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  • Writer's pictureElira Barnes

Monsters - by Christina Winds

To all of you with your own 'she' (or 'he')

who are still fighting your monsters.

Stay strong.

The door stared at you from across the street like an angry cyclops—a funny thing to think about an otherwise normal front door. But behind that door, your nightmares lived. The invisible ones. The ones no one could see. The ones that no one believed existed until they felt the tearing of the claws on their own souls. Or at least no one who would admit to it.

"You worthless cunt!" One of the more common monsters that picked at your soul hovered around the still-closed door, as vicious in memory as it had been in actuality. Still invisible, but you knew it waited there, as always.

"Slut! A whore like you will never amount to anything!" The first monster's best friend, always together. An odd insult to be thrown at a virgin, but then reality never affected any of the monsters in that house. They all appeared and disappeared at the whim of her. The real world rarely entered that house across the street. Inside that house was only her world.

"But she's your mother!" The oft-heard remembered phrase echoed through your mind. This monster stood with others of its kind, forming an unbreakable perimeter around the house. Sentries supplied by Others who refused to believe in the very monsters they created. Insubstantial as mist and as unbreakable as steel, those monsters formed the walls that caged you your whole childhood, defining the borders of the reality-free zone and trapping you there. Because she had given birth, she was allowed to distort reality, to bend it to her will and hers alone.

"She means well!" Another monster walking the perimeter. The guard monsters were different. Sometimes they tried to sneak into the house, but they could never stay. Even the reality-free zone couldn't make the pat phrases ring true inside the cyclops house and so the monsters lost their claws. But Others on the outside believed what they said, never knowing the words they meant to be encouraging were in truth monsters with vicious teeth. The guard monsters had power outside the house—the power to keep you trapped. She always acted as the perfect parent when outside the house, the monsters hidden from view. Nothing to see here. Isn't she a wonderful person? A great mother? There was no escape from the cyclops house because the Others saw nothing to escape from.

Her monsters always stayed inside the house, the line definitive and immutable. She kept them there, displaying her mastery over them. They were never allowed to appear where Others might notice them, might feel the brush of wind as the claws swiped at you. Others could fight the monsters as your child self had not been able to do. Therefore, the monsters never revealed themselves to Others.

Big monsters that left you sobbing in corners as they raged around the house, loud and malicious, battering you without leaving a mark. Tiny monsters that never touched you in the flesh but took little nibbles at your soul until, one itty bitty bite at a time, your soul lay in shreds inside you.

Others could almost, almost, feel the claws of the big monsters sometimes. They believed the big monsters could exist, at least, though the surgical precision of the claws sunk into your psyche disguised the depth of the cuts, hiding them from the Others behind simple words like "good intentions" or "just stressed". Those monster words joined the other guards on the perimeter as the big monsters inside left their gaping wounds unable to heal. Occasionally one of the Others, more sensitive than most, might even try to lend a hand in your defense, and the big monsters would go into hiding, adding more perimeter guards until the truth of the cyclops house was completely obscured. Eventually the Other would decide there was no big monster after all, and they would go away, assuring you that the big monsters weren't actually monsters at all. You knew better. But at least they had tried. It reassured you to know that the monsters were, in fact, monsters after all.

But the tiny monsters were the worst. Tiny monsters—those Others didn't believe in at all. They hid so well behind excuses and "not so bads." "You must be mistaken," the Others told you. "I'm sure she didn't mean it that way." She was an expert at hiding her monsters from the world, the tiny ravenous beasts flickering into existence just long enough to tear at you before once again hiding behind her pleasant face. They attacked only you, never revealing themselves to Others as they delivered their tiny scratches. But even slicing a bare millimeter at a time, eventually the gash will go down to the bone...and hurts a million times worse to get there.

You understood the Others, though. It was hard to feel the little ones if they weren't aimed at you. Others didn't like to admit that such things existed anyway. She, after all, was a mother and mothers were supposed to defeat monsters, not spawn them. And they were camouflaged with exquisite expertise. There was the tiny monster of gift-giving, for example. Never a gift you want or could use—like the coveted electronic toy she had refused to buy batteries for and useless without them, ultimately given away because "you never even played with it!" Sometimes a gift of actual trash that belonged in a landfill instead of a gift box—like the odd cardboard tubes pulled from the trash can at her office that she "thought you would find useful"...though you had no idea for what. The year of the cardboard tubes exposed a second monster as well: the gift-monster with the best camouflage and sharpest claws. It came in the form of that special something you had asked and begged for, bought and left out where you could 'accidentally' see it with sly glances from her as she took note of your excitement and anticipation, then seen wrapped neatly in pretty paper...with someone else's name on the tag.

But how dare you be so selfish and unappreciative that you mention your hurt.

"At least she gave you something," Others would say. Such was the effectiveness of the gift-monster's camouflage: hiding the insult of the gift behind the act of giving. "It's the thought that counts." Which was true, of course. But that 'thought' was the monster, stiletto-sharp claws aiming for what would hurt most. It took effort, after all, to pinpoint the weakest spot to apply a 'gift'. To cloak it in the shadows of apparent 'good intentions' so that it could approach you, unseen by Others, to inflict the most damage. Yes, the thought counted—one more tiny monster among the crowd.

In front of the cyclops house, the Other you were waiting for arrives. You exit your car, braver now that he is here. The kind man in the uniform walks with you to the door. She opens it in her pretty dress and convincing expression of concern. The officer's shiny badge scares the monsters at first and they hide behind her smile. But her need to control you overcomes their fear as they feel you slipping away. One at a time, they emerge to take swipes at you as if they can't help themselves.

"I don't know what you're talking about," was the first one. A familiar monster, bolder than the rest and around more often. When you were a child, it had hidden the other monsters, making you seem crazy so that Others wouldn't believe you when you told them of all the monsters that existed. It had succeeded then. But long experience has left the officer immune to its claws and even you barely feel their sting now. You're used to the lie, so you ignore it and continue on your way, while the officer escorting you drains the monster of its power.

She'd had no warning you'd be here today, and the surprise put the monsters on edge. You could almost see them shuffling as they decided who would go next.

"I don't remember that," gets pushed to the front as you open the drawer you had come to open. Inside, where you had watched her place them, rests what you came for—all the legal documents that are yours and yours alone, held hostage by the monsters that want to trap you inside the cyclops house again. The record of your birth. The card that allows you to legally work, no longer dependent on her. You rescue them as the man at your side keeps the monsters from barring the path. Siblings "I was just joking," and "You're too sensitive!" try to get past him, but they can't reach you anymore and you ignore them.

Other monsters appear. They wear your father's face, but she still controls them. "You owe your mother respect" stands side by side with "We're family. Family sticks together. We support each other." Funny, you think, with no urge to smile. You thought your so-called family only stuck with her. They certainly hadn't stuck with you or supported you. But that was how it was in the cyclops house. Words only meant what she decided they meant. To her, 'stick together' meant 'do what she wanted.' Only once you'd escaped into college did you discover that the rest of the world defined it differently. With reciprocity. What a revelation that had been!

As you turn to leave the cyclops house, the large monster named Guilt blocks your path. "I don't know what you think I've done to deserve this!" This monster was an actor and shape-changer, currently manifesting in tears and a quivering voice. The tone was always the same, though, no matter which form the monster took. This monster was designed to bring whole crowds into sympathy with it, recruiting everyone within earshot to add their own monsters to the perimeter guard around the cyclops house, strengthening the barrier. But the man in uniform clearly isn't fooled. He helps you past the monster while refusing to create his own.

True to its nature, the monster changes form ,attacking again. "I did the best I could!" But her mastery of the monsters is absolute, so you know that's a lie. The monsters only do as she directs, so obviously she has directed them to attack you, over and over throughout the years. Perhaps that was the truth that made the claim believable: she was the 'best' at orchestrating their attacks, so she had indeed 'done her best'.

More monsters join the party as they see the door opening for you, trying to inflict as much damage as they can before you escape. "I paid for your food and clothes! Put a roof over your head!" was first, pushing ahead as if it were a monster more special than the rest, not seeming to realize that inside other houses, it wasn't a monster at all. But in her warped reality, it had claws and teeth that were used to rend. "I raised you better than this!" "You're going to break your brother's heart!" In their desperation, the monsters lose their fear of the man at your side and appear en masse, fast and heavy. The man in uniform can't save you from all of the claws, but he gives you the strength you need to continue towards the door. A supportive hand under your arm tells you that he is aware of the rending swipes, the damage they are inflicting. Maybe he would describe them to the Others — the ones who might be able to help your brother escape the monsters, too. You'd ask him once you were free. Witnesses were vital when the monsters usually hid so well.

"You can't make it on your own. You'll come crawling back one day!" shoved itself into place in front of the door, thinking it had you beat. It may have fooled you once, before you realized how warped was the reality inside the cyclops house. But having been outside, the tangled twists were made obvious and you could see past it to the truth. You have already defeated that monster. It just hasn't discovered that yet. You are stronger than the monster knows. Much stronger than it wanted you to know.

As you and the officer make your way to the cyclops door, your younger brother watches you from the doorway to his room. He knows better than to get in the monster's path. Stay safe, brother, you think to yourself. You know saying the words aloud will only remind the monsters that your brother is there, turning their attacks to him, so you stay silent and hope your brother reads the words in your eyes instead. Your brother nods almost imperceptibly. He knows how it is. He fights the monsters every day, too.

At last you make it to the door. As you open it, the monsters make one last attack. "I did everything for you, and you treat me like this." Standing side by side with "You'd be nothing without me!" and "I gave you your very life!" With a roll of his eyes, the man in uniform brushes them aside and the two of you step out into the sun. The officer walks you to your car, seeing you safely into it with a final look of warning back at the monsters. You thank him for keeping you safe. The officer tells you of the report he will be writing with the descriptions of the monsters that had emerged in front of him. You smile at him, a bit watery but sincere, and tell him of the home you are making away from the cyclops house — a home with an extra space perfect for a younger brother. He nods at you with understanding, then there is nothing more he can do except watch you drive away, holding the monsters at bay as you make your escape.

BUT THERE IS ONE MORE person you called on to help you today, so you drive back around, parking far back from the house with the cyclops door where the monsters can't see you. You hide and wait, watching.

As you wait, you can almost feel the new monsters forming, growing. She knows you won't go back into the house, so the new monsters must be able to go outside and range far from the cyclops house. "I'm paying for your education!" had been vanquished early on when you won your scholarships for college. Its remains only nourish the others that had appeared in its place. "You're my child. I can come to your house if I want!" was the first one. It was still small, having appeared while you were in the first years of college, but it would grow larger now that you had graduated and moved into your own place. "I have the right to see my grandchildren!" was barely there so far, but it would grow quickly as soon as you married or thought of having children. "I just want to know that you're alright," had appeared while you were in college also, a camouflaged monster revealed to Others as a comfy blanket to wrap you in while the hidden teeth gnaw away at your very essence as you remain bound within its folds. That monster was a master locksmith, unlocking the suspicions of others to slip past them with ease. Gatekeepers young and old, from dorm monitors to apartment managers, have been fooled by the mask that monster wears, allowing it to slip past them with no fight at all.

You wait for the Other you called on to help you defeat these newer monsters as well.

At last, another stenciled car appears in front of the cyclops house. Another uniform gets out and approaches the door. This uniform is worn by a woman, which you find a bit amusing. She won't like that—another woman daring to tell her what was and was not allowed with her own child. But the female officer ignores all the monsters and delivers her message anyway. From your hidden parking spot, you can see her face as she reads the missive, can feel the monsters raging behind her pleasant façade. They aren't happy to be told she can no longer approach you, she can no longer have the monsters appear at your house and in your email and on your phone. They must stay away from you now, the paper says.

She says something sharp to the woman in uniform, trying to send one of the waiting monsters to attack the one who dared to deliver such a message. The claws slide off as the officer dismisses them all with blithe unconcern, enraging them more, as the woman in uniform strolls back to her car and drives away.

The door of the cyclops house closes with a bang, trapping the monsters inside. You smile. Around the house, you picture new walls of your own making being built to replace the perimeter guards. You laid the foundation when you asked the officers for help and the framing for the walls had just been delivered. Brick by brick, you enclose the monsters in a cage where they can't reach you anymore. Walling them off with her in her alternate reality where they can no longer infect you with their presence.

Driving away, you find yourself feeling lighter and freer than you've ever felt in your life. The monsters were now trapped behind the walls the Others in uniform had helped you build. It no longer mattered if so many were invisible to most Others — because they had shown themselves long enough for you to get help with the wall. They had left their clawed footprints around your school and in your email, finally leaving traces that Others could see. And if this wall didn't hold, there was another one, a stronger one, that you can build with iron bars. All it would take is for the monsters to break through just once and the Others would help you begin building that stronger wall. Eventually, there would be a wall the monsters couldn't escape.

There is a moment of sadness when you think of your brother. You'll prepare for him to build his own walls, you remind yourself. Once your walls are strong enough and well-established, his can be built on top of yours. So you'll make those foundations strong for him. When his own construction materials arrive, when the Others belatedly understand that the monsters attack him too, you'll be ready to help him lay his own bricks.

Another pang of sadness at the thought of your father, so infested with monsters that he no longer realizes that they are there.

Perhaps, in time, your walls might damage the monsters enough for him to notice them again. Maybe then he could free himself as well. Perhaps, one day, even she will fight her way free of the monsters too, though you wouldn't expect so. She enjoys their company too much.

But that's all right. It no longer matters to you. You have launched your lifeboat and you finally feel as if you have stopped drowning. For so long, the monsters have held you down until you couldn't breathe. Now, with them confined to the cyclops house and away from you, you take your first breath of crystal-clear air, free of their taint. It tastes sweet.



Christina Winds joined a support group to help her deal with a narcissist in her own life. The wonderful advice and caring she was given inspired a desire to return the favor, so she stuck around to offer what help she could to others. The heartbreaking reports of what some survivors have gone through - or are still going through - were the inspiration for Monsters. She prays that it brings strength and hope to anyone living with monsters. And understanding to those lucky enough to have never experienced it for themselves.


Follow and get in touch with Christina Winds

Twitter: @ChristinaWinds


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