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.”
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.