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Friday, March 29, 2013

An Experiment In Terror

At one point during my career as a bank teller, I worked in the drive-through of a bank in Downtown Denver. Our security staff were off-duty officers of the Denver Police Department. One was, in fact, the first female African-American in Denver to become a Sergeant, and was assigned to the Internal Affairs Division. I just now remembered that one day a coworker and I asked her to come to lunch with us on one of the days she wasn't working at the bank. She showed up wearing a gorgeous dress and heels, and had a clutch purse tucked under her arm. It was still tucked in there during lunch, and we suggested she put it with our purses. "No," she said, "it stays right here. My gun is in there." We were quite impressed. In fact, we were stunned that she was wearing a dress and heels during her work day as a cop, and told her so. She smiled and told us, "There isn't anybody in this city I can't run down and chase over a fence, even in my high heels." What a woman!

Most of the officers worked in the Crimes Against Persons Division, AKA Homicide. I found this quite fascinating, and in our slower times I would talk to them about their work. I asked the kinds of questions the other tellers didn't think of asking, like whether the DPD thought that they had any missing or deceased women that they thought might be the victims of the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, who did come through Colorado. And yes, they did suspect that they had at least one case that may have involved him, but he refused to answer their questions before his execution in Florida.

One day, one of the officers got a really concerned look on his face. Why was I so interested in murder and serial killers? What was the reason? I am sure he might have been worried that I might be one of those murder groupies who have crushes on killers. Or that I was of a murderous bent myself. Both of those were very far from the truth. I told the officer that my father had killed my mother when I was barely seven years old, and I thought my interest in the subject revolved around wanting to know what made a killer who they were. Why did they kill? What made their brains tick? He looked relieved after I told him the details of my mother's death, and that I had no hero-worship of any kind for killers. Actually, I seem to remember him saying something to the effect that since that was where I was coming from, he would be glad to talk to me about anything that he was free to discuss.

Fast forward to my married life. Trent spent the first several years of our marriage being amazed at my enjoyment of horror movies, as well as thrillers and true crime stories. I think he was surprised that I didn't have a stereotypical "girly" reaction to books and movies of this nature. I'd go to see a scary film and not be all nervous afterward as some people are. And I could watch a lot of true crime programs on tv and then sleep like a baby. He likes to joke about me watching Discovery ID, which he refers to as the all-murder channel. I certainly do not immerse myself in gore and crime. I spend much more time watching everyday humdrum programming than crime. I love all kinds of books, but have read several by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I actually think my tastes in entertainment/reading are fairly well balanced, and  I would spend money to see Les Miserables but not pay a nickel to see most horror flicks in the theater.

Over the years Trent became more and more aware of all that I had experienced in my life. After my siblings and I found our mother clinging to life as a result of my father's beating, we were taken to orphanages and foster care. Liz and I were in an orphanage, and our life there was truly depressed and miserable. Then we were taken in briefly by distant relatives, and Liz was quickly dumped on Gram. I spent more time in the home of a woman who hated me because I was not what she would have chosen. After all, the child of a murderer seems less artistic and enchanting than a Native American child. I was reminded constantly, especially during frequent beatings and abuse, that I was crazy like my father, and that nobody wanted me. I was then shipped off to her mother, my Gram. But during the entire time I lived with her, I was reminded by various people that if I didn't live up to their expectations, I could and would be sent away.

Trent would say that he didn't know how I had survived it all. I did because I had to, I suppose. One night he was talking about how he just hadn't been able to understand how I could watch scary stuff without getting very affected by it. He said he had given it a lot of thought, and figured out why I was able to handle it. I was curious to hear his theory, and noticed that he was trying to stifle a smile. "It's simple," he said, "your whole life has been an experiment in terror." We both got a huge laugh out of that since it is a variation of one of my favorite lines from Steel Magnolias. But we also both agreed that it was probably true. How could I get terrified by some made-up hauntings or monsters, when I had experienced plenty of real horrors? I am more likely to be frightened by Psycho than Alien, because I know all too well that the person next door is more real and scary.

I'll never really know if Trent's theory explains it all away, because I will never know what my alternate reality would be if I hadn't had those experiences. I may not have ended up in Colorado. I'd probably still be able to speak German and Hungarian. I most likely would never have had a pet dog. And I probably would never have met my husband. And I'd probably scream like a girl during horror movies!