Monster – Chapter 2 (Non-Fiction)
CHAPTER 1 LINK
As unpredictable as the monster was, sometimes she was like a VCR tape that had been watched until the machine ate it. Over the years, her need to lash out, to punish, to hurt, could always be counted on. The abuses piled on, from the time she beat me with a belt so vigorously that it broke into two sections when I was six, to the most frightening moment of my entire life when she tried to force me to put my hands on the kitchen table so she could cut my fingers off after I damaged some of her kitchen knives at age eight.
I spent the majority of my young life in such a state of fear that she would eventually kill me during a blind rage that I’m still damaged by the trauma to this day. Books and baseball were my only true outlets of escape, and baseball was a summers-only affair that couldn’t be relied upon during the majority of the year. Books, on the other hand, allowed me to leave my world and enter others, from the strange, horrifying settings Stephen King created, to the somewhat cheesy but still enjoyable Nancy Drew series. As an adult, I find myself comparing my imagination to that of Calvin, from the comic strip by Bill Watterson, “Calvin and Hobbes,” except instead of having two loving parents, I had a single, terrifying, toothless, monstrous creature who was as real as some of Calvin’s imagined beasts.
Devouring books, from whatever I could constantly check out at the public library, to the numerous books lining the shelves within the duplex that was more prison and torture chamber than a home, is the one thing that kept me sane, kept me from eventually turning the tables on the monster and murdering her. The monster realized that this was likely an eventual outcome at some point, as the object of her fury continued to grow both physically and mentally, and she knew that one day I would no longer be the punching bag who would cower and cry as she rained down physical blows, enhanced by a flurry of verbal strikes designed to keep me from believing that I was anything but a worthless piece of shit—as if her goal was to be able to look back one day and think, “He turned out exactly as I predicted!”
The abuse ended at age thirteen, having finally reached puberty and beginning to show far less fear each time her need to punish me manifested. It started first with talking back, but in a subtle manner instead of outright confrontation, until the day I stood still, accepting her combined abuses without flinching, without crying out, only regarding her with somewhat dead eyes and an expression that alerted her to the fact I would not tolerate it much longer. I had already been fantasizing of killing her for the last year or more, imagining how it would play out each time I approached her Lazy-Boy recliner with her dinner or drink in my hands. It would have been easy to hand her the items, then grab a short rope from my pocket and wrap it around her neck, pulling the ends together until there was no longer any life left within her. I can’t even remember the countless ways in which I knew I could pay her back with a knife drawn across her throat, or even jammed into it repeatedly, until her heart stopped pumping the blood that would drain out of her in a torrent.
Thankfully, I never went down this dark path, no matter how many times I wanted to. What I wanted more than anything was the same as any prisoner who has served a long sentence: to be free, to walk outside, see the sky, and know that I would never have to return to a cell that harbored enough traumatic memories to last a dozen persons a dozen lifetimes. The monster sensed that such an outcome was preferable to the alternative, which was the turning of tables and me beginning to punish her in the ways she had inflicted upon me for thirteen years.
One night, after a pizza party for our seventh grade football team having gone undefeated for the season, a pizza party that I was forbidden to attend but I did anyway, I arrived home at around 9 P.M. to find a note on the door that announced I no longer lived in her home, and that if I tried to get in, she would call the police. My thirteen year old brain did not understand that if the police were called, she would be the one in trouble, but it did realize that this was my big break, my escape from the prison of horrors, and that I was finally free. With no possessions other than the clothes on my back and my bicycle, I rode to a friend’s house and asked if I could stay the night. From there, I moved in with my grandmother on the other side of Twin Falls, where I would remain off and on until tracking down my father in Orlando, Florida, and moving there when I was fifteen.
The intervening years were not much better than the first thirteen spent with the monster. My father turned out to be a drunk with severe bipolar issues, and I bounced around from place to place until I met my first wife, Nicole. As an unstable individual with a history of abuse under my belt, I ended up ruining her life along with the lives of the two children we had over the next few years. The bright spot was that I got a job for a local mom and pop computer chain, and my love for computers and all things nerdy allowed me to have a career that spanned twenty years—though there were many gaps in that career in my early twenties thanks to me being a drug addict who could never seem to get my shit together. By the time I left Florida permanently in 2000, I had destroyed a marriage, a family, and every single friendship I had cultivated over the twelve years I’d lived there.
