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I was always a spoiled kid. My parents were wealthy and decided to spend their money smothering their only son with an incredible childhood. I had it all. My play room was insane, a huge tv, pinball machines, and every toy you could imagine. It was awesome.
Despite having so much, I wasn’t a brat about it. I can say that now, having thoroughly examined my childhood. I loved to share my immense stash of stuff with my friends. I gave toys away, invited them over for pizza and movies, and was all around pretty generous. On paper, I should have been a spoiled snob, but for whatever reason I wasn’t. Good genes I guess.
On my ninth birthday I had a bunch of my friends over. My dad rented a huge moon bounce for us and decorated our backyard with super hero apparel (I was going through a major phase). Tables were set up with punch and snacks, little finger foods to keep us from complaining until dinner. Balloons and banners were tied to every surface, my parent’s way of establishing how loved I was. Music played from giant speakers my dad had set up on the back patio. My friends and I ran around and jammed out while waiting our turn in the moon bounce.
My grandparents arrived a couple hours into the party, bringing with them a “party gift”. My grandmother informed me she had purchased it at a yard sale the weekend prior.
It was a giant, hollow, plastic clown head. It looked like one of those weird cheap toys from the nineties, something that was popular for a week before getting all of its units shelved. Its face was white with red circles lining the painted eyes. A smile was smeared to its lips, a big goofy grin that was also painted red. The nose was a bulbous orb of plastic that sat oddly on its face like a big gumball.
As I turned over this strange gift in my hands, my grandfather handed me a plastic, gold crown. He said it was “part of the game”.
Seeing my confusion, my grandmother laughed and explained what it was. She said I was supposed to wear the clown head while my friends attempted to sneak up and “crown me”. I flipped the head over and saw serrated notches lining the bald dome where the crown went.
I thought it was pretty lame, but didn’t want to be rude. I dutifully slid the plastic clown head over my own, the interior hard against my temples. As it settle over me, I realized I couldn’t see anything. Red light filtered through the plastic, but there was a concerning lack of eye holes.
My grandfather chuckled as he watched me stumble around, hands outstretched so I wouldn’t bump into anything. I asked why there were no eye holes and he told me it’d be too easy for me to win the game. I had to rely on my ears to keep my friends at bay.
He said the game was called Crown the Clown.
I was beginning to understand the rules. It was like some weird version of pin the tail on the donkey, but with a clown and a crown instead.
My friends had gathered around to watch me and soon they were laughing and calling out for me. My grandmother tossed one of them the crown and the game began.
It was surprising fun.
The plastic mask got hot, but I didn’t mind. I was too caught up in keeping my friends away from me and the crown off my head.
After about twenty minutes, no one had managed to get me. I was laughing and stumbling around, doing my best not bump into anything. My friend John was calling out to me and I didn’t know if he had the crown or if he was trying to distract me.
Turns out he was trying to distract me.
I suddenly felt something “click” over my head, followed by a great cheer from my friends. I had finally been crowned.
Smiling despite my defeat, I went to take the big plastic head off me, but found that I couldn’t. The neck hole was suddenly smaller, curling tight under my chin and biting into my skin. I tried tugging harder, trying not to panic, the air thick inside the head. What the hell?
I wrapped my fingers around the base of the head, pulling up as hard as I could. I felt rough edges cut into me and I immediately stopped. I could hear my friends laughing at me. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but at that time I didn’t find any humor in the situation.
Sweat dripped into my eyes and I blinked against the burning sensation. My breath blew back at me from the tight walls of the head, the red light filtering through the eye paint making me dizzy and disoriented. I was suddenly very aware of how claustrophobic the clown head was.
I called out for someone to help me, doing my best to keep panic from my voice. Still laughing, one of my friends came to my aid. I felt his hands around my ears and suddenly I screamed as he jerked upward. Pain exploded around my face and I shoved him away from me, panting.
Why couldn’t I get this thing off me? It had been so easy to put on, sliding comfortable over my head with a little room to spare. But now everything was squishing in on me, the opening flush against my throat.
I suddenly realized my nose was bent against the plastic, bent painfully to the right. I then understood what was happening.
The clown head was shrinking.
I screamed for someone to get my dad, sweat pouring from my face. The head stunk and the combination of unfiltered breath and sweat made me dizzy. My throat was parched but my lips were lined with perspiration. I felt the burning fingers of claustrophobia wrap around my mind. The head squeezed a little tighter.
I screamed again for my dad, my vision obscured by the head. I suddenly heard him in front of me and felt his hands trace the outer surface of my prison. His voice changed from amusement to worry in a matter of seconds and that scared me even more.
I tried tugging at the head again, yelling into the plastic dome, explaining that it was getting tighter and tighter. My dad heard the panic in my voice and I felt him uselessly struggle to remove my source of agony. His fingers traced the now compressed opening at the bottom. He tried to slide his fingers between the lip of the base and my skin, but just ended up choking and gagging me as his knuckles burrowed into my throat.
