notquiteold

Gracefully Aging – With Resistance

Halloween Guilt: How I Scared The Crap Out Of An Eight-Year-Old

It was unintentional.

But I should have known better.

It was the Fall of 1974. I was a senior in college and doing my student teaching in Puerto Rico.

(Yeah, yeah. You’re doing the math and figuring out that I was 23. So I took a few extra years in college.  So what? I liked school. I stretched it out a little. Just up to the point where my parents lost all patience. Then I reluctantly graduated.)

So anyway, I’m in Puerto Rico, teaching English in a private school, and living with a family from Indiana. To tell the truth, as a Connecticut native, I had less culture shock with the Puerto Rican environment that with Indiana wholesomeness.

But I digress again…

So anyway –  again –  there were three kids in my temporary family. Flossie was in college like me (okay, a few years younger). She went back to Ohio State after I had been there about a week. It was just as well. We didn’t exactly hit it  off. She was a sorority sister and I was a commie-loving hippie. But I’m sure we’d be great friends today. Although I don’t particularly care to find out.

Julia was fourteen. She was sweet and loving, and exactly the kind of little sister I’d always wanted. The day I went back to Connecticut, she locked herself in her room, and wouldn’t say goodbye. See? Exactly like a little sister.

Then there was Matthew. Matt was eight. My own little brother was eighteen. But I remembered him at eight. He was nothing like Matt. My brother was already beating me in chess by age eight. Matt was still learning to read. He was smart but dyslexic. And observant but rambunctious. Short attention span but quick to laugh. He was – I found out later – just your typical little kid.

I’d been there two months by the time Halloween rolled around. I had become comfortable with these odd conservative midwesterners. I went to church. I wore a bra, even.

On Halloween, Matt went out trick-or-treating in his judo clothes. But he came home pretty early, and he got a kick out of opening the door for the older kids who rang the bell later in the evening.

Until one girl showed up like this:

Brown shirt, black beret, machine gun.

Patty Hearst had been kidnapped in February of 1974.  By April, she had joined her kidnappers, changed her name to Tania, and robbed a bank. After a fiery shootout in May, she had gone underground. No one had heard a word since.

That’s all the story that anyone knew at the time. But everyone knew it. Including eight-year-old Matthew.

The Patty Hearst trick-or-treater kind of creeped him out, but he laughed it off pretty easily.

Or so I thought.

Later Matt shared a little of his Halloween candy with me. Over Snickers bars, he brought up Patty Hearst again,

“Where do you think she is?” he asked me.

And given that it was Halloween, and that I was totally unaccustomed to innocent kids from Indiana, I said:

“Here. She’s here.”

“What?”

“Don’t tell anyone, but …. I’m Patty Hearst.”

And here was this little boy, who had a total stranger living in his house.

He freaked.

His eyes filled with tears. His mouth dropped open. He looked at me with complete terror.

Oh no. What was I thinking? That it would be funny? Eight-year-olds like knock-knock jokes.

“I’m kidding,” I said. “It’s just a joke.” I pleaded. “Really.”

“Okay,” he said, still trembling a little.

He crept off to bed.

I felt horrible.

I read him his favorite book, “Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” seven times the next day.

I kissed him every time we got to the end of the book.

I was happy about one thing – neither of Matt’s parents had heard me say it. They didn’t send me to the airport in a taxicab.

But the poor kid (now 46) probably won’t answer a doorbell to this day.

32 Comments

  1. nice.

    • It was actually horrible of me, though it makes a nice story now.

  2. Great Halloween story!

  3. great, but sick sense of humour you have there

    • I have always prided myself on my great sense of humor, but that was a terrible lapse in judgment….
      Humor – in that case – did not triumph over common sense.

  4. Aw, the poor kid. And poor you for feeling horrible about it to this day. On the up side, Matt probably doesn’t remember it at all.

    • Haha! Yeah, right! I bet there’s a blog post somewhere out there right now. “And then she leaned in real close and said, ‘Here. She’s here’…”

      Great story, Nancy!

    • You’re right! This would make a much better story from the poor kid’s point of view!

    • Diane: I hope not…. but I’m afraid he’s locked himself in his room every Halloween since…

  5. He will never forget Patty Hearst while most of us already have. (I won’t go into what I think of her). I bet he tells that story to all his kids, and at every appropriate event. Maybe he even still thinks you are Patty deep down inside. Either way, he will never forget you either.

  6. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    My little cousins are still traumatized in their 40’s and 50’s by the pranks I played on them. (I never ever told them that I was kidding.)

  7. dragonhavn (@dragonhavn)

    I never got to apologize to the four year old my reptilian costume scared when I was 19 … I seem to have scary down well.

  8. JSD

    Ooh, you were so-o bad.

  9. I guess this kid didn’t qualify for the “If they can’t take a joke, F**K them” line, does he.

    But the funnies do just pop out of my mouth? I rarely know what I’m going to say until I’ve said it. This sounds like one of those times!

    • The situation was so perfect. It was only that the audience was not perfect.

      • You can’t have everything!

  10. That is something I would have done, nice.

  11. Just for the fun of it, you should go look him up and say Boo!

  12. Michelle Gillies

    My older sisters used to torment me like this when I was a kid. One had me convinced that she was an alien at one point. Every sister’s weekend (twice a year) they have a good laugh at the things they pulled off on me. I am still traumatized. ;-)

  13. Love this!! I’d tell you how I found your blog, but I’ve been working my way from blog to blog following reports of “Sandy” and I’m glad I found you!…….it sounds like you may get affected by this storm..so take care, and I look forward to reading more of your posts :)

  14. That’s one gullible kid!

  15. My brother (in his 50’s) still talks about the flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz. And he doesn’t laugh. I bet Matt remembers.
    But thanks for sharing the story–and the chuckle.

  16. I put this post on my facebook page. Too good not to share. My friends will think it’s funny. I think.

    • That poor kid, I still feel guilty….

  17. Nancy, I hope you did ok during Sandy. I am sending good karma your way. And perhaps a sump pump.

    • We’re fine. We’ve been on generator power for 27 hours now…. but our loved ones and our house are all okay. Thanks. Hope you fared okay too….

      • We’re fine, Nancy. Glad you all are too.

  18. you looked pretty cool though!

  19. pharphelonus

    bad girl!. Yes, as a matter of fact I have been self-absorbed and am just now catching up[ on blogs I’ve missed

  20. I’ve put you on my list of nominations for a Reader Appreciation award. This post made me cry – I was laughing so hard. For the JPG and the rules, hit The Green Study. Or completely ignore this and move on. It’s just one way of saying “Thanks, I appreciate your writing”.

    • Thanks for the nominiation! I love making people laugh.

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