For most people, the holidays call to mind shining lights, steaming mugs of cocoa, gingerbread humanoids, and feasts that call for elastic waistbands.
For me, they conjure up the memory of my friend sailing out of our second-story window.
Let me explain.
A few days after Thanksgiving, my mom left 12-ish-year-old me and my best friend alone for a couple of hours. She instructed us to eat our dinners, avoid watching too many Brady Bunch reruns, and, most importantly, not—under any circumstances—open the door if anyone happened to knock.
A half-hour into our dinner of sugar sandwiches (don’t ask) and cream soda (i.e. NOT what my mother had laid out for us), we heard a knock at the back door. BFF and I exchanged nervous glances.
I tiptoed to the door and put my ear against the painted wood. (There was no peephole or window through which to peek.) “Who is it?” I asked tremulously.
There was a long pause and then an ominous reply: “The man next door.”
Bestie and I shot each other another look.
“The man next door”? Really? Why didn’t he just say, “I’m dressed up like a clown and carrying a machete. Why don’t you just open the door so we can just get on with it? I’ve got a lot of murdering to do.”
Bestie and I were mystery readers. We knew the drill. No one knocked on doors at night unless they had ill intentions. His disguise as “the man next door” was proof.
I grabbed Bestie’s hand and pulled her into the kitchen. The knocking resumed, louder and more urgently. Then came a shuffling and the solid THUNK of someone colliding against the door. He was trying to break in!
I clamped my hand over my mouth to stifle a cry then dragged my friend through the house and into the safety of my mom’s bedroom.
Mom’s room had the privilege of not only having a bathroom decorated entirely in peach, but the house’s only interior locks. I slammed my mom’s door and locked it. I should have lifted the receiver of her avocado SlimLine phone and dialed the number where she was or my friend’s folks’ house. Instead my friend and I paced the sculpted shag carpet, terror slithering up our spines.
A strange noise emanated from somewhere deep within the house. The Man Next Door is inside! my mind screamed. He’s found the hidden key or shouldered open the flimsy pine door and is on his way to kill us!
We scurried into Mom’s bathroom, locked its door, and crouched beside the toilet, which was bonneted with a fluffy peach-hued cozy, waiting. Nothing happened—other than the dawning realization that we were trapped. A murderer was on the other side of the door and there was no way out.
Other than the bathroom window, that is.
I pulled back the eyelet curtains and surveyed the drop. The two story window overlooked a giant lilac bush that studded a lawn pockmarked by bald spots.
“It’ll break our fall,” I said to BFF, nodding toward the spindly branches.
Of course, by “our” I meant “your.”
In a turn of events neither of us can quite remember, we determined that my friend would be the one who would leap from the window and run to the neighbors’ house for help.
I slid open the window. She scrambled to the edge of the bathroom vanity and climbed onto the window’s metal frame. A quick one-two-three count, and she took flight, launching herself out of the window, sailing through the air, and landing onto the lilac with an “ooof.”
She scrambled to her feet and tore across the yard to the neighbor’s house. I watched her knock on the door, go into the house and close the door. Five minutes later, she returned with Carol, our neighbor, who clutched a festive basket in her arms.
The truth was revealed.
Carol’s husband, Mike, had come over to drop off Chex Mix as a thoughtful holiday gift. He really was the Man Next Door (and they really did share the names of the Brady Bunch parents). The suspicious pause before he announced his identity was him thinking through the best way to describe himself in case I’d forgotten his name. The THUNK that reverberated through the door wasn’t the entrance being breached but rather Mike depositing the salty snack food on the back stoop. The creeping footsteps we were sure we’d heard were simply the sighs and moans of an old house settling.
Our imaginations had run wild, carrying us (far, far) away from reality.
This runaway imagination was hard on my friend’s ankles, but it’s exactly what we look for in books.
We want our imaginations to whisk us away. We’re looking to lose ourselves and to find new experiences and new adventures. We yearn from an escape from the every day.
The Shining was the first book that made me feel that way. I’d read only during daylight hours and emerge from each session groggy and disoriented as if arriving home after a long trip.
As I look back on that pre-teen misadventure, I’m inspired to read—and write—stories that engage, thrill and transport. I’ve also got a craving for Chex Mix.
How about you, dear friends? Have you ever let imagination get the better of you, either in real life or while reading? Please share!