Years ago, in small town USA, where locking your doors was optional and leaving your keys in the car as you ran into the tiny grocery mart that served the community was common practice, people never once gave monsters a thought. They didn’t dream they existed in real life. You didn’t read about them in the weekly 6-page newspaper; nor in the paper from the small city 30 minutes to the east. They were the things of a young child’s imagination, of story books and badly done horror movies. Good for a thrill or a scare, but they had no substance, nor were they something to be feared.
The monsters of that day wore a mask and walked among us. They went to church and served as volunteers for popular worthy causes. They held down respectable jobs, bought nice homes, laughed with their coworkers and prayed before meals. They hunted and fished and bowled. Sat in the bleachers at neighborhood baseball games while child after child struck out amid giggles and chants, not worried about winning while having a great time playing. They blended in, vigilantly hiding their true character and motives beneath carefully crafted facades that wholly concealed their ugliness. Their selfishness. Their lust.
So, it makes sense that the monsters in my house didn’t hide under the beds, disguise themselves in dark corners or conceal themselves behind closet doors. They weren’t afraid of the daylight; didn’t worry about needing to stick to the shadows to remain undetected. Nor were they worried about being exposed by someone who thought they caught a hint of something nightmarish behind their broad smile. Why fear detection when no one believes you exist?
My monsters sat with me at the dinner table. But no one else saw them for who they were.
I did try to rip the mask from their faces a couple of times, in hopes of saving myself.
I told the pastor of the local Baptist church, only to be chastised, humiliated and sent home with a stern warning to never lie about them again. He would not listen to my pleas or hear the description of what I knew from experience truly reclined behind their disguise. They were, after all, respected members of the community. I was nothing more than a troubled child. Sullen and sensitive. Shy and strange.
On another occasion when depression and fear sought to eat me whole, I confided in an admired teacher at my high school. But she also didn’t believe me and rejected my desperate disclosure, acting thereafter as if I weren’t even in her classroom, refusing to acknowledge my presence, much less my suffering. I’m not sure what I expected, considering my father was also a teacher. And he taught in that small city to the east of my tiny township. The city where all the small-town teachers longed to for a classroom. Where resources were plentiful and the pay was superior, though not yet enough to provide a livable wage. In retrospect, it was rather foolish of me to expect to be rescued by someone who secretly envied and related to him.
Experience and rejection taught me to stay silent. I learned not to tell. To keep my mouth tightly shut and my heart numbed to the pain. I learned to walk silently, to ask for nothing and to fear everyone.
I learned that no one else could see the monsters.
But they were (and are) there. Hiding in plain sight. Smiling at the neighbors. Tipping the waitress. Picking up their mail from the post office. Raking leaves. Washing the car. Pretending to be nothing more than the disguise they have carefully constructed and religiously maintained.
I couldn’t escape them. At best, I hoped only to survive.
Abuse exacts a toll. Survival comes at a cost. They stole almost everything of importance from me. My trust. My innocence. My hope. My value. My dreams. My soul. My heart. They twisted my thinking and broke me down into jagged, shattered, hurting pieces. Hitting me. Rejecting. Demanding more. They were selfish and judging. Withholding acceptance, medical care, touch. Except to touch me in places they shouldn’t. In ways I shouldn’t have been touched, especially by a father. At ages when I was too young to even begin to understand what was being done to me.
That’s when the facade failed. That’s when I saw them for who they were. When they dripped with evil passion and allowed lust and self-centeredness to control them. That’s when I realized monsters were real. And far more frightening than any horror movie had ever portrayed.
I still feel them lurking. Watching. Not the monster parents who gave birth to me, for they are long dead. But others. I catch their reflection in a window glass. Out of the corner of my eye as I walk by. I see it in the way they look at a child. In unguarded seconds. I see it in their expression. In their eyes. Monstrous wickedness. Painstakingly veiled.
You will see them too, if you dare to look.
The only way to stop them is to expose them. But to expose them, you have to be willing to see the unthinkable instead of turning away. You have to be able to acknowledge their existence rather than writing them off as an illusion while telling yourself they only live in the realm of twisted imagination.
There are monsters among us. Monsters who are worse than your wildest nightmare or most hideous fictitious devil. Lurking. Plotting and planning. Preying. You still don’t read about them all that often. But they are there. Shopping for groceries. Mowing their lawn. Stopping at red traffic lights. Singing in the choir. Biding their time. Waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.