The Bat Syndrome

I’ve always been enthralled by the macabre. While other girls were detangling Barbie’s hair, I was playing with glow in the dark Colorforms at the back of our coat closet. (Should you be too young to remember Colorforms, know that I hate you.) I enhanced the terrors of the haunted mansion through the creative application of spooky stickers. As I pressed the witches, bats and goblins into place, I fantasized that I was among them, lingering in the darkest folds of the haunted mansion. Sadly, this always got the kebash when someone reached in for their coat.   

Nancy Drew, with book titles like “The Haunted Showboat” and “The Moss Covered Mansion,” had me at hello. I read most of the series, until it clicked that there would never be a bloody hatchet, a poisoning, or the gruesome discovery of body parts. After a momentary distraction (I discovered “The Joy of Sex” in my mother’s night table) I moved onto Alfred Hitchcock, priming myself for pleasures like “The Exorcist.” Still, despite my draw to higher levels of morbidity, my passion for haunted houses remained strong.

When when I was in fifth grade, the school psychologist, Mr. Ross, called me down to his office. He asked me a series of questions ranging from benign (“Who invented the telephone?”) to mildly probing (“How are you doing in school?”) to penetrating (“Do you worry that your parents will get divorced?”) Then he pulled out a stack of ink blot images. Holding them up one by one, he asked, “What does this look like to you?” The hell if I knew. They were all toss-ups between a balloon, a station wagon and a palm tree. 

Mr. Ross wrapped up the session with one final question. “If you could be any kind of animal,” he asked, “what would you be?”

Most kids probably answered something like a bunny or a horse.  My creature of choice, having an open invitation to haunted houses across the land, was slightly less conventional. Without hesitation, I said, “I’d like to be a bat.” 

Mr. Ross looked stricken. After a long moment of silence, he cleared his throat. “Alright, June. You can go back to class.” Three minutes later, he called my mother. 

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Mrs. O’Hara.” Mr. Ross said. “Your daughter…” He paused, took a deep breath. “She wants to be a bat.”

“She what?”

Mr. Ross explained. My mother listened, then burst out laughing.

“I’m not sure you understand the seriousness of this,” Mr. Ross said. “I’ve been in this business a long time, and in all my years, no child has ever expressed interest in being a bat.” He paused. “I’m afraid that June has very low self-esteem.”    

Stifling a giggle, my mother said, “Okay, I’ll talk to her. And thank you for your concern.”

When I got home from school, my mother relayed the conversation.

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “Mr. Ross thinks I’m disturbed just because I want to be a bat?  

“It seems so,” she replied with a chuckle.

Mr. Ross was right; I did have low self-esteem. But that had nothing to do with wanting to be a bat. It was a reasonable and legitimate wish, and was an entirely separate issue.   

Aggrieved, I stomped upstairs to my room. I propped up the pillows on my bed and lost myself in “The Omen,” where people routinely drowned under ice, were hit by lightning, and impaled on spear-shaped gate posts.

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12 thoughts on “The Bat Syndrome

  1. June, this post is fantastic! I think telling Mr. Ross you wanted to be a bat was genius…and original. Hey, at least you stayed true to what you like and caught your attention. I think I would have said I wanted to be a Great White shark. I like a good fight! hee hee! 🙂

  2. School Psychologists are highly over rated. One SP I met when my son was having problems in elementary school was pure evil. I swear I once saw her head turn 360 degrees.

    Are you sure that wasn’t Barbara Walters and the question was “If you could be any kind of tree, what would you be?”

    I like dark and scary, too. Love writing dark short stories, but they scare me when I’m writing them. Dark humor is more comforting to write on a dark, stormy night.

    1. Her head turn 360 degrees…lol. As far as being a tree, I’d feel like I was being told, “You must return with a shrubbery.” Stressful at best.

  3. That’s the problem when you’re an advanced child or just don’t fit the norm. After I was pulled out of class in elementary school for some analysis, they concluded that I was getting beaten at home, which was far from true, but just goes to show you what quacks are out there.

  4. The Mr. Ross’s of the world are the reason creatively is stifled. Seriously, everyone has their own thing – their spark, it’s what makes ’em tick. I’ve had to defend my own kids from people like this… Argh! See if you ruffled! 🙂

    1. I think Mr. Ross was an ok guy. He just didn’t know what to do with me. But I very much agree with your point. Good for you, for fighting for your kids. They’re fortunate to have a parent like you. Wait til they start blogging…..

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