I had only planned to stay in Idaho for a few weeks after coming back. My goal was to seek out friends and reconnect before moving on to Portland, Oregon, where I could begin a new life now that I had been sober for a couple of years. Three days after coming home, my sister called me with the news that that monster had been rushed to the hospital after breaking a hip. The monster was only in her fifties, and the injury was surprising in the sense that a broken hip usually only affected persons in their sixties or older, especially women who had osteoporosis. The news was even worse than that. My sister told me that not only had the monster broken a hip, it didn’t happen from a fall. The monster was so obese that the weight of her upper body had simply put too much pressure on the bone to the point it broke. During surgery, the doctors found her body riddled with cancer, specifically bone cancer.
I remember standing in the kitchen of my father’s single-wide trailer (he had moved back to Idaho two years before I left Florida to come home), holding the phone to my ear, trying to process the fact that the monster who had beaten me, tortured me, nearly murdered me at least four times, was now lying on a hospital bed, being eaten up with bone cancer. It was so far advanced that even if we were rich and could afford the best oncology experts in the world, she was going to die, and it was going to be ugly and painful as the disease progressed. The mixture of relief and sadness conflicted greatly with a terrible sense of joy, of revenge, of the ecstasy she was getting some of what she deserved for how she had treated not just me, but my brother and sister during our childhoods.
As much as I hated her, and that hate extended far beyond the bounds of any hate any human being has ever felt for their worst enemy, I decided I would go see her. I was still planning on leaving for Portland in a week or so, and I knew it would be the very last time I would get to see the monster before she was no more. Part of me wanted to see her one last time so I could gloat, to have the chance to finally tell her how I felt, how much I hated her, how revolting she was as a human being, and how giddy I was that she would die a horrible, painful, wasting death. Another, much smaller part of me, wanted, needed her to acknowledge what she did to us, to me, as if I would be her deathbed priest she could confess to. Mostly I just wanted to see her suffering, and as much as I tried, I could find no guilt or shame within me at being filled with such a desire.
I made plans to drive from Burley to Twin Falls a few days later, but those plans were interrupted by another call from my sister, who informed me the monster had broken her other hip the morning I was to go see her. The doctors had been able to prop her up on crutches while changing her bedding, but her weight shattered the other hip, and she collapsed to the floor. A week later, after two more surgeries, I finally went to see her.
The joy I felt at her situation, the happiness that I felt that she was finally paying the price for being a creature out of my darkest nightmares, died the instant I walked into her room at the nursing home they had transferred her to. Instead of a terrible monster, I saw a weak, frail, albeit still gigantic human being in a bed, wires and tubes from a dozen machines intersecting her body in various places. Something snapped within me, and all of those emotions that centered on revenge and payback dried up and blew away in an emotional wind that made my legs shake so badly that I had no choice but to sit down.
“I heard you were back,” the monster said after I pulled up a chair next to her bed. “I’m glad you came to see me.”
Instead of the vicious tone I had heard my whole life, one tinged with threats of violence, pain, and suffering, I heard my mother’s voice for the first time in thirty-three years. She was no longer the monster, but a human being who had discovered the hard way the lessons in mortality that all us eventually have to face. I burst into tears, but still refused to touch her. I couldn’t touch her. I didn’t want to touch her. But I couldn’t stop crying, which only made it worse, as I had no idea why I was crying. I was being handed the dream I’d had since my earliest memories. The nightmare would soon be over, and I could finally wake up and get on with my life.
“Don’t cry,” she said, her voice raspy and barely audible over the humming, clicking, beeping machines.
“I can’t help it,” I said, finally grabbing her hand with mine.
It was soft, doughy, almost slimy from the cold sweat that was a result of her own fear mixed with a morphine drip. She squeezed it, and I couldn’t help but return that squeeze, letting her know without words that I would remain for as long as possible. Over the next few months, I visited her three to four times per week. We talked about everything but what I needed to talk about, yet I didn’t push it. It had to come from her, my mind decided. If I initiated the conversation about her abusive ways, I knew it wouldn’t have the same effect as it would if she were the one to begin going down that road. She had to feel guilty enough, ashamed enough about what she had done to us to bring the subject up.
Time passed slowly, her condition worsening while mine kept improving. I met the woman whom I would be married to for the next seventeen years, built up a client base in the Magic Valley that allowed me to put my soon-to-be wife through school, and was given power of attorney to take care of all of my mother’s affairs. My brother was in Dallas at the time, and though he flew in a few times, we both agreed there was nothing he could do and should remain in Dallas. My sister became incensed that Mom gave me power of attorney, which locked her out of Mom’s bank accounts, gave me the car, made me the sole decision-maker as to what should, could, or would be done until our mother died. It created a huge rift between us, but that didn’t concern me at all, as over the years, my sister had become little better than my mother—unsurprising considering how we were raised, and until recently, I felt little remorse for shoving my sister to the side and taking charge of the woman who had done everything she could to destroy us as human beings, who had done her best to create monsters in her image.
