January ~ 1969
My mother is in labor at Long Beach Community Hospital. She is twenty one years old. The contractions are getting stronger. Painful. She needs a distraction. Through the open window, she can see the Circle Drive-In. The movie has started.
On the screen, Barbara has just crashed her car. She is being chased. Her brother is probably dead. She needs to get away. She is not interested in pain. Unlike the woman in the hospital bed, she will do whatever it takes to escape it. She runs to an old house. It is dark and empty. Barbara is hopeful until she finds the corpse at the head of the stairs.
Screams carry from the cars up to the hospital room where the contractions have taken over. The baby is coming. It is time for the new mother, my mother, to scream.
October ~ 1977
I am in the fifth grade. Debbie, Kathy, and I have barricaded ourselves in their bedroom. It is late. Their mother has gone to the bar. Night of the Living Dead is on the television. We clump together at the foot of the bed.
On the screen, Barbara has met the others. They are securing the windows. Some of them are in the basement. A little girl is sick.
When Debbie gets up to go to the bathroom, she has to move two chairs away from the door. The house has an attic, but no basement. We found paperback porno up there at the beginning of the summer.
The dead are pushing in. The sick little girl is up. Her father is dead. Her mother finds out that some zombies use tools.
Kathy moves closer to me and squeezes my arm. I pet her head. She will be my first girlfriend.
October ~ 2009
I am home alone with my oldest son. It is Halloween. He is eleven years old. He knows about zombies. He says he is ready. I'm not so sure. He once had a nightmare after watching Goosebumps. A bad attitude kept him from Trick or Treating with his little brother, so I give in. How about Night of the Living Dead? He likes the sound of it.
On the screen, Barbara is back in the cemetery. Her brother is teasing her, "They're coming to get you, Barbara."
My son scoffs. It is black and white. He lives in color. His perspective holds until the film reveals that shadows are black. Corpses are white. Death is color blind.
Barbara and the others grow increasingly desperate. They lose hope when the truck catches fire and the dead feast on their friends.
"Turn it off." My son hands me the remote. "Why would you let me watch that?"
This is a good question. It is a question that I could have asked my mother every time that she took my two younger sisters and me downtown to the Palace Theater for triple scoops of grind, grind, grind. Horror. Sci-fi. Exploitation. Martial arts. Roller skates. Vengeance.
I have the images stockpiled. I can see the potential for violence in most situations. I interpret experience through a distorted lens. A filter of filth. I'm like little Alex lying on his bed with the loops of ultra violence running in high speed except I'm watering the lawn in suburbia, shopping at Whole Foods, and playing dual roles in the PTA.
I've learned to love being scared. As the world goes to shit, this might ensure my survival. Adaptation through a fascination with exploitation. Evolution through horror.
I'll pass it on to my children when the time is right. There is a difference between being scared and being scarred. I'm planting seeds. Ghost stories around the campfire. Hide and Seek in the cemetery. Grandma's ashes on the shelf with the action figures.
My son may not be ready for Romero's barbecue, but he does understand that there is poetry in a dead possum clutching a dandelion.