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I want to say right now that if you have a fear of clowns, even a small, manageable one - Read. No. Further.
I've told this story time and again over the years to friends and, no matter how much I prefaced it with "are you SURE you want to know?" and "seriously, you're not afraid of clowns?" it just never seemed to prepare them.
One young woman I was dating at the time who demanded I open up to her... well, suffice to say I wasn't dating her much longer after I explained why I don't celebrate Birthdays. She grew cold and distant, and right up to the last day I saw her she was begging me to tell her I'd made this up.
But I couldn't. Not convincingly, at least. Once I let this story out, there's no taking it back.
So if you've ever had a weird feeling about them... clowns, I mean... really, this is not something you want to get into.
Maybe, however, you're someone who's asked me why I don't enter my birthday on social sites... forums... and so on, or you wanted to get me something I'd like, but I wouldn't tell you anything more than my age...
Well, here's why, once and for all.
When I was young, I never knew what my father did for a living. To this day, it's still unclear. All I knew was that he kept everything at home nasty neat, down to his buzz cut, immaculate thick-rimmed glasses, and freshly ironed suit and tie.
The only time I got a glimpse of my Dad's job was when Mom died. He had nothing else to do with me, had no plans for this scenario, so he took me to work and told me to sit quietly for the day.
I entertained myself as best I could in the crushing boredom, until a tremendous din echoed through the entire building... like an ambulance or police siren, but different.
Dad grabbed me, and I didn't even see where here took me. Before I could even register what was going on, I was in a large tiled room with Dad and about twenty other men. We were all stripped naked as steaming hot water that smelled like bad chemicals rained down on us, almost scalding my skin. Everyone seemed really scared.
I never asked him what happened, and he never brought it up.
Dad was obsessive, and was a huge geek. He was more about Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings than I was as a kid, and to be honest he'd probably STILL beat me if one of our old spontaneous trivia competitions broke out right now.
I didn't see much of him since he worked ALL the time, so when I did, I was all about whatever entertainment HE was interested in. It was the fastest way to connect and secure some quality time.
He took this stuff very seriously. He took EVERYthing seriously. He put pens in specific order, he turned product labels facing out... always facing out... and if I so much as LOOKED at his paperwork, he had to primp and sort it all again. That's why it came as such a shock when my sixth birthday was approaching and he started getting increasingly... funny.
"Funny" as in weird, and "Funny" as in actually funny.
For as long as I could remember, he'd come home, stand in the doorway, loosen his tie, and step in. Then, he'd put his keys, his wallet, and a clip-on security badge in a wicker basket on a table by the front door. He'd walk the length of the living room, to the hallway, to his bedroom, and only THEN would he actually take off his tie.
It was the same every time, and nothing I could do would alter the routine. I could have anything from a muddy toad to a black eye and he'd just talk to me about it as he proceeded through the routine without a single hitch.
So it was all the more surprising when he suddenly came home one night, burst through the door, whipped me into the air with his hands under my arms, and spun me around the room.
His grin was wide, but his mouth was closed. I remember the blissful look on his face clearly, but more than that I remember seeing my own expression of shock reflected in his glasses.
"Hmm-hmm, Hmm-hmm, Hmm-hmm-hm-HM!" he hummed as he whirled me about.
I think I screamed or yelled for him to put me down, but I can't be sure if I DID it or just THOUGHT I should. Either way, he dropped me to my unsteady feet just as quickly as he'd lifted me. The inertia and the surprise of it all made it hard to stay standing.
"What's going on?!" I asked... eventually.
"Your birthday's almost heeere!" he danced out of the room.
I just stood there, staring into the empty doorway of his bedroom.
I watched him closely after that, basically for any sign he was about to approach and/or accost me again in this manner. He seemed a lot happier. He'd flip pancakes with flair, and even if they landed on the floor... and a LOT did... he'd just leave them there.
I spilled an entire glass of milk on the throw rug in the living room - somewhere I was expressly NOT supposed to be eating or drinking, and when he found out he just blew a raspberry and we went outside.
I can't express how upsetting and wonderful this change was.
He sat in a lawn chair and we tossed a ball back and forth. I talked a lot, I remember trying to fill the void of conversation, but he just went back to humming.
"Hmm-hmm, Hmm-hmm, Hmm-hmm-hm-HM!" - Over and over, it was like the Oompa-Loompa song from that Willy Wonka movie, but the last bit didn't match. He was putting the emphasis on the last syllable.
Later I cleaned up the milk, as best I could, without any provocation or scolding. I just knew that rotten milk stank, so I figured on my own that I needed to get rid of it.
My birthday got closer.
Dad said I could invite anyone I wanted, and in fact I HAD to invite at least ten people. Even then, the oddity of setting a party minimum instead of a maximum seemed backward.
