This post has absolutely nothing to do with pilgrims or turkey or Indian corn or any other traditional Thanksgiving topics. In fact, this is probably a completely inappropriate subject for this time of year. I do apologize.
It all started right before Halloween, when a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What’s the first scary movie you ever saw?”
I automatically replied. “Some movie I saw in church when I was ten years old. ‘A Thief in the Night’ or something.” And then I thought for a minute. And then BAM! Just like that, my internal Rubik’s Cube clicked into place.
I finally realized the origins of my worst phobia, one that has plagued me for as far back as I can remember. Or, as it happens, since the age of ten.
I have a freakin’ enormous phobia about beheading – and, to just a slightly smaller extent, dismemberment of any kind. Not as in, “Oh, ha ha, I’d rather not be beheaded…that’s really gross.” I mean, I cannot read a book, even by an author I love, if someone’s hand gets chopped off in the first chapter (Wally Lamb, I’m looking at you.)
I mean, I won’t look at abstract paintings that depict “floating heads.”
I mean, if I’m watching a movie and it even looks like some part of someone’s body is going to be removed, I close my eyes, jam my fingers in my ears, tell my hubby to nudge me when it’s over, and start humming.
I mean, I literally (literally, mind you) cannot lie back in the passenger seat of a car, because I cannot shake the feeling that a sharp object is going to come hurtling through the front windshield and chop my head off.
That’s what I mean. And now, finally, I’ve made sense of my extreme aversion.
Back in the 70’s, the evangelical church world went nuts for a series of Rapture movies whose sole purpose, as best I remember, was to terrify people into asking Jesus into their hearts.
Churches brought in huge screens and projectors, and showed these movies in sanctuaries (at night, of course) – and for reasons that I cannot possibly begin to fathom, parents thought it would be a great idea to bring their small children in for the viewings.
I don’t remember anything about the first two movies (PTSD, perhaps?), but then came the third one, titled “Image of the Beast.” (With a name like that, why wouldn’t you bring your elementary school age children along?)
The movie opened with a woman strapped down to a guillotine – she was going to be executed for not inscribing the “mark of the beast” (the number 666) on her forehead. Just then, an earthquake started up. Everybody freaked out and ran away, and as the woman watched the guillotine blade shaking above her, she started yelling, “I’ll take the mark! I’ll take the mark!” But she couldn’t move to free herself.
Then the blade fell.
At this point in the movie I stood up, crept over to my parents, and said I needed to leave. My parents, realizing things had gone too far, let me go. But the damage had been done.
I had frequent nightmares for years, after that night.
Here’s what I got from those movies:
- Any day now, Satan was going to take over the earth and force people to take the Mark of the Beast.
- I couldn’t take the mark or I would go to Hell.
- Anyone who didn’t take the mark was going to be beheaded.
- Ergo, I was going to be beheaded. Any day now.
I believed this for years.
After my friend posted the Facebook question that got me thinking, I went on-line and did a little research on the movies…and discovered an entire community of former small children of the 1970’s and 80’s who were forced to watch these movies, and who then had night terrors for years. Just like me.
What the crap were people thinking?
Anyway, in preparing for this post, despite my phobia, I did a little research on guillotines. I imagined that they hadn’t been used since, say, the 18th century – mostly because I really, really needed there to be at least a 150-year gap between the existence of the guillotine and the existence of myself. But it was not to be.
The last public guillotining (where people could gather ‘round and pop some corn and watch the whole thing, like they did in the old days – which, don’t even get me started) was in 1939. The same century I was born in.
Oh, it gets worse. Because the last time the guillotine was used to execute someone in France was in (are you sitting down?) 1977.
In fact, the guillotine was the official, legal method of execution in France until 1981 – the same year that last gory rapture movie came out, which explains a few things. (And the French call us uncivilized!)
How can I make this clear (fingers drumming.) YOU DON’T REMOVE PEOPLE’S HEADS FROM THEIR BODIES, PEOPLE. For the love of all that is holy, heads stay where the good Lord put them.
Googling this subject led to all sorts of web results that I literally could not bring myself to click on. I will tell you that decapitation as a form of capital punishment has been around for thousands of years, and the guillotine was first used in 1792, after a three-year process (by official committee!) to construct it.
I can say no more. If I told you about the experiments that doctors used to do with the heads afterward, to ascertain how long a person had cognizance after “the procedure” (reports vary), I would vomit up everything I’ve eaten in the last week.
A final note:
Dear Future Earth’s Citizen of the 23rd century who will stumble across this post while “Quarking” through history via mental telepathy-downloading (or whatever it is you kids are doing these days): Do not ever, ever let any of your species put beheading back on the capital-punishment table – because if you do I swear to you, from whatever plane I am currently existing on, I will exploit a wormhole, beam down to where you are, and beat the living quantum dust out of you and all your friends. People’s heads should stay attached to their bodies. No exceptions. Trust me on this.