I imagine in the spring of 1980 I had a bowl haircut. A painting of Jesus hung on the wall across from my bed. I can remember frequently covering it with the orange lace curtains that hung in my room. I didn’t care for Jesus looking at me all the time. His glowing heart made me nervous.
On the opposite wall from Jesus hung a painting of a clown. Not just any clown, but a clown that clearly wanted to devour my soul.
I was a brainy, imaginative 5-year-old who was savvy enough to know “Family Circus” wasn’t funny. But I found it difficult to sleep so close to both a terrifying clown painting and an intimidating Jesus, particularly when the moon lit up my room and their faces glowed at me in the dark. Sometimes I would take them down and hide them in the closet, a terrifying task in itself. My closet contained the steps to the attic, which meant that it was very likely that I could encounter both the closet and the attic monster if I hid Jesus and the Clown. Not a good situation. I couldn’t put them under the bed, because that’s where all of my stuffed animals were protecting me from another monster that lived in the box spring.
On Easter morning, 1980, I woke up groggy after worrying throughout the night about my various monsters. Dad was awake: The house smelled like coffee and eggs. I came downstairs and saw Easter baskets on the kitchen table, and my concerns melted away as I feasted on marshmallow bunnies, jelly beans and chocolates. I was happy and intensely hyped up on sugar. I put on my dress and ran outside to the car. And then I saw it.
Dead bunny in the road. I screamed, ran over and looked at him. Dad came out and casually said, “Looks like someone killed the Easter Bunny. Get back in here.”
I took this literally. I was crushed. Panicked. Somebody killed the Easter Bunny. In my sugar-induced mania, I was sure it was one of my monsters, either Jesus or the Clown, maybe working together. On the drive to church I worried and fretted. I was certain the real Jesus was angry with me. In the parking lot of the church I threw up. My little white shoes were splattered. I cried a little and Mom took me to the bathroom to clean me up.
“Oh, your father shouldn’t have let you eat candy before breakfast,” she said, cleaning my shoes and a fine mist across my tights. She patted me down with paper towels, completely unaware of how I destroyed Easter for everyone.
We sat in church, where I learned dead Jesus was in a cave, then came back to life, and everyone was happy. I worried that I smelled bad or that someone would know what I had done. Someone gave me candy that Mom immediately took away. I ran around in the church basement eating doughnuts and playing with the kids. At some point there were baby chicks. I played with them until I was herded into the car.
As we turned down our street I saw the dead Easter Bunny was gone, which filled me with hope. I asked something like, “Did the dead Easter Bunny come back to life?”
My brother sneered, “That’s stupid.”
Mom turned around and said, very seriously, “The Easter Bunny is not dead.”
I saw him dead. He was lying in front of the house. Dead. Then he was gone. I asked Dad about this later and, all I remember from the conversation was that I didn’t kill anyone and both the Easter Bunny and Santa are really Jesus. It was confusing, but indelible.
What I believed for a very long time after that was that the Easter Bunny and Santa weren’t real. Hell, no. Jesus himself would creep out of the painting to give us presents.