Scaring the Kids

They'll Probably Need Therapy Anyway

Mirrors: Scaring Children for Generations

A mirror I purchased from an estate sale. It has, so far, been well-behaved.

What is it about mirrors? I would venture to say that even the most evidence-driven person on this planet gets unnerved standing before a mirror in a mostly dark room, in that one second before she can reach the light switch. It’s creepy. It doesn’t take much for your reflection to change, to shift, to be skewed in some subtle way that forces you to wonder what is lurking beneath your reflection on the other side of the glass.

This is especially true in old houses. I happen to live in the deep South, where there are old houses aplenty. You can tour many of them for under 20 bucks! This is helpful when the in-laws come to town.

An aforementioned in-law, posing with my kids in front of a creepy-ass mirror in Natchez, Mississippi.

My kids love these tours. They point out every single mirror to me so that I can take a picture of it. This is handier than you might think; there are a lot of mirrors propped up on floors under tables for some reason. I need these short humans to point them out to me. We like to look through the pictures later on the big monitor for spooky stuff: orbs, shadows that don’t make sense, disembodied heads–you get the idea.

Thankfully, we haven’t seen anything. They like the thrill of looking through those pictures with me, though. Making memories with Mom. Little weirdos.

Another spooky gem from a home in West Feliciana Parish, La.

Despite our penchant for mirror-hunting, I was nonetheless shocked to hear my oldest talking about Bloody Mary to her friends a year or so ago. This would have put her in fourth grade. Yep, I guess that’s about right.

[Insert wavy time machine effect here]

I have vivid memories of being terrified in my elementary school bathrooms thanks to Bloody Mary. As, I suspect, do you. My memory is unreliable, so while I remember my friends and I being obsessed with talking about how to summon her, we may have only mentioned it a few times. Always at school–this was never really something you would ever try at home. I don’t remember why (if you do, I’d love to hear your version of the story).

So our particular version of the myth was this: You stand in front of the bathroom mirror and say “Bloody Mary” three times. Yeesh–I can barely type it. She appears, then scratches your face (or kills you? I’m kinda fuzzy on what happens beyond the scratching). To be honest, that’s all I needed, folks. Didn’t need to know why, or when, or how, or what motivated poor Mary. By that time, I had seen scraps of A Nightmare on Elm Street and must have put Freddy’s claws onto Mary’s hands, and that alone was terrifying. Would the mirror break when she reached through? Would she grab my hair when I turned to run? Would she know I was thinking about her while I was peeing as fast as I possibly could, frantically pulling those awful squares of tissues out of the upside-down-napkin-looking dispenser that clogged if you angled it one degree off perfect and therefore be waiting for me in the mirror when I fled the bathroom with my pants only mostly up? Yeah, like I was gonna wash my hands in front of that scary, scratched up mirror with the metal shelf at the bottom, presenting myself to her like some roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. I’ll take the germs, thankyouverymuch.

So I am still trying to figure out how much research I want to put into my posts–settling into my niche, remember? As I’m nosing around the internet looking at Bloody Mary origin stories, I realize that I don’t really care. I don’t care how it came to be or what version of the tale pre-pubescent Danish kids believe. I was terrified by this specific version through my specific filter. So that’s what I’m giving you. We’ll see if it works (this is where you validate me by following the blog). Besides, many others did it better than I ever could. Look them up after you are done telling all your friends how much you loved this post.

Ok, ok. One outside source: this guy. He concluded (yes, he), that the folklore is simply a manifestation of girls’ anxiety over their changing bodies. Bloody Mary. You know, like menstruation? Look, as a literature instructor by day, I love a good tenuous connection. It lets me know that the kids are at least trying. But this one got a big fat eye roll from me. At least it’s from the late 90s. Although the premise is very 1940s.

Now, a funny thing occurred to me while I was mining my memories of this particular time in my life. I had watched and really liked Beetlejuice when it first came out in the late 80s. Lydia was so cool and really influenced me as I tried to derp my way into an identity. My point is, Beetlejuice is summoned the same way that our girl Mary is–say the name three times. Yet the movie never scared me. I thought it was fun and silly, not scary. Maybe if he had scratched up Catherine O’Hara a bit before he did that Harry Belafonte trick. You would think that either I would be a little more scared of Beetlejuice or a little less scared of Mary. No telling what kind of reasoning was bouncing around my brain back then.

Earlier today, I asked my two girls what they knew about Bloody Mary. My 7-year-old had an awesome response.

“Oh. Yeah. She’s a mirror beast.”

Come on. A mirror beast! I love it. She only knows what big sister knows, though, so I turn to Mini-me and asked the same question. She gives me pretty much the same story I grew up with, but with murder instead of a simple facial abrasion. She hasn’t tried it, but she heard of someone who has. You know, the usual.

Now, I think the Bloody Mary that scratches her victims is much more plausible than the one who murders anyone that summons her. Right? I mean, murdered 9-year-olds hogging bathrooms all over town? I feel like I would have heard about that. Either way, I warn my girls against summoning anything, just in case. We’ll get more into this later. Let their dumb friends do it. My girls can be the lookout.

You probably know this, but the 1992 movie Candyman is a scary grown-up version of the Bloody Mary myth. This article on Lithub by Vanessa Willoughby sums it up nicely and contains some great links. This is Clive Barker’s Candyman, based on his short story, “The Forbidden” (I have yet to see the Jordan Peele’s Candyman, but oh, I plan to). Clive Barker will come up again–he’s a source of some great starter horror for your weird little kiddos.

Until next time!

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