The clown head gripped my head tighter.
I wheezed and sunk to my knees, the heat and lack of oxygen causing my head to swim. My dad was yelling at my friends, instructing them to go retrieve something from the woodshed. I didn’t hear much, instead concentrating on my breathing. My head throbbed as the hard plastic compressed my skull like a grape waiting to pop.
I heard my mom’s concerned voice, a shrill inquiry that my dad ignored. I felt his fingers try to pry the head off my throat again. He could tell I was fading. Panic cracked his voice as he yelled at my friends to hurry.
His fingers were back at my throat, digging desperately, trying to give me some kind of relief. I knelt before him, swaying slightly and sucking in hot, stinking air.
Suddenly, my father tried to jam his hand further in and I felt my gag reflex engage and my stomach rolled as I dry retched into the hot plastic. My body hitched and I felt another wave coming. I tried to fight it, but it was like trying to stop a train.
I vomited into the mask, regurgitated soda and pretzels gushing into the tight space. I gasped and the smell alone brought another gout rocketing from my lips.
It sloshed around my face, filled my ears, the hot bile splashing against my skin with nowhere to go. It was trapped inside the head along with me. And I was drowning in it. It came to just above my nostrils, a slimy yellow line below my eyes.
My father heard me gurgling inside the head and quickly laid me on my back, the vomit pouring around my ears and giving me a pocket to breathe. I gasped in the putrid air and felt the plastic tighten again, a wet hard compress that began to fill my vision with darkness. I felt my strength begin to leave my body. My head was wrapped with an iron grip and I didn’t know how much longer I’d last in its clutches.
Suddenly, my friend returned with the item my father had asked for. I heard him instructing me, his voice drown out by the puke in my ears. He slowly turned me on my side and I coughed and gagged against the slurping vomit. My nose felt like it was breaking against the walls of my prison. My ears burned and sweat coated my skin.
I felt my father slide something cold and hard along the side of my neck, just under the lip of the head.
I immediately knew what it was. A crowbar.
I grit my teeth, tears pouring from my eyes as my dad apologized, his voice cracking with desperation.
I howled as he applied pressure, the crowbar burrowing into my neck muscles. To my relief, I felt the mask give a little, just a slight lift that allowed some of the vomit to trickle out.
Suddenly, the clown head tightened again, squeezing my skull harder than I could bare. I thrashed on the ground, screaming in agony, clawing at my head. I felt like my skull would explode from the pressure and darkness swam closer.
I heard my father instruct my friends to hold me still as he readjusted the crowbar. Sweaty hands pinned me to the earth as my head was pushed sideways. I felt my father hovering over me, the cold tongue of the crowbar licking the side of my neck. My father was apologizing, over and over, and I knew something bad was about to happen.
My muscles bulged in revolt as my dad jammed the crowbar under the lip, digging into my skin and drawing blood. He shoved it in until I felt its hard surface resting against my cheek. I tensed, warm blood streaming down my neck and across my shoulders. I heard my father whisper into my ear to brace myself.
Suddenly, overwhelming pressure cut into the side of my face and I thrashed violently, clutching and tearing out handfuls of grass as pain shot across my cheek and neck like spreading lightning. The edge of the crowbar crunched into my jaw as my father applied pressure, a last ditch effort to remove the clown head before it killed me.
Tears ran down my face and red darkness shook my world. Puke and sweat coated my face as I tried to escape the pain. My friends held me in place and I heard one of them crying. My teeth cracked against each other as my father continued to pull upward.
With a sickening POP, I heard my jaw break and suddenly I was taken to a level of splintering agony I didn’t know existed. My tongue waggled and went numb in my mouth. I felt a molar tear free from my gums. It tumbled across my tongue like bloody candy.
I felt howling darkness rush me.
As it swallowed me, I felt a sudden surge of cool air as the clown head cracked and finally shattered.
As I blacked out, I felt my father shaking me, clutching me in his arms. His voice faded into the nothing.
I awoke in the hospital a few hours later, my face wrapped and contorted around some plastic that kept my jaw in place. I felt woozy and sick, an IV bag by my bed dripping relief into my bloodstream. My mother and father were at my side, eyes bloodshot and filled with concern. My grandparents sat on the other side of the bed, my grandmother crying.
As soon as they saw I was awake, they began to apologize all at once. My father for doing what he did and my grandparents for exposing me to such horrors.
Their voices all babbled into one and I let my eyes close once again, the drugs pumping through my body lulling me into a comfortable sleep.
Thinking back on that day, I can still feel that horrible clown head. The way it smelled, the way the light filtered through the plastic, the weight of it resting across my skull.
It’s like one sick joke now.
All these years later, now that I’ve recovered from the event, I can’t help but feel disgusted amusement.
Because you see, my jaw has never healed properly and there’s twisted scar tissue lining my cheek where the crowbar cut into me.
My jaw is in a constant state of crooked humor…like a painful half smile.
Combined with the scar tissue stretching from my lips…well…some would say I look kind of like a clown.