I brought my mother a Playstation and hooked it up, went to the library and checked out whatever books she wanted, made her music CDs of all her favorite music. When she was able to eat normal food, I fetched us take-out from the local places. When she was lucid, we talked about politics, baseball, movies, television shows, everything but what I still hoped we would get around to. She carried on, surviving longer than anyone thought possible, especially in her condition and still carrying so much weight that it took four orderlies to get her out of bed whenever her linens needed changing. That she had no hips left and her legs were completely useless didn’t help matters at all.
One day when my brother was in town and my sister was in the nursing home for a visit, her primary doctor gathered us in the hall and told us that Mom’s time was almost over, that it was amazing she had made it this far, but soon enough, the cancer and the morphine would finish her off with a vicious one-two punch. We needed to be ready for that day, he said, which could arrive at any moment. When we went back into the room, Mom told us she knew what the doctor had said, having been told an hour earlier. Out of us kids, I took it the hardest.
“I’m going to die soon,” Mom said. “I need you to be ready for it when it comes.”
I lost it, crashing and burning in a fury of sobs, tears, and snot. It reminded me of when Nicole was pregnant, and for nine months it felt like none of it was real, that having a child was happening to someone else until the day our son was born and everything was suddenly real, it was truly happening, and I had been in a months-long fog. For almost two years, I had been living in a fugue, a dream state, knowing that my mother was dying, but somehow not actually believing it. Her words drove it home, and suddenly everything sped up, as if a movie had been playing in slow motion and fast-forwarded to the present. The reality of my mother dying could no longer be denied.
Later, after everyone had gone home, I sat with my mother while she slept, her slumber both fitful from the pain as well as uninterrupted from the increasing amounts of morphine required to keep what had to be a torturous agony at bay. My mind wandered through thousands of memories, all of them bad, as I had maybe two, three at most, that weren’t part of the unending string of nightmares stitched together for the first thirteen years of my life. I grasped at each as they bounced around in my head, hoping to grab onto one long enough to rekindle the hate, the fury that I wanted to feel toward this woman. Each slipped through my mental fingers, as if made of sand and vaporous mist.
“I’m sorry,” Mom said at some point, alerting me that she had awoken.
“It’s okay,” I said, pushing aside my emotional wanderings to focus on her.
“It’s not okay,” she said. She barely moved her hand toward me, but I understood what she wanted, and took it in mine. “It’s not okay at all, what I did to you kids.”
I felt my heart bottom out at the same time it leapt into my throat. I remained silent, waiting to see what she would say next, if anything, or if the morphine would once again take hold and send her back into an uneasy sleep.
“I did awful things to all of you,” she said.
I felt her try to squeeze my hand, but she was too weak now to do it with any real force. It was surprising, having had that very same hand slap me, punch me until I bled, having felt it wrap itself around my throat hard enough to choke me until I passed out. That hand had wielded belts, switches, shoes, all manner of objects that had connected with my legs, my back, my skull over the years. And now it was too weak to do more than convey light pressure in mine.
“I was the worst to you,” she said softly. “I’m sorry, Travis.”
I saw the tears spill down her cheeks. I felt the sudden urge to let go of her hand, to stand up, to scream in her face how much I hated her. I wanted to become the monster she had been, that she had tried to mold me into, to remind her of every sin, of every hurt, every bruise, every cut, every trauma she had ever inflicted on me. I wanted to stalk around the room, pointing out every moment of my life that she had made into a horror movie on steroids, as if I were a courtroom lawyer in an old black and white movie, pounding a fist into my open palm as I enunciated each egregious violation of the parenting code. Instead, I shook my head.
“It’s okay, Momma,” I said, reverting back to a three year old child, using a word that I hadn’t uttered aloud in at least thirty years. She had been “Mom” until I was thirteen, then “Lynda” from then on whenever I was forced to mention her, was forced to acknowledge her existence.
“I love you,” she said softly.
The tears came then, harder, faster than they ever had before at any time in my life. I had lived thirty-three years without hearing those words. Thirty-three years having never heard the one sentence that I had heard every single friend I ever had hear from their parents. Thirty-three years of waiting to hear that my own mother loved me.
My mother died three nights later. I hadn’t gone to see her since she finally spoke the words I had waited my entire life to hear. It wasn’t that I was so upset, so angry, or so distraught after finally hearing them that I couldn’t look at her. I had been busy with work, with my relationship, but mostly I had been avoiding her because I knew the end was near, and wanted my last memory of her life to be that moment when she told me she loved me. The call came in just after dinner, the nurse on the other end relaying a simple message that my mother had passed. I said nothing other than thanking her for letting me know, then hung up.
I literally collapsed on the floor of the spare bedroom where all of the computers were. Carly, my wife, had heard the phone ring and came downstairs, but only stood in the doorway until I hung up. She gave me a questioning look, unsure of whether or not to come to me or remain just outside the room, but knowing what the call had been about based on my expression. As soon as I hit the floor, she was there, cradling my head as I exited reality for a while. Once again, that feeling of unreality had been broken, the finality of my mother’s death flowing through me with a vengeance. I bawled for an unknowable amount of time, shivering, sobbing, wiping snot and tears on Carly’s sleeve, refusing to uncurl from the tight ball that I had wound myself into.
And yet, I was angry. Enraged. Filled with fury. Why had it taken so long for my mother to tell me she loved me? Why couldn’t she have died in one of the ways I had always fantasized about, exiting my life cleanly, without regret, remorse, without all of these fucking feelings that suddenly threatened to push me over an edge that I might never return from? Why the fuck did I even care? Wasn’t I happy that she was dead? She could never again be a stain on my life, my happiness, could never again be a reminder that monsters were sometimes more real than any movie could portray them.
For a week after, I was an empty shell, feeling nothing, caring about nothing, wanting nothing. Carly made sure I ate, helped me take a shower every day, guided me through the process of dealing with the aftermath of my mother’s death by contacting the funeral home, collecting the meager possessions Mom left behind in the nursing home. I avoided thinking about anything other than breathing and sleeping during that time, knowing that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to stop the freight train of thoughts that would run me down concerning my own mortality. Worse, I wouldn’t be able to hate my mother anymore, something that had fueled me for the majority of my life. Now that she was gone, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to function, that I would always be empty without a full tank of rage to draw from, to keep me going each day, burning just enough to be human, but not so much that I allowed it to unleash a monster who destroyed lives.
Eventually I woke up from that walking dream and began putting pieces of my life together in ways that I had never been able to do before. Though I had evolved as a person in the last decade, shedding those traits that my mother had instilled in me that made me someone terrible, someone whom no one else wanted to be around, those traits that I had learned to hide enough so that I could pretend to be human to the point someone else found me attractive enough to want to be part of my life, I wasn’t done evolving. I could never truly evolve until I dealt with the emotions that I had buried deep down, stomping on them anytime they reared their ugly heads. Carly helped by coaxing me to talk about subjects that I had never spoken of, drawing out of me the torments that had plagued me since childhood.
We both knew that she could only help so much, and she encouraged me to see a therapist, which I did. With the therapist’s help, I finally felt myself moving forward, finally began to move on. I hadn’t even realized that I had been stuck, frozen, paralyzed until I felt that movement. I had been breathing for thirty-three years, but I hadn’t been truly alive. I had only been existing. Moving forward, moving on, was almost more painful than keeping all of it bottled up for so long. I had hidden so much of it, kept it in a black hole from which nothing could escape, not even that piece of me that made me human, for so long that it felt like a bandage being slowly ripped off a wound that still festered.
Except once I could see underneath that bandage, I realized that the wound wasn’t festering. It was just a scar. An ugly scar, to be sure, but a scar that was healed, no longer leaking, no longer full of pus, the poisonous emotions that had made me sick for three decades. It took another three years for that scar to fade into a small, white, hard strip. Over those three years, I noticed that days seemed brighter, nights seemed darker, food tasted better, sex felt more intense, as if I had been living in a muddy, grime-covered bubble that was suddenly not only fully transparent, but that I had broken out of it completely and was able to experience the world without a filter.
Life has never been easy for me, and it wasn’t suddenly magical, without problems, free of stress. But moving on from the monster, having finally faced it—both the one who had possessed my mother as well as the one that had been living inside of me, which was but an extension of the one inhabiting my mother—changed me in ways that I never believed possible. I can now experience a full range of emotions without struggling to tamp down on the negative ones like hate, rage, fear, disappointment, while using every last ounce of willpower to connect with things like love, empathy, and happiness.
The monster killed my mother, but I defeated it, purged it before it could poison me enough to destroy what remained of my life.