When the blockbuster 1960s series called The Twilight Zone featured an episode entitled TALKING TINA, I was 6 years old, and a second grade student in a very strict and demanding Catholic school. I lived in an emotional state that ranged from hypervigilance to barely concealed panic- such an overwhelming atmosphere was this for a young child. One weekend in the fall of this particular year, my mother arranged, at my insistence, for me to spend the weekend with my great aunt Genevieve, a fairy godmother of sorts, who owned a rambling old Victorian home in Cape May, N.J. Genevieve was a hearth of hospitality and warmth, full of fun and mischief unparalleled by any other adult I knew, and a colossal reprieve from the exacting religious sisters who were my teachers and torturers. My aunt and I, from the beginning, shared a love of being frightened by the unexpected…..within the confines of fiction and movies, of course. On the Saturday night of my visit, after donning our flannel nightgowns and scattering blankets along her huge maw of a sofa, we cozied up to each other to watch TALKY TINA.
The house was appropriately drafty and sibilant. As the delicious fear of the unknown enveloped me when the doll’s maniacal wickedness develops in the episode, I looked to my aunt, hoping to see my scared delight mirrored, but her eyes were closed, and her head slumped over. I was bewildered and terrified. I remembered that my mother, her niece, would exhort us to have fun whenever she witnessed our twin flame energies align, but she would also ask me not to let her get too excited. I never actually understood what felt like a looming subtext to my mother’s request, and always found this phrase strangely unsettling. My aunt had suffered a massive and fatal heart attack, as I sat next to her, thoroughly engrossed in the program. I took off, running out if the house, wailing and screaming uncontrollably until a neighbor came to my aid. I was shattered and whirling in terror. I feel so divided about sharing this experience, because my fear that the episode and I were somehow responsible for her demise, is a visceral feeling I have never been able to expunge, even after years of therapy, and the depression and shame I harbored as a young child paralyzes me to this day if anyone in my midst mentions The Twilight Zone.