Keep your candy hearts and your pink ribbons. For my money, the season of love is Halloween.
Raised by parents who bore the stiff upper lip of the English and the iron spine of the Germans, my siblings and I learned to be uncomfortable with public displays of affection from an early age. Rather than hugs and kisses at bedtime, we traded firm handshakes with our Mom and Dad. When they felt especially lighthearted, they’d treat us to a game of Hot Hands, holding their palms flat over ours and tantalizing us during long moments of stillness before snaking their hands over ours in a lightning strike to slap us hard across the knuckles.
There was only one time when we felt comfortable cuddling next to our parents, and that was when we watched scary movies on a Friday night. Vincent Price movies, Night Stalker episodes, and everyone’s favorite: vampire movies. Mom would shake a pan of popcorn over the burner, drip melted butter over each of our bowls, and sit with us on the couch. Curling up against her side so I could press my face against her shoulder whenever Dracula tapped against the window gave me a sense of security and love that transcended words.
I clung to my affection for horror films through my teen years, always rooting for the vampire to win the eternal devotion of his female prey. Chris Sarandon advancing eerily across the dance floor in Fright Night, catching the eye of his next teenage victim with a sly smile playing across his lips…who could return to an adolescent love affair after that? Lestat in the Anne Rice chronicles–don’t even get me started. Eternal damnation seemed a small price to pay for a moment of his undivided, bloody attention.
I couldn’t wait for my children to be old enough to see some of these films I’d loved. Not surprisingly, they laughed at the campiness of films that had once scared me to death, preferring the kind of jerky photography and editing of The Grudge that I found silly. So I was thrilled when my youngest son agreed to listen to an audio version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on our trip across Pennsylvania to drop him off in New York for his freshman year of college.
My husband listened skeptically as Stoker, through a long series of letters, told the tale of an unwitting young solicitor who fails to flee at the first sight of his sharp-toothed, red-lipped, bloodless client in the remote hills of Transylvania. (“The gypsy warned you to stay away from the mansion! The wolves circled your carriage and howled at midnight! Can’t you take a hint?”) By the time Count Dracula moved on to the white cliffs of England and beat his bat wings against Lucy Westenra’s window at midnight, my son and I were sucked into the novel.
Driving under the arches at the entrance of the college, we had to turn off the story just as Lucy’s blood was drained from her body for the first time. Soon we were distracted by the details of moving our youngest son into his new home.
Hours later, as evening darkened the sky and bats flitted through the trees above my son’s dormitory, I swallowed my tears and hugged my son. (Sometimes a hand shake is just not enough.) “See you in two months.”
He hugged me hard. “Save the rest of Dracula for when you come back to get me.”