someone asked humorously, "Did he go back home last night?" And, Jason, who'd always been a card replied, "Yes, he walked home to Gould." I chuckled like the chuckling me was a different person trying to make the regular me feel better. I looked around Bob and Kathy's room. I took a moment to escape and examine their mom and dad things. Cologne. Old pictures. I stared of one of a young Bob and wished I could be wherever he was.
At some point I was going to have to enter the living room. I had to pee so badly.
Let's just say that if there's an opposite to the grand entrance of a bride or a guest of honor, it would be when I left Bob and Kathy's bedroom to relieve myself. Although I could have peed in their closet and not lost any more face than I was about to lose.
In my pajamas, the tightly fitting bottoms that my mom had long ago implored me to part, I strolled into the living room as casually as one possibly can after one sleeps with another's parents. Bert, trying to be delicate but also trying to figure out new, chaotic world around him, asked aloud, "Did you...sleep in my mom and dad's bedroom?"
I begin with some kind of word gravy about "maybe, sure, you know...um"
Interjected was an accusation from someone about my being scared of the movies.
I did exactly what anyone in postion would do. I lied. Well, I elaborated. Simply to make me seem more complex and less predictable than a child who'd gotten really freaked out by a television, I said that I'd fallen asleep just fine. I shared with the half circle of curious boys that Brent had rolled over and knocked a pillow on me, and that woke me up. And, you know, once I'm awake...
"And once you're awake you sleep with parents?" queried Eric.
The irony being that for another chunk of my life, weeks maybe, I would not sleep all that well. This time not because of a horror movie, but because I kept thinking about doing it all over again. I'd think about how people were talking about it at school. I'd slept with Bob and Kathy Goemmel at Bert's twelfth birthday party.
No big deal, right? I'd say as I'd toss into another sleepless turn. It would be another six months until I was twelve, and I clung to that threshold, that goal, of when I would never again sleep with somebody's parents.