Friday, February 13, 2009

Supernatural Slumber Parties

It being Friday the 13th tonight, I have been doing some thinking about "super" things--superstitions and the supernatural in particular. And somehow, this track of thought has led me back to the "tween" days of BFFs (though back then, of course, no one used these terms); to those goofy, giggly, just-starting-to-cop-an-attitude years, when it suddenly became clear that friends were infinitely more important than family. Back then, the most coveted of all invitations for a Friday night was the slumber party. If it was a birthday party, too, so much the better. We would have pizza and cake; we'd strain for the best view of the birthday girl opening presents, making our mental notes (who gave the coolest gift?); we'd spend long moments haggling over where our sleeping bags would go, who'd sleep next to whom (this would invariably provoke friendly accusations of drooling, snoring, talking in your sleep, and so forth); there would be a pillow fight, a game of Slipper Scramble, maybe Truth or Dare; someone would have forgotten a toothbrush and would squirt toothpaste on her finger instead; we'd settle in for a movie (they got progressively scarier as the years went by). But the best moments always came later, after the lights went out and we were all supposed to go to sleep. No one wanted to, at first. We'd whisper, then laugh too loudly and get told by someone's mom to be quiet. Eventually, inevitably, someone would suggest the classic slumber party levitation game: Light as a feather. This is when the supernatural came into play, or so we told ourselves. Someone would lie on her back, perfectly still with her eyes closed, and the rest of us would gather around, sitting on our heels but leaning slightly forward, holding our hands palms-up on the floor and slipping a few fingers (not the whole hand) underneath the subject's head, feet, torso, legs. The girl at the head would take the lead. It was up to her to invent the story of the subject's death, the creepier the better. We would all listen eagerly, and with some dread--especially the girl about whom the story was created. From the times when it was my turn to lie there, I remember the vulnerability and the fear that somehow, the girl telling the story would mortify you with some embarrassing detail of your demise. The stories always ended the same way. No matter the grisly method of death, the storyteller would say, "When they found her body, she was light as a feather, stiff as a board." And then everyone would begin a whispering chant: light as a feather, stiff as a board; light as a feather . . . and the lifting would begin. If the first time didn't work so well--if the body was not lifted up with the impression of effortless motion--it's true that subsequent turns, in a cycle of self-fulfilling prophesy, were more successful. Willing to believe, determined to make it so, the fingertips can lift a body. And at eleven, twelve years old, you can convince yourself it's with the help of spirits, magic. I wish I could remember the specific stories that I told, or that were told about me. I cannot. Eventually, we'd start to get tired, and although no one wanted to be the first to fall asleep, once someone did, it was not long before most of the others did, too. Then there were the holdouts, like me. Like my friend, E. G. For us, with the spooky shivers gone for the night, we'd turn our attention to pranks on the slumbering innocents. Levitation was over, but there was always shaving cream; there were always hands to place in bowls of warm water.

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