“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said.
Junior high – lunch period, hiding in the school library.
Surrounded by the smell of aging pages and the warmth of the heating system as
it breathed its hot breath and kept the gripping frost at bay. I hid there
because it was a reprieve from forced and miserable conversation, from anxiety
with tearing teeth and horns, from the noise and haste. A reprieve – except
when she was there.
“I wasn’t sure who else to tell,” she said.
Her name was B., B. for broken, B. for bruised. Long dirty hair, ripped clothes in black on
black on black. Wide eyes that would have been beautiful but for her cracked
and empty thousand-yard stare. I loved to read, especially horror; she loved to
watch movies, especially horror, most especially the gut-churning gorefests I
wouldn’t grow to stomach, let alone love, for another couple of years.
“It’s a secret,” she said, her voice pitched just above a
whisper. “You can’t tell anyone.”
I didn’t want to be B.‘s friend. I certainly didn’t want to
be her confidante. In those days, I wanted little more than to be invisible, to
be left alone to read during the one hour of solace I could eke out each
hellish day. To be able to disappear inside of the horror novels that I consumed
so voraciously. I’d made B.‘s acquaintance in home economics, when we’d been
assigned pancake-making duties together. I was awkward and polite. She was
lonely. Lonely and cracked somewhere deep inside.
“The thing is,” B. said, and her stare was a long steel fork
that held me, a bleeding piece of meat, in place. “I’m a vampire. Like, a real vampire.”
I was the one she went to when the tattoo she gave herself
became infected. She had kept her left hand wrapped in a bandage for a few
days; when she peeled it back and showed me her handiwork, it broke my heart.
B. had tried to give herself a pentagram tattoo – I say “tried” because out of
some combination of ignorance and the misapplication of what little knowledge
she did have, she had instead inked a small Star of David. The pentagram, for
the uninitiated, looks like this:
…and is a widely used symbol in the occult. Satanists,
Wiccans, and many others use some variant of this symbol, either two-points-up
(“inverted”) or two-points-down.
This, on the other hand, is the Star of David:
…which has nothing whatsoever to do with witchcraft or
Satanism. It’s the oldest and most widely-recognized symbol of Judaism. B.,
needless to say, did not intend to give herself the Star of David, and yet
there it was, drilled into the pale flesh of her hand with black ink and a
sewing needle. Her knowledge of religious symbolism may have been lacking, but
I couldn’t fault her for cowardice or lack of commitment. By the time she
showed it to me the skin had swollen taut and turned an angry, dangerous red. I
was quiet but emphatic in my advice: she needed to go to the emergency room
immediately. It was the right call, and she knew it. I think she just needed to
hear someone else say it.
After that, it felt like I couldn’t shake her. It was a
month or two later that she shared her secret with me. I thought she might have
been joking, but I’m glad I didn’t force an awkward laugh. She wasn’t much for
joking, and I realized moments after she told me that she wasn’t kidding, and
either believed what she was telling me or – at the very least – thought I
would believe her. I bumbled my way through some sort of tepid response; “well
isn’t that interesting” being the upshot. I found a different place to read,
even more secluded than the library, and I didn’t see much of B. after that. I hope things worked out for the best for her,
but my hope is tempered by the knowledge that her life sprang from a particularly
rocky patch of ground and was watered by the herbicide of poverty beneath the
burning, punishing wormwood sun of suburban despair. Star of David or
pentagram, B.’s attempt to mark herself as different was unnecessary in a place
where difference was viciously focused upon. There weren’t a lot of Jews where
I grew up; there weren’t a lot of Wiccans or Satanists, either. If I could say
anything to B. – if I could re-live that moment – I would tell her that it
doesn’t matter which kind of stars illuminate the darkness of our lives. Only
that they do.
Horror fandom has a way of connecting people who might otherwise have a hard time fitting in; misfits, dissenters, morbid dreamers, and those who have lived through crucibles of pain that would kill a normal human. We should embrace a sort of cemetery solidarity, a comradeship of outcasts and contemplators of darkness. In the darkness that permeates life sometimes, perhaps we can be light – stars in the night, if you will – for each other.
Editor’s note: As a Jew, I am always flabbergasted by the amount of times people connect the Star of David with Satanism and Witchcraft.