(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
By Stacey Jay, author of JULIET IMMORTAL
There are few things that can prepare you for motherhood like reading Pet Sematary by Stephen King.
Yes. I know. Allow me to explain—
Books, movies, friends, parents—you draw from each of these fonts of wisdom during your pregnancy. You take everything they have to offer and by month nine you think you’ve got a handle on the “Mommy” thing. Then the baby comes and Blows. Your. Freaking. Mind.
You aren’t ready! The books were wrong! Your friends were crazy—or had babies that slept a lot more (and vomited a lot less) than yours! Your parents are suffering from post-traumatic-stress-induced amnesia from your own childhood; otherwise they would have remembered that raising an infant/toddler/child/teenager is way harder than they made it out to be during those ten lunar months when you were floating around in a hormonal haze, eating ice cream by the gallon.
They totally skipped over the marrow-deep fear that sets in as you realize that the precious, fragile being in your arms is entirely dependant on you. You are responsible and emotionally invested in a way that you’ve never been before, and it can make the simplest things—like giving your baby his/her first bath—an exercise in heart-pounding terror.
At about month two of my first son’s life, I realized that Stephen King was the only person who offered me a true snapshot of what it feels like to be a parent. For those of you who haven’t read Pet Sematary:
Begin Spoiler Alert:
Pet Semetary is the story of a family who moves into a house with a cursed Native American burial ground down the street. If you’re crazy enough to bury something there, the ground will bring it back to life. First, it’s the family’s cat, then their two-year-old son (who was run over by a truck), and finally, the mother (who is killed by the resurrected two-year-old, whose body is now occupied by a flesh-eating spirit).
End Spoiler Alert.
I was thirteen when I first read Pet Sematary. I’d never thought much about having children, aside from a hazy notion that I’d like to be a mom when I grew up. But when I read about the two-year-old boy, this character I’d grown to care about, running into the street…
It kicked me in the gut. I remember feeling what I imagined a parent would feel in a way I hadn’t before. The agony of watching this child you love more than anything in the world snatched away forever. The horror of knowing you shouldn’t take the baby to the cursed burial ground, but that you’re helpless to stop yourself because you can’t let any chance to bring your child back slip through your fingers. And then, when the baby returns, and he’s….wrong. And it’s your fault. And still you love him so much, no matter how wrong he is. And then you have to put the child to rest. For real…
Simply thinking about this story is enough to make me physically ill with fright. Because there is NOTHING scarier than the possibility of losing one of my children, except perhaps the notion that—no matter how hard I try—I might fail them in some horrible fashion, the way the father in this book failed his son when he took his body to the Pet Sematary. Stephen King plays upon these fears so beautifully, so horribly, in his novel. As a thirteen-year-old girl, Pet Sematary helped me understand the concept of parental love—and the responsibility that accompanies it—in a way that Disney movies and numerous readings of Little Women hadn’t.
Some people say horror is an empty genre with nothing to offer the reader aside from guts, gore, and a few cheap thrills. I disagree. I believe there are times when experiencing our deepest fears can help us recognize our deepest loves. Sometimes a good scare is a valuable reminder of what is most precious.
Stacey Jay is the author of Juliet Immortal, the forthcoming sequel, Romeo Redeemed, as well as several other books for children and adults.
Visit Stacey at staceyjay.com.
Follow @stacey_jay on Twitter.