There are some things in life you only need to experience once before you’re like, “Nope, not for me! Thanks.”
Camping is one of those things for me. I went on a single camping trip with my family as a child, excited and intrigued by my parents’ descriptions of the wilderness adventure we were embarking upon. After sleeping in a cold, cramped tent (and peeing in an outhouse full of flies) for four days, I was maxed out on camping FOR LIFE.
My only other experience that resulted in an immediate, unwavering aversion was my once-ever haunted house visit, at roughly age 10. And in the spirit of Halloween, I thought I would share.
This particular haunted house event was hosted by a local theater group and promoted at my elementary school. Lots of my ~cool~ classmates were buzzing about it. It was going to be close by. I had never been to anything remotely like a real-life haunted house, and so with my curiosity spiking, I begged my parents to take me.
At first, my mom said no. She was worried that the scary-factor would be too much for me, and that I didn’t fully understand what I was getting into.
As usual, she was right.
See, when I heard “haunted house,” my rainbows-and-kitties brain took the house part of this concept wayyy too literally. I was picturing a fancy Dracula-esque castle, with grey stone walls and, perhaps, some flickering candles for ambiance. For some reason, I imagined that a tour guide would lead us through the house, showing off each of its rooms and giving us playful warnings like “ghosts are known to lurk in this hallway….” before a cute little tissue paper ghost would descend from the ceiling on a string. Spooky! There would also be treats and prizes throughout this mysterious house, like some sort of elaborate Halloween carnival. Some people might find the house too scary, but not me! I was ready for this adventure!
Reader, I was not ready.
But in my naivety, I was very, VERY excited. In the car on the way there, I even sang out loud, “We’re going to the haunted house, hurrah, hurrah!” to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching.”
At the theater, as I waited in line with my dad and little brother (my mom, in all her wisdom, was staying outside), all I could see inside the doors was some smoke and green light, but I could tell intense shit was going on in there. I couldn’t wait to see what it was. I was a little disappointed that none of my friends were in line at the same time, but later it would turn out that this was a massive silver lining. Because if anyone from school had witnessed my behavior inside that fucking haunted house, what they saw would have been the elementary school equivalent of blackmail material.
Blissfully unaware, when it was finally our turn, I stepped inside the building smiling about all the good times in store. One thing was for sure: I was in for an unforgettable night.
You’ve certainly predicted what happens next: I hated every damn second of being in that haunted house. From the moment we walked through the door and people in grotesque masks started growling in my face, I was startled and confused. Why were they being so mean to me? Why was it SO dark in there? Why was that guy dancing around with a chainsaw?
And why on Earth would ANYONE consider any part of this fun?
After only a few minutes inside, I told my dad I wanted to turn around and leave, which was not an option, of course, since we were now fully committed to this one-way path of terrors. And, naturally, the creepiness only escalated as we walked deeper into the maze. So, instead, I coped by clinging to my dad’s arm like a baby koala and hiding my face every time an actor in a costume lunged at us. I was acting half my age, but I didn’t even care. I had no other options if I was going to make it to the end without having a full-on meltdown. It had really never occurred to me that the haunted house would be genuinely scary, and I spent the whole journey at maximum stress, dreading what would be around each corner and counting the seconds until we could get out. (In retrospect, that theater group did an excellent job of creating an immersive experience!)
The very end of the maze spit us out into the actual theater auditorium, where two actors were on stage performing a dramatic scene of a man threatening to murder a woman in front of the empty chairs. Were they practicing? Were we supposed to be in there? Did they know the seats were empty? At this point, I was so extremely over all of the bullshit that I decided I didn’t actually need any answers and practically bolted for the exit. I could not wait to get back to reality and never enter another haunted “house” ever again.
My mom DID gloat a bit, understandably.
In the aftermath, I had to downplay my reaction at school, because of course I couldn’t let anyone find out how deeply terrified I had been. I think I mainly talked about the weird strobe lights and how they made chainsaw guy’s dancing look choppy, since I had never seen that effect before. I left out the part where I just flat-out stopped looking after that.
But when I was alone with my BFF sometime later, the truth came out.
“Oh, you went to that? What was it like?” she asked, mildly curious.
“I was holding onto my dad’s arm the entire time,” I confessed.
“It was THAT scary?”
No, probably not. It was marketed to children and families, after all. I was just—and always will be—a huge wimp.
And I only had to learn that about myself once.