My Monster Can Beat Up Your Monster
Adrienne listened patiently while her friend, Heather Thompson, ranted about her long-time boyfriend Corey Emerson. In the four years that the two had dated, no argument had ever began before the first period on the first day of the new school year. However, since this was their senior year, it was the last opportunity for this to happen. So, it was probably inevitable, Adrienne realized.
I considered remaining in the closet when my kid, Patricia, stomped into her room after school and slammed the door. Lately, she wore a bad mood like no other eight-year-old could, and I understood her emotional wardrobe only too well. This afternoon, she chose anger--a garment she'd chosen more and more these days.
She hadn't always been like this; only for the last year, and I prayed for the day when she'd return to normal. I couldn't bear it if our remaining four-plus years together would be clouded with such dreadful conduct.
My dread turned real when she yelled, "Gell! Come out, now!"
The safety of my dark closet beckoned me to remain in its embrace, and I desired nothing more, but she called me again. I slunk out and approached her, bending low so we were eye-to-eye. Her normally pale cheeks were crimson with fury, and a swash of her hair cut a blonde slash across her face, almost obscuring her wrath-filled, blue eyes. "Me here," I said.
"Good. You're fighting Ogg tomorrow."
"What are you talking ab--" What she wanted struck me with such disbelief, I'd forgoten our orders to appear less intelligent in front of our charges. Patricia looked confused by my utterance. I played it off by shaking my head. "Ogg friend."
"Tough. I hate Cal, so you hate Ogg."
Patricia's classmate, Cal, was a good kid. Ogg was Cal Preston's monster, and my comrade. He and Cal played for hours at a time, making up adventures where they would banish evil kingdoms, decimate hordes of skeletons, slaughter legions of malicious wizards, and rescue thousands of oppressed serfs. Ogg loved Cal as much as I loved Patricia.
She and I used to spend hours together sipping make-believe pink tea, playing dress-up, creating adventures with her Barbies, and playing in the back yard. Lately, though, she just made me answer her every irate whim--cleaning her room, sneaking snacks from the kitchen, doing her school work, and entertaining her when she was bored, or worse, when she was being ignored by her parents.
"What Ogg do?" I asked, careful not to stoke the fire of her ire.
"He's Cal's monster. Cal's a stupid head."
"Me no understand. What Cal do?"
"He wouldn't let me play in his stupid kickball game. He said I was too bossy. Bossy! I'm not bossy, right?"
Before I could say anything, she continued, "So, I told Cal that my monster could beat up his monster. Tomorrow."
I shook my head again. "Me can't--"
Patricia stomped her right foot hard enough that I felt the floor shake. "Gell, you have to do this. Tomorrow, after school. You're fighting Ogg." She left, and slammed the door upon her exit.
I lumbered back to my closet, shut the door, and sank into my comfortable corner under Patricia's winter wardrobe. Fight Ogg? It was the worst thing she'd ever demanded of me. Worse than using me as a target while she threw shoes. Worse than demanding I rummage through the disgusting trash to retrieve the doll she'd thrown out in anger, and then had to have back. Worse than making me let the air out of her dad's tire after he'd grounded her for pinching her baby brother, Michael.
That was when her behavior turned--the day her mother gave birth to her new baby brother. He was four weeks premature, and the family spent much of their time with him at the hospital. Patricia was mandated to stay in the waiting room. When the baby did come home, her parents felt Patricia was too young and didn't have a delicate-enough touch, so they isolated him from her. They spent all their time with him, in his room or carrying him around the house. She complained they hugged him more than they hugged her, kissed him more that they kissed her, played with him more than they played with her. She believed they loved him more than they loved her.
Rather than boding with her new brother, Patricia learned to hate Michael. I tried to council her, teach her, reason with her, but every time I did, she discarded my advice with the flick of her wrist. "What does a stupid old monster know?" she'd ask.
Over a thousand years of experience, I thought. I'd mentored hundreds of children in the past, and I reminded myself I'd get through this crisis with Patricia as well. I just needed the time.
Consequently, Patricia did anything to get her parent's attention--any attention, good or bad. She tested their every boundary; not getting up for school, cutting her own hair, running away from home, revolting against her bedtime, and defying every rule, be it at school or at home. Her self-fulfilling rebelliousness got her into more trouble, and reinforced those feelings of jealousy, hatred, and her own insecurity.
In less than a year, she'd turned horrid to everyone. She even started taking out her frustrations on me. