julie: on monsters

I was looking at a picture of the characters from “Where the Wild Things Are” when I picked “monsters” as a topic.

One of my mother’s best talents was making books come to life; she lost herself in the story and she took you with her.  She used to read that book to my son and he would be there, with the fun monsters.  When it was produced as a play, she took him to see it.  A stuffed “Where the Wild Things Are” animal that she bought him sat around his room for years.  I wouldn’t say it was his favorite book, but I think it might be one of the first things he might answer if you said, “What comes to mind when you hear the word, “monsters?”  I’m not sure how well I succeeded, sometimes I see now I am so like my mother, but I tried my best to make sure that there were as few bad monsters in my wonderful son’s childhood as possible.

Ginny and I share that, bad monsters in the story book of our childhoods.  I knew that might be where her mind went when I sent the topic, and I knew that might be where she thought my mind was when I chose it.  It wasn’t.  I was looking at the friendly, cuddly monsters that surely have inhabited the good dreams of many, many children.  But then it did, my mind did go to those monsters of nightmares that, unfortunately,  weren’t just bad dreams.  I wondered if that’s part of what makes people bond as friends of a certain kind, what you think of when you hear the word, “monsters.”

People used to have loud discussions all the time in my mother’s home.  Very loud sometimes, about politics and attitudes and what to do about what and all kinds of ideas.  My mother usually prevailed in these discussions, people thought she knew what she was talking about, they would say that, “She knows what she is talking about.”  There were also arguments,  like with my father and the various boyfriends that came after him and before my step father.  If she wasn’t winning those, she would do something dramatic or drastic and that would just be that; finished with the kind of exclamation point that only something close to a serious crime could top.

But my step father could outdo my mother.  He would win.  Or if she was just determined, if he had won and she wouldn’t stop,  he would just be done.  She would get totally frustrated and though she would claim victory, it was obvious it wasn’t the same;  my mother liked to out talk you, out think you, out whatever it took to make you know that you had just been out everything’d.  I had to know how he was doing this.  I asked him just that, “How do you win with her?”  He told me there were certain things, words or ideas, that made my mother unable to think clearly ( he loved her and really thought that she did mostly think clearly).  He said it was like other things he and I had talked about, it was about giving up your power by letting a word or  suggestion make you just react rather than think.  He said that when he had had enough, he would just say one of these and she would lose steam.  I realized when I got a little older that he was sometimes being mean when he did that, but really, sometimes doing whatever it took to make my mother “lose steam” was mostly forgivable.  She forgave him after she didn’t.  I guess when she got a little older and started really thinking clearly more often.

I thought of that as I was thinking about this topic.  As I went through my mind,  opening closets and looking under the bed,  I wasn’t feeling those monsters, I was thinking about them.  I wasn’t panicked about them appearing, I was thinking about all of all of it.  Nothing happened.  So I went back with a flashlight.  I was thinking maybe they had gotten used to those cracks of light I have been shining on them for a while now and feel less threatened, maybe I would need some really new and really bright light to expose them and make them feel vulnerable enough to jump out and try to scare me.

I finally found some of them.  I found them, they didn’t find me.

I can’t count the times I have heard my step father’s lesson going through my mind.  There have been paths and places I have traveled to and through and up and down that have tried to get me to understand that lesson in a “deeper” way, make owning my power as much a tool as a weapon.  Or maybe more correctly, a tool so I don’t need a weapon.  I have had some successes, I have slain a couple of things as they blocked my path.  But as I stood there, in my mind, looking at all these monsters who now looked rather pitiful without their powers, I realized I had finally gotten it; I had become the powerful one.

I don’t expect I will ever stop thinking of a certain group of very unfriendly and decidedly not cuddly creatures when I hear the word monsters nor do I expect I will ever lose the memory of what they did,  the fear they can caused.  But I am thinking now, and I think maybe now it will all start to be just that, a memory.  These monsters will  something I have the power to think or not think of rather than a feeling with a life of its own that crushes me.

So tonight I am happy as I am writing about monsters.  I am looking at the monsters of  “Where the Wild Things Are” and hearing my mother read to my son and seeing his huge smile and hearing him laugh when she has finished and tickles him as she tucks him in to go to sleep.

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