I was a pretty good kid, more or less. Aside from breaking my arm by falling out of a tree when I was eight and thus ruining our family vacation to Busch Gardens, I only once heard my parents utter anything resembling What are we going to do with that boy?
That one time wasn’t when I fell out of the tree, though. It was when I decided to finally do something about my monster.
My monster was twelve feet tall and covered with green slimy skin. Four sharp horns, three gray and one black, jutted out from its forehead (I can’t tell you how many times those horns nearly impaled me). But it was its breath that was the worst—fiery and pungent, as if it had neither eaten nor brushed its teeth in a very long time. That was where I came in. I just didn’t know whether it wanted to eat me or use me as a monster toothbrush.
It lived in the dark recesses beneath my bed, which made sleep impossible. At night I could hear it moving around down there, stalking me. All attempts at prayer seemed useless. So did my attempts to get my parents to look for it. Parents can never see anything.
So in a fit of sleepless desperation, I took matters into my own hands one night and tucked my cap gun under my pillow. Sometime around midnight—breakfast time for my monster—it began stirring. I counted to a hundred and prayed, then leaped down onto the floor and fired off six shots beneath the bed.
I didn’t know if I’d managed to wound it or, even better, kill it outright. But I did succeed in scaring my parents half to death.
They came running (staggering, really, since it was the middle of the night). After threats of everything from grounding to eternal damnation, they finally looked under the bed. Didn’t see anything, of course. But I thought I spotted monster blood in the carpet.
Whether I had winged it or killed it or simply scared it away, my monster left me alone after that. All the monsters did, really (there was one in my closet and one in the crawlspace of the house, too). I found out what those monsters were really—a clump of toys, clothes that I didn’t hang up, the rumblings of an old furnace. Knowledge goes a long way in battling monsters.
That small but important fact proved itself true over and over again as I grew. There were no monsters, just reasons.
Today, September 10, marks the ninth anniversary of the last day I believed that. Because the next day was September 11, 2001. The day I learned the truth.
There really were monsters in this world.
They didn’t have slimy skin or horns or fiery, pungent breath. But they wanted to kill me just as much.
I sat on the edge of my bed that day for seven straight hours. Watched as the towers fell and the Pentagon burned. Watched as a plane when down in a Pennsylvania field. And I remember looking down at my hands sometime that afternoon and finding a picture of my first child’s sonogram in them. I’m still not sure how it got there, but I still know what I was thinking. I was thinking about the world my daughter was about to be born into, one that had just turned a darker shade of black.
That was one day I swore to myself I would never forget. Not just what happened, but what I felt while it was happening. And I haven’t. I remember it all.
It was a horrible day. And I guess like most horrible days, the temptation is to move on. To let the past be the past and look to the future.
I suppose that sort of thinking accounts for a lot of what’s going on nowadays. I won’t get into that. All you have to do is turn on the news. It’s everywhere.
But me, I still choose to remember. I’ll let the past be the past. I’ll look to the future. But I’ll still cast a wayward glance behind me while I’m walking on. I’ll still remember that day. Because that’s the day the monsters reached out and grabbed us all.
And that’s the day I vowed that my children wouldn’t just be raised to believe in them, but to fight them as well.