TW: scary clown, childhood terror.
I’m pretty sure everyone has a scary clown story. Here’s mine:
1968-69: My eyes opened. I was in my bed. The first things I took in were the walls. My bed was set into an alcove. The wall of the alcove was to my left, and the head and foot of the bed had their own half walls. My view widened to include more of the room. Past the foot of the bed, and slightly to the right, there was a window, about the level of the head and torso of an adult. I awoke, opened my eyes, and allowed my eyes to adjust to the light coming in the window, and slowly took in the shape that was contained within the window.
There was a human form crouched in the window, maybe squatting on the window sill–it’s not clear. As my eyes focused, I could see that the person’s face was obscured by makeup-white pancake base, big red oversized lips, bulbous red nose, eyes like horizontal slits with vertical slits slashed through them. There was some kind of collar, but I only call it a collar in retrospect, as I didn’t know what a collar was. I didn’t know what a clown was, either. I am describing an experience through adult eyes that didn’t make any sense to me as a young child, but that I can recall as clearly as I experienced it as a child.
This character was looking at me. He was a character, but he was also a person. He was looking at me, and pointing at me. He was looking at me, and pointing at me, and smiling at me, with that painted-on smile that I was not able to interpret. Was this a happy face? What was the intention behind this painted-on smile? Was I supposed to smile along? I did not feel like smiling along. I did not trust this character. I did not trust this person.
He was looking at me, and pointing at me, and smiling at me, and saying, over and over again, “You…, you…, you…, you…,” and laughing. And laughing. And laughing. “You…, you…, you…”
I felt my eyes widen, and my breath catch, and then rush in in a big rush, and an electric feeling of terror, and I screamed…
I awoke screaming. Someone came and got me, and picked me up and hugged me.
And that was it. That’s the end of the memory. I can still recall it like it happened yesterday. I have described this dream to each of my parents, and as far as I can tell, I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, judging by the description of the space. The clown form in my memory is the clown from a box of straws (you might recognize it), and I remember that box being in the house, and I remember being confused that the clown from my dream was on the box of straws.
As an adult, I can totally enjoy clowns, slapstick body-humor, the thrill of the unknown intention, and of the obscured identity. But it is an enjoyment that is a bit like enjoying the feeling of jumping into a hole in the ice of a frozen lake, having almost drowned once, and having trained oneself to get past the initial reaction of panic as one’s body is engulfed in bitingly cold water.