"What kind of party is it?" I asked the day before it was to happen.
"You'll see!" he giggled. I'd NEVER heard him giggle. I'd never heard ANYone's Dad giggle.
"But I need to know so I can tell the other kids!" I insisted.
He turned to me suddenly, and for a second I thought the old Dad was back. The one who got pissed if you asked too many questions.
Instead, he leaned down and smiled that same, closed-lipped smile at me.
"You want to be surprised!" he said excitedly.
He didn't ask - he told me flat out that this is what I wanted. The normal thing would probably be to say "You want to be surprised, don't you?" or maybe even "Come on. It's no fun if it isn't a surprise..."
I just sort of shrugged and walked away.
I wanted to stop hearing his humming.
The night before my birthday, I awoke to the lights in my room suddenly flicking on.
"Dad..?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
He was sitting in the room, on the end of the bed... just smiling.
"Dad?" I drowsily repeated, "Whass the matter?"
"I can't sleep," was the response.
Then, he pulled his arms in close to his chest and thrust them up toward the ceiling with an sharp, high-pitched yelp.
"I'm too excited!!" he said, gritting his teeth.
I had no idea what was happening. At this hour, probably early morning as opposed to late at night, I barely even remembered what the next day would bring.
"Are you okay?" - Something I should have asked a lot sooner.
"No!" he laughed, "Better. God, aren't you excited about your party? I'm so excited. I have something so great, but I can't tell you about it because it has to be a surprise!"
He growled as if in frustration and clasped his face in his hands.
"WHY does it have to be a SURPRISE? I want to saaayyy!" he whined.
"Dad, I don't like this."
"How you are. You're scary."
"Ha ha, don't be stupid."
"I'm not stupid, Dad!!"
"Hmm-hmm, Hmm-hmm, hm-hm-hm-HM!"
I pulled the pillow over my ears and groaned. As far as I know, he never left that night. I fell asleep before he did, anyway...
All through school that day, I was quietly terrorized by what kind of party Dad was planning. He'd been acting so erratically that I had concocted all sorts of outlandish scenarios in my head.
There'd be TOO MUCH, a whole embarrassing, noisy carnival in my yard... or there'd be NOTHING... just dad in his underwear chasing my friends with the hose and humming... it could've been those, or anything inbetween.
God! My friends!
Even if everything else was normal, I'd never hear the end of how "weird" my Dad was. They already made fun of me for only having a Dad, calling me an orphan since none among us really knew what it meant. I was wishing it wasn't my Birthday, to the point that I actually tried to specifically make THAT my Birthday wish. "No more Birthdays, ever, including this one."
But the party did roll around.
My Dad stood on the front lawn, full suit and tie, holding a myriad of multicolored balloons. A cardboard sign erected in the front yard was crudely scribbled with "FUN TIMES! STOP HERE!"
I was incredibly embarrassed.
When all the kids had arrived, thirty total, and the parents had left to take advantage of the free babysitting, word was already starting to circulate about how strange and "funny" Dad was.
Kids were even making things up, and they didn't HAVE to.
"Ricky says your Dad drank toilet water!"
"Miranda saw your Dad eating a dead mouse!"
"Sarah said your Dad pooped in his pants!"
I had a feeling none of this was true, but because of how he'd been acting, argue as I might I couldn't actually discount it in my head.
The back yard had been set up with a table filled with cake and party favors, and a single large trunk. Streamers and balloons were attached to every available surface, creating an almost claustrophobic "room" of vivid, wind-swept colors.
My focus, however, was on the trunk.
It was long and silver... it looked like metal. Yellow stickers with what looked like black spiders dotted its surface, and a large white banner across the front of it read, "XJ-332 !!AUTHORIZED ACCESS ONLY!!"
The lid was held on with a large combination padlock.
"What's in the trunk?" I asked, pointing at it.
"OOH!" Dad covered his mouth. His eyes bugged out.
"OOH! OOH!" he bobbed up and down.
"Shh!" he pushed his finger across my mouth.
I slapped his hand away as hard as I could. I didn't like this attitude and I didn't like HIM anymore. I stormed away, into the house.
I didn't want anything to do with the party from then on.
Dad tried to coax me out, and even got the other kids in on it. He called me strange and silly and stupid, and told me that I was a giant baby because I wouldn't come out.
The kids repeated everything he said and laughed at me.
That didn't really change my mind. If anything, it made me madder and madder until I definitely resigned myself to NEVER talking to ANY of them again.
I watched from my bedroom window on the second floor as Dad played all sorts of party games with the other kids. I wanted to play, too... but I hated them. Hated him. More than playing, I wanted to go down and break everything they were having fun with.
After an achingly long amount of forcing myself to watch, Dad finally went over to the trunk and started to fiddle with the combination lock.
I heard the humming again...
At least I thought I did, at first. I cracked the window and listened.
All the other kids had joined my Dad in that weird tune, but they were all singing the words, now.
"Tor-so, Tor-so, Tor-so-the-CLOWN!"
"Tor-so, Tor-so, Tor-so-the-CLOWN!"
"Tor-so, Tor-so, Tor-so-the-CLOWN!"
Torso? What the Hell did that mean? Was it like Bozo or Groucho or Amazo??
Dad removed the padlock and threw it over the fence.
All the children cheered as he lifted the trunk lid.
I stood as high as I could on my tippy-toes to see what was inside the trunk... what Dad had planned for MY Birthday party which now seemed to belong to everyone ELSE...
I saw something move inside, then a single white hand shot out and gripped the side of the trunk. Another hand followed. The arms seemed to be clad in ruffled, pink sleeves.
Just as suddenly as the hands had emerged, a clown THRUST his head up from the trunk and SNAPPED his head to the side to look toward the other kids.
Everyone laughed and hooted and cheered.
The clown's face... it was disturbing to me. Bleached white, with a perfectly round red nose and a tiny tiny derby on its head... but the eyes... the eyes were shut tight, as if the clown's oversized, toothless grin was just too wide for him to open his eyelids.
That expression remained frozen on his face.
The clown lifted himself up, like he was doing a push-up. The kids started chanting his name excitedly. One or two shouted commands like "Do something funny!" and "Fall down!"
The clown just stayed there for a moment... clutching the trunk like a bird perched on a wire. Then, slowly, its head turned toward the house... angled up to my window... and stared at me.
I say it "stared", but of course his eyes remained closed.
That is, until his bulbous red nose, that perfect orb attached to the center of his face, slowly began to split down the middle.
The "skin" of his nose pulled back in either direction, revealing a single, oversized eyeball pointed right at my window.
"Come on!" Dad called out, also looking directly at me, "Come meet Torso the Clown. Don't be a little fucking shit-head!"
The children "ooooed" at the profanity.
The clown looked back toward the children with its single eye. It then hauled itself out of the trunk... just an upper body trailing intestine and dislocated organs behind it...
He walked on his hands... RAN, really... darting into the crowd of children at an impossible speed.
Kids ran screaming, pushed each other over, tripped over their own feet or untied laces... they all just panicked and started fleeing like a startled cluster of geese.
At the center, where the crowd had been, the clown had positioned itself over a fallen little boy, the boy's arm now halfway down the clown's throat.
The clown didn't even have to hold the kid down. It seemed like there was just no way to get his arm loose. Struggle as the boy might, he was stuck.
All the color drained from him... I mean he turned white. Paper-white. It started at his upper arm, then his shoulder, then his face just turned pale and blank. The whole time, the boy's hand and forearm struggled against the inside of the clown's throat, and I could see its neck distending and rippling as the limb writhed within.
When the boy fell limp, the clown let him go and darted, faster than before, toward a little girl who was huddled at the base of a tree, crying. It sucked in her leg, all the way up, and, moving backward, pulled her under the table. Her dress dragged up over her head as she just screamed and screamed...
I don't know what happened after that, because I got away from the window as fast as I could and hid in my closet.
That's why I won't tell you when my birthday is, and that's why I'll get pissed if you find out. If you try to surprise me... or if you even mail me a card... I won't open it and I'll disown you. Friend or relative.
For what it's worth, Dad tried to make it up to me for decades afterward.
Someone from his job came by after I'd been fished out of the closet, kicking and screaming, by Police Officers. I was so incredibly terrified that, out of sheer feral madness, I bit one of the Officers and - even at that young age - tried to take his gun.
The guy from Dad's job was just like him... or how he used to be... neat, suit and tie, normal.
He explained that my Dad loved me very much, and that he was very sorry for what happened. Dad wanted to see me again, and if I thought it was okay I could leave the "facility" and go back home with him.
I was too young to really comprehend it at the time, but the guy said it was BECAUSE Dad loved me that this all happened.
"He wanted to make you happy. The guilt over your Mother's passing was too much, and that's how it got to him."
I asked what "it" was, but all I got was a pat on the head and a change of subject.
It only took a couple nights of sleeping in a sterile room that seemed more like a prison cell. Then, I agreed to go back.
At first, I was scared... very hesitant to even be in the same room with my father... as years passed and nothing out of the ordinary happened again... I eventually let some of my guard down even though things weren't really the same.
Even Dad's routine had been changed forever. When he got home he'd put his keys and his wallet in that wicker basket...
But no security badge.