real monsters don’t wear costumes

“It’s just a costume, right, Daddy? Right? It’s just a costume?”

His face is pinched . . . anxious and fretful, and he keeps glancing over his shoulder as he trails after his daddy. Daddy is walking away, striding toward the parking lot, a young baby girl cradled in his arms, not looking back.

I never hear daddy’s answer. But I see the costume . . . someone dressed up like Frankenstein’s monster trying to lure customers into a party store. He’s not real.

Real monsters never wear costumes.

At least, mine never have.

Real monsters are exactly as they appear. I am the one who decorates them with my illusions. I dress them up with ignorance, hope, expectation, and fear. I give them voices that promise oceans of security, toys made in heaven, and love the color of gumdrops.

Love bargained for on the edge of survival a long, long time ago.

Real monsters don’t search for me. I find them all by myself. And when the terror of their reality overwhelms me, I hide them and lock them away behind thickly shadowed doors and windows painted opaquely blank because I don’t want to see. I know what lies in those rooms. My monsters crouch there . . . testing the locks . . . rattling the doorknob . . . dark, dark monsters scratching at the glass, fingernails tapping in serenade.

Are you ready? Do you want to play?

Not yet, not yet, I whisper, laying my cheek against the wood, pressing my ear against its coldness to hear their reply.

You can’t keep us here forever, they say. Let us out. It is time to play.

But I walk away even as my hand passes temptingly close to the lock. I wander past open doors where I once housed monsters now released. Some rooms are filled with years of dust. Some are newly swept clean. The light shines in most of them . . . twinkling breezes and the faint song of chimes.

Then I see the splintered door – raw spikes of shattered wood. A fractured window – an icy fountain of glass sparkling as if lit from within by a thousand stars. My breath freezes in my throat. What monster escapes this place?

A speckled trail – sharp slices of glass and tiny shards of ancient wood – ends at the edge of a deep and black room. I reach up to light my way and a cascade of blinding sun steals my sight. I close my eyes.

Invisible shuffling in the dark. The muffled sound of silent breath. A presence crouching in the corner.

I have to engage my monster without eyes to see. I am blind, I say strongly, fearfully.

In an instant there are four pairs of arms holding on to me . . . friends I only know by touch and sound.

We will guide you.

We will guide you.

Anxious warnings ring in my head. My skin prickles in nervous anticipation of the assault. I know it is only my imagination that keeps the monster in the dark. The scorching light is clearly lighting me for it to see. Seconds of time blink by . . . quiet ticking of the eternal clock. Several days and nights pass before I realize a solitary truth.

Each of us is afraid of the other.

Yet the monster is more afraid of me than I am of him. I have the power to lock him away in darkness again. And that thought tempts me.

How awful can I be? He asks me invisibly. You created me. How awful can I be?

Tell me, monster, tell me your story.

It is the cost of the loss, he tells me. The loss costs so much.

What loss? I need to know. What loss?

The connection you severed, he tells me, when you locked me away. What trust is there for me in you . . . you with your great and terrible power to disconnect me?

I feel his sorrow more than I hear it. A sad and sorry monster crying in the corner of a brilliant room that I refuse to see because my eyes remain closed. For several days, he remains silent.

Multitudes of hours pass before I realize I can only hear him with my heart.

I am what is real, he says. I am the total vulnerability of you. I am what you fear most to lose. You lock me away so you can never lose me. But you can never touch me either . . . his tears splash my skin and fill behind my eyes. I want to live real again, he says with muffled cries, to walk within your heart.

His longing undresses my defenses. His voice stirs the emptiness within me.

I know, I whisper to him. I don’t know how.

In the night, I feel him speak. You called to me, he says, you gave me strength.

In the morning, I feel a hand reaching for me . . . a hand no bigger than a child’s. Waves of sadness tug at me as if I am a great sea and the tide is ebbing away from my shore. Where does this sorrow lead?

To everything dangerous that could ever harm me.

But I am a big person now . . . bigger than my monster. My survival does not need to be bargained for.

Nor does my love.

Or my being loved.

Eyes still closed, I take my monster’s hand and ask him, will you walk with me today?

Somehow, he finds space within the cold distant person I can be. And I open my eyes to the light.

I see all the years of responding to life one step removed, observing from my place of safety. The realness of me walked in darkness, emerging only to find penalties to pay for being real, and eventually I locked my real monster away, preferring to be that which bought me the illusion of love and acceptance.

In the light, he walks with me, lying close to the heart of my responses to living, nudging me, reminding me that he lives here, too. The arms of friends wrapped around me, I venture into the unknown.

I know nothing at all. In spite of the years of learning, yearning, reading, applying, crying, examining, talking, walking, thinking, hoping, coping, wanting, needing . . . I know nothing. My knowing must grow from this nothing.

10/11/07 – 10/26/07
©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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3 Responses to “real monsters don’t wear costumes”

  1. Spiritual Warrior « Eternal Presence Says:

    […] read more about my monsters, go to “real monsters don’t wear costumes” under my About […]

  2. holessence Says:

    Barbara, this is an incredibly powerful and moving piece, one that’s touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — I wrote this nearly three years ago (as you can tell from the original date). It was a journey that took several days to sort out and discover. For me, it was a powerful discovery of a love/abandonment theme that I played with myself. I think I will be writing a little more about monsters in the near future.

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