When I Grow Up

Published in The Lyndon Review.

Scary, by George Hodan

There’s a monster in my room. He didn’t used to be a monster; none of us are to begin with.

He used to come to me when I needed comfort. He’s me, you see, the person that I will become one day. I don’t remember when he first came; I think he has always been there. When my parents had their fights and I would hide alone in the blackness of my bedroom, he’d come and comfort me. He’d pat my back with hairy hands that smelled like sawdust and tell me that everything would be okay one day.

“Mom’s going to divorce him next year. She’ll take you with her, and soon after that she’ll meet someone new. That’s the man that you’ll end up calling Dad.”

I didn’t know what divorce meant, but I got an idea when my brother and I moved away with Mom next year and the hairy, bearded monster who called himself my father disappeared forever.

He used to come to me when I needed hope. Mom was sick for weeks and we all worried that she was going to leave us. He came to me with a beat-up scrap book tucked under his thick arm and showed me a picture of an old woman with gray hair and a toothy grin.

“That’s our mom. She’s going to live for many more years.” He sat with me and we worried for her together. We had the comfort of knowing that our concern could somehow heal her, and in the end it did.

He used to come to me when I needed to dream. When I failed a test and one of my teachers told me that I’d never amount to anything, he would just scratch his beard and laugh.

“Just keep working. You’re me, right? I’m a successful businessman. That means that you’re going to be one someday, too.”

What about Ms. Klein, I asked.

“She’s going to end up giving you an A.”

There were some days when he’s told me things that scare me a little, like the time when he said that one day I’d be a husband, and someday after that I’d be a father.

“It’s okay to be a little bit afraid,” he told me. “You’ll come to discover that the nervousness will make you a good parent. Eventually, you’ll need that tiny bit of fear to be there.”

Sometimes he hasn’t been able to help, but he still tried. When I was crying alone in the dark the night that cancer stole my Dad away, all I wanted was for him to tell me that the hurting would stop. Instead he got a strange look on his face, as though a large piece of metal were stuck in his throat.

“You’re always going to be a little sad. Not for him, but for you. Even when he was in pain, we loved the fact that he was in our lives. Now his pain is ended and a part of you has to be happy for him about that, at least. The thing is, he’s not coming back like we want him to, and a part of you will always have that selfish sadness.”

Even then, things seemed a little better when he was around. Tonight is the first time that he’s come to warn me about anything.

There’s a girl, the first girl that’s ever really given me a second look. She’s got long brown hair, mysterious green eyes, and for the month that we’ve been dating, I’ve felt complete. I haven’t needed the other me since she and I met, so it’s a big surprise to me when he comes into the room an hour before my date.

“You need to know something.” He looks so serious; right from the outset I know that I’m not going to like what he has to say. So I try to ignore him. I focus all of my energy on pretending that he doesn’t exist, that he’s just a figment of my overactive imagination. I tell myself that I made him up to cheer me up when I feel down. He’s not real. I focus on blocking him out so hard that I end up forgetting how to tie a necktie.

You see, I’ve deliberately avoided asking him about her. He’s told me a lot about our wife Faith, but nothing about my girlfriend Donna. I don’t want to know how it ends or what kind of pain she’ll leave me in. For once, I don’t want to know my future. I don’t want him around until it’s over and I need someone to help me feel good about life again.

Unfortunately, he seems determined to tell me anyway.

“You need to know something about the girl you’ve met. This Donna…you should stay away from her.”

I knew he would say something like that. Somehow, I just knew. I’ve dropped my tie now and I’m looking at him through the bathroom mirror. My hands are clenched tight, and my knuckles have turned white.

I don’t want to know about it, I tell him.

Underneath his bushy brown beard, the muscles of his jaw clench and unclench as he tries to choose his next words. “I know you don’t want to hear about it. I know Mom’s told you the same thing, and you’d like to hear something different coming out of my mouth. I know I sound just like her, but you’ve got to listen. This girl…she’ll end up doing things to you. Not tonight, but years down the road. She’ll hurt you and betray you in more ways than you thought were possible.”

I don’t care, I tell him. I’m just trying to enjoy my evening. This one evening. I can be warned away from her later.

“You don’t understand. The things that will happen this evening, the things that she’ll make you feel, it’s the start of it all. I should have told you this long ago, but I was hoping that things would turn out differently for a change. Now I have to warn you. I’m trying to save you from the years of pain that I went through.” He grabs my head and points my wandering vision at his eyes. They’re red and bleary, as though he’s been crying for days. “It happened years ago to me, and I’m still hurting from it.”

I try to turn away, gritting my teeth in pain as I strain against his strong grip. I don’t care about it, damn it! What happened to you won’t happen to me!

“Look at me!” I try to keep away from his gaze, but my eyes wander back on his command. “How often have I lied to you? How often have I been wrong?”

Never. Never ever.

“You have to believe me. You might not appreciate what I’m saying now, but in the end I am you. You have to know that this is what we want.”

No. It’s what you want. Nothing more.

He looks at me sternly now, no longer as a friend but as a superior. “You are going to do as I say, for your own good. We both know that. If you won’t do it, then I’m going to have to make you do it.”

I shake my head and stand in shock as he reaches out and touches my mind. Then he disappears.

***

He’s been gone for hours now, allowing me peace through dinner and in the theater. I’ve been on edge all night, but I haven’t told Donna what’s wrong. She simply smiles her red smile and touches her olive skin to my pale hand. The contact sends a small shudder down my spine.

“You’re one big puzzle,” she says, winking. “I like a puzzle.”

Later on when we’re supposed to be driving home, we start to take each other apart, piece by piece. She’s mostly naked and is undoing my belt when he shows up, moving silently through the dim lights of the parking lot. He looks at my face, flushed red and colored further by smears of her lipstick. I try to say something. I try to warn her, but

I can’t seem to speak. He won’t let me.

She continues her work, finally pulling my belt off in one fluid motion. She doesn’t even see him…

His hands reaching through the open window behind her…

Grabbing her neck…

Her eyes go wide with the contact, as though he body were on fire. She looks at me, looks through me. She tries to speak, but she can’t; his grip is strong and she can’t breathe. I feel the sting of tears on my face now as I shake my head. She thinks it’s me, but no, no, it’s not me. It can’t be. I can’t be him…I won’t ever be him…

When it’s done she lies still, perfect, with the look of horror forever frozen on her face. He looks down at her, reaches a hand to her lifeless form. I yell before he can touch her. He looks up at me silently, tears streaming down his face. Then he disappears, because without her he doesn’t exist.

One day I will be the man going back to talk to myself as a child. I will be there to comfort, to heal, and I will do my best never to reveal that I am a monster on the inside. Then one day I too will force my younger self to undo what I have done. Maybe then I too will cease to exist.

Image: Scary by George Hodan

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