The Battle for My Fifth Grade Soul

One might say that all the horror movies I was subjected to as a child warped me and turned me into the freak I now am.  If so, then I have owe them a huge debt of gratitude.  If it had only been the movies, I might have been okay, but I fear I am a polygamist.  My first and greatest loves are books, specifically horror ones.  They, more than anything, have helped and twisted me into the wonderful, flawed, horrific person I am today. One of my fonder grade school memories stems from a discovery made by my fifth grade teacher (we will call her Mrs. Raghandle) while rummaging through our desks overnight.  I went to a Christian private school, you must understand this, in the days when so many non-nut-job religious people imagined Satanists and sacrifices behind every door, in every alley, and in every house which wasn’t theirs.  So, if the less religious population was afraid of this, you can only guess at the horrors imagined by those who would teach at a religious institution.  It was a time of big hair, geometric shapes, horrid fashion, and some of the greatest movies ever…yes, I am a child of the 80s.

This teacher—I must mention this—sent me to the principal’s office once for saying the word “fart” on the playground.  She claimed it was vulgar and suggested punishment, even though I had never before been in any “serious” trouble, and always had As and Bs in my schoolwork.  This word, this apparent vulgarity, was too much for her delicate ears to bear.  The principal was also scandalized by my potty mouth and sent me home with a note which required signature by one of my parents and a return the very next day—given to her in person.  This was a school where the boys’ hair could not touch our collars, where the girls were not allowed to wear jeans (or pants), and whose skirts must always come to two inches below the knee.  I could go on, but please keep all this in mind as we move forward.  (And, no, I wasn’t at a fucking school for the Amish or for polygamous Mormons.  They were crazy, but not THAT crazy.  *cackle*)

From this time in my life, I can still clearly remember the horrified face of my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Raghandle, a tall, lanky, salt-and-pepper haired woman, when I came in the day after her discovery.  She was horrified, nearly apoplectic, aghast, and in terror for my immortal soul.  She had found two books in my desk: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Will You Die for Me? by Charles “Tex” Watson.

Okay, the second book is the one that would terrify me (and should terrify anyone who has discovered that a fifth grader is reading it).  Still does.  I guess Tex Watson, after his part in the Manson murders, went to prison and found Jesus.  My grandfather, who was very religious, found Watson’s confessions to be inspirational, a sign that his god could touch even the darkest of hearts…or some crap like that.  I just found it utterly, totally terrifying.  Even with a child’s mind, I knew that this was some serious shit.  I read one page—a single page—of Watson’s first-hand account of murdering several innocent, beautiful people and had nightmares for life.  One page.  And it scarred me.  And not in a way I could ever get over.  I have never finished that book and probably never will.  Reality is so much more horrifying than fiction.

That being said, Mrs. Raghandle was not worried about Will You Die for Me?.  Go fucking figure.  She simply did not think that it was that serious, possibly because of the religious connotations therein.  It was ‘Salem’s Lot that crawled up her geriatric ass and sent her into a tizzy.  She was scared that I was reading about demons and vampires and that I was being lured into the waiting arms of Satan.

I feel like I must repeat this insanity.  My teacher was less concerned that I was reading a firsthand account of drugs, orgies, cults, manipulation, and mass murder.  She was more concerned that I was reading a novel about vampires.  (Granted, if it were today, with the ghastly Twilight tripe, her fear might have been justified).

Of course, my 5th grade teacher called my mother.  I was told that the conversation went something like this:

Mrs. Raghandle: Do you know what your son was reading?!?!?!  [I imagine her hands were flailing about her face at this time]

Mother figure: He’s probably reading several things.  Which ones?

Mrs. Raghandle: This…this horror book!  ‘Salem’s Lot!  And this other one, too, this Manson book.

Mother figure:  Oh, the Stephen King book?  Yeah, I know.  But, what was the oth…?

Mrs. Raghandle: Wha-whaaaat?  And you’re okay with that?

Mother figure:  You mean ‘Salem’s Lot?  Uh, yeah.  I checked it out of the library for him.

Mrs. Raghandle:  *terrified whispers, muttered prayer for strength* Well, we don’t think it’s appropriate for him to read.  Especially at school!

Mother figure:  *pause*  And…the other one doesn’t…?  Forget it.  I’ll have him bring one of his Narnia books to school.

Mrs. Raghandle: *sigh of orgasmic relief*  Oh, that’s wonderful.  I think you should talk to him about that evil vampi…

Mother figure:  Yeah, thanks.  ‘Bye!

My mother then calmly turned to me and asked, “Does Grandpa know you borrowed his book?”  I told her that I had borrowed it from my older cousin, who had asked our grandfather to borrow it.  (My cousin is only two years older than me and, as I found out later, had “borrowed” said book in the loosest meaning of the word.  She took it and planned to give it back.  If nobody noticed, all the better).  My mother shrugged and informed me that she thought Tex Watson’s book was a “little too old” for me and that she would like to read it before letting me do so.  She also suggested that I bring my fairy tales or Narnia to school for a while and that, while she didn’t mind me reading ‘Salem’s Lot, I should do it at home.

At school I was subjected to desk checks almost every day for about a month and sporadic ones after that.  My teacher never looked at me the same, as though expecting my head to split open and reveal a throbbing Imp of Evil, large of phallus and weak of morals, ready to leap out and bite at her knobby ankles and poison her, making her just like me.

My mother did read Will You Die for Me? and it gave her nightmares.  My mother was many things, but one thing she was very, very open about was reading.  Perhaps too open.  While she didn’t tell me I was not allowed to read that book, she suggested that I not do so for a few years.  I read that one page again and gave it back to my cousin, who happily returned it to our grandfather.

Being one of the sane persons on my mother’s side of the family and having been warned of the passing around of his book, our grandfather had a talk with us about reality vs. make believe, about real murder vs. movies, and about the horrible things humans could do to other humans.  He was gentle with us, treating our delicate minds with the care they deserved after being exposed to a chunk of very scary, very real evil.  It was a lesson neither of us forgot, and while both my cousin and I still love horror movies and books, reality still scares us.  Because with that awful book, my cousin and I learned that bloody vampires and vicious werewolves and (most) killer clowns were the safe horror.  At those young ages, our grandfather taught us that the real evil lies within the hearts of mankind; not with movies, not with books, and especially not with books about vampires.

Perhaps Mrs. Raghandle could have used a chat with my grandfather.