I was about 18 or 19, and working at scaring people at a local haunted house. It was a turbulent time for me. I’d tried working at the high end coffee shop in our local tourist trap location called affectionately “the art district;” called less affectionately a place for coffee snobs with more money than manners.

I didn’t fit in, and after dresscode debacles and an unfortunate incident involving a case or Orangina and a flight of stairs, I called and desperately informed the manager that I “simply couldn’t come to work today…or rather ever.” I was also trying in vane to be a chemistry major, I recall. It was a rocky time.

And so I applied to be a ghoul at the “Haunted Cavern,” because maybe I wouldn’t find purpose in my work, but hell…scaring people for money sounded like something I could at least try my hand at. (It was closer to my eventual profession as teacher than I’d realize)

With a couple of years of local theater productions under my belt, I landed a main character role in the scaring show. I was one of two women chosen to be the “dead mother” in a background story of deranged family members eating people or something similar. The lady who was my partner in the ride was very in character. I seem to remember that there was a lot of dead-eye staring at all hours.

There was always an abundance of time before the haunted house opened each night. We would get on-site before dark, dress in 10 minutes, and then wait two hours for darkness to fall, the lines to queue up, the monies to be exchanged and our first group to be let through (followed without pause by group after group until hours later: feast or famine) But in the interim of dressing and waiting, there was a lot of time. I filled it with paperbacks, but also with watching our resident horror makeup artist transform us from relatively normal faced into open wound bearing, black puss dripping baddies.

The makeup guy was named Begunich, and my sheltered adolescence had never encountered anything quite like him. He had long hair, winding down his back, and a grisly almost foot long beard. He was covered in tattoos, had huge gauges, and always wore a back turned cap. He also did not give a fuck about any of us or anything but making the makeup on all of us look absolutely awful, impressive and resume worthy. At which attempts he was flawless.

Obviously, he was totally my type.

If my vision had been a little clearer, perhaps I could have steered clear of making myself such a fool, but what can I say? I was hooked in by the sideshow and its disdain for critical review. Perhaps, I wished to be so untouchable from judgement while simultaneously so effortlessly talented. I was sure that Begunich would show me how.

I was kidding myself. From the moment I sat in the makeup chair and he put his rough hands on my flushed girl cheeks, it was a fool’s errand. I was dismal in hiding my intrigue with him and his skills, asking questions non-stop about the make-up process. He showed me a few basics, enough to get me by with Halloween costumes, but he was also openly abrasive, rough with my face in application and makeup removal and more often than not “Mean” with a capital letter.

My thoughts were not worth hearing to him except for comedic purposes. I was frequently dismissed, cursed at, and ignored. Perhaps my obvious crush disconcerted him, but the behavioral response was on par with bullying. Like all misunderstood, angry men, he wrote verse that he was proud enough to reveal when encountering other self-proclaimed “writers. 18, mind you, and I was writing poetry for a creative fiction class. I was stupid enough to reveal this and Begunich surprised me by asking to read a sample.

The day I brought it in, my heart was hammering. ‘Go big or go home’ as some kind of deathwish mantra, I’d written an exceedingly awful poem about him and how he used make-up to make us actors into different identities each night. Think SYMBOLISM all over the place. I don’t remember reading it aloud to him. I can’t see myself being that brave. In memory, I handed him a notebook and his eyes flicked across the page, back and froth, his mouth a tight, thin line, his eyes unreadable.

This part of memory is painful, and so I’ve dulled its edges with forgetting. I’m not sure if he scrawled the words immediately after the read in my own notebook of shame (this seems true) or he handed me the rebuttal in folded paper note form the next day. Either way, the result was the same.

He wrote a poem in response to my awful emotional sharage. It was short. It was a hip thing to do. And it was the cruelest piece of writing to assault me.

I’m no stranger to men seeking to un-empower me, wound me, and shoo me away with their written words though. In my high school geography class, the boy I had a major first crush on had his friend write me a Dear Jane letter. It went to the short sweet tune of: “Arthur doesn’t like you. He wishes you’d leave him alone.” And Arthur said he didn’t ask Michael to write the note, but, either way, I never blamed him for doing so.

High school boys generally have the emotional depth of the common thimble, and so perhaps my crush’s mouthpiece had no way of knowing how words would wound. The problem is that these “boys” never learn that compassion thing and grow into men who sling words carelessly.

Turning to tears of humiliation and a fall into the lap of hope are hardly a solution. Tears no longer move compassion like they used to.

I’ve also had a good heart beating at the hands of technology one too many times. With innovations in communications, it has been that much easier to be cowardly when it comes to truth telling in relationships. It’s so much easier to break a heart via text or email rather than to look into an actual person’s face and tell her they’d be better placed elsewhere from your life. I call it the “Backlit Screen Divide.” Because it’s hard to show your heart aching in 140 characters or less.

I’ve been broken up via text twice, and in ambiguity both times. The latter even hinted he’d knocked up some “other woman” in order to slink away from my clutches. All fabricated. It left me wondering, is it easier to lie about cheating than to honestly decline? It seems so. The ole one’two, it’s not me, it’s you.

Back to Begunich. He wrote me a very nasty little poem to divert my amorous affections towards him. I’d include it below if I still had it in my possession,  but the general gist was that: I couldn’t write well, my thoughts and writer were bland, insipid and devoid of emotion, and I should probably stop writing all together. Between the lines though, the obvious assertion was that I was all of these things; unworthy of this male’s gaze. He attacked not my writing, but my personality via a written diatribe instead of being compassionate and “man enough” to say simple: I’m just not that into you.

The trouble, heart blood, and waste that could be saved if men would just say that from time to time. No body wants to be a dick, but you really turn into something much worse when you hedge around it. What a kinder, brighter, safer place it would be if the charade to preserve how good we perceive ourselves to be was abandoned for truth and honest handling of our fellows.

The story of my time as a subhuman for hire ended shortly after Begunich delivered the killing blow. Scaring people in a damp, dark room in an early winter chill was not as amusing as it sounds. After a long, cold raining night where Begunich pinched my face before I took my spot on the conveyor belt of scares, I clocked out, stole the time card labelled “M. Begunich” from the rack where they were stored and I haven’t returned to that haunted place of memory until now.

I keep the punch card and his poetry in my mind to remind me of whatever lesson he thought he was imparting when he hastily scrawled his message to me.

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