It’s been a crapfest of a year, really. I honestly cannot find much for which to recommend 2016. So don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, buddy.
Lately, I’ve been escaping a lot by listening to books via Audible.com. I realized I had somehow gathered like 10 credits and after listening to Max Brooks on the Nerdist podcast, I decided to listen to World War Z on audio. I liked the idea of many different narrators and it’s one of my favorite books, so I checked it out. And my only complaint was that it wasn’t long enough.
Then I started checking out some Stephen King. “The Stand,” I figured, would last a while. “Skeleton Crew” would be good. And, of course, “It.”
(Author’s Note: Boy, try finding a photo to use that represents “It” without a damn clown in it. Sheesh.)
I remember when “It” first came out. I got it almost immediately and CONSUMED it. It was fascinating to me – so honest and true. Even though I wasn’t a child in 1958, childhood in the 70s and very early 80s was similar in that there was a lot of running free, playing all day outside, imaginative exploration, and that nebulous connective thread between late childhood and early teenager that you could almost grab a hold of, but not really. So reading about the day-to-day childhood experience of Bill, Ben, Bev, Eddie, Stan, Richie, & Mike wasn’t too far away for me to understand. I devoured that book. Of course, clowns have, to my recollection, always been a source of terror for me. There was abuse in my childhood – though not nearly on the scale Bev experienced. I could never really put my finger on what it was about that story that connected so deeply with me. I didn’t just feel it – it was like I was reading a transcript from an alternate universe version of myself. It’s actually one of the few of his books that I’ve read over and over again.
When I read it for the 2nd time, I was in college. I still had the same paperback copy, but by now the binding was broken and it was starting to fall apart. It’s hard to have a paperback version of a book that big – it just doesn’t want to stay together. I had already read it – and not that long ago – but I couldn’t remember it. I remembered the general story and could give a synopsis, but there were important details I had simply forgotten. There were sections that I’d lost altogether. And I honestly couldn’t remember how the climax played out. Which was really strange to me because I’ve always been good with holding on to the books I’ve read. I can still remember the night I started getting into the climax of the book (probably the last 1/3 or so). I found myself unable to put the book down and go to sleep, even though I had class the next day. I was alone in my room, sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, reading and reading and reading – almost furiously – because I DIDN’T REMEMBER ANY OF THIS and I was not only freaked out by the book, I was kind of freaked out by that fact. Every time I’d get to certain points/details/phrases that were important and should have been memorable, that point/detail/phrase would shoot me in the gut and it was as if I was pulling out a long-forgotten memory from my own childhood that was really important and MEANT SOMETHING OMG. I’d gasp audibly as it came flooding back.
Then I’d finish the book and put it away and forget about it. I watched the AWFUL TV miniseries in 1990 that didn’t even begin to truly capture the story and while Tim Curry did an awesome job, it just became almost a joke to me because in my mind this story was almost epic in its terror and importance and affect. It was as if this story meant something more than just a good horror fiction – it held some secret or truth or something that I couldn’t identify.
I think I read it again as an adult, but I can’t remember for sure. (This is a theme.) But then I got in at Audible and have been listening to it. And the same thing has happened. I didn’t remember. Just like the characters in the book, who as adults couldn’t remember anything from their childhood until certain events triggered long-repressed memory, I couldn’t remember this story. I could have told you there’s a clown in it. Couldn’t have told you the characters’ names. Could have told you where it was set. Couldn’t have told you anything beyond a very skeletal synopsis of the story. But as I listened, I remembered. And just like the characters in the book, it came back a bit at a time, in fits & starts, and those same points/details/phrases from before still slammed into me causing audible gasps of “OMG, that MEANS something more…” as I listened.
I had forgotten about Tom. Completely. The entire storyline. From the beginning of that relationship and how it began right through the end. Had you asked me about it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. The honest brutality of the scene when Bev gets the phone call and when he visits her friend, Kay. As I listened to those scenes, I was truly taken aback by the truthfulness of it. It made me think, “This is a perfect description and example of the fear that women live with. That someday, some man will present her with this and death and staying alive will be laid before her – and she may not be able to choose.” It swallowed me up – especially now as so many women are trying desperately to hang on to the strides that have been made and trying to get the world to understand the fear innate in the everyday of being a woman. The idea that most men say the biggest fear they have from women is being laughed at, while most women say the biggest fear they have from men is being killed.
I forgot about The Black Spot and the Kitchener Ironworks and The Ritual of Chud and the deadlights and “he thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.” That last one, as a matter of fact, I have trouble actually saying or typing because something inside me feels like it’s a spell or a summoning and something will happen if I do. I forgot about Paul Bunyan and Mrs. Kersh and the abandoned refrigerator and Patrick Hofstetter and how they got out of the sewer in 1958. It blows my mind.
But then there’s this – that I actually transcribed because as I listened to it, the tears just started running out of my eyes. Full force. Not an ugly cry, but just rivers of tears.
“Beverly made her way over to them, still holding her blouse closed. Her cheeks were bright red. The clubhouse? Bill nodded.
‘Could I have someone’s shirt?’ Beverly asked, blushing more furiously than ever. Bill glanced down at her and the blood came into his own face all in a rush. He turned his eyes away hastily, but in that instant, Ben felt a rush of knowledge and dismal jealousy. In that instant, that one bare second, Bill had become aware of her in a way that only Ben himself had been before.
Beverly threw her head up, shaking her tangled hair back behind her. She was still blushing, but her face was lovely.
‘I can’t help it that I’m a girl,’ she said. ‘Or that I’m starting to get big on top. Now can’t I please have someone’s shirt?!?’
‘Sh-sure,’ Bill said. He pulled his white t-shirt over his head. ‘H-h-here,’ he said.
‘Thank you, Bill,’ she said and for one hot, smoking moment, their eyes locked directly. Bill did not look away this time. His gaze was firm, adult.
‘W-w-w-welcome,’ he said.
‘Good luck, Big Bill,’ Ben thought, and he turned away from that gaze. It was hurting him.
Hurting him in a deeper place than any vampire or werewolf would ever be able to reach. But all the same, there was such a thing as propriety. The word he didn’t know; the concept was very clear. Looking at them while they were looking at each other that way would be as wrong as looking at her when she turned her back to pull Bill’s shirt over her head.
‘If that’s the way it is… but you’ll never love her like I do. Never.'” – Stephen King, “It”
Still guts me and leaves me bleeding. And makes me think of so many times in my own life where that realization washed over me and the hurt was like being gut shot. But…propriety.
There’s something about this for me. I don’t know if I identify so strongly because I also don’t remember a vast majority of my childhood. I don’t know if those large missing chunks make me feel more connected to this story somehow. But I know it’s really weird. There’s something almost mystical about it for me and I have never, not in 30 years, been able to put my finger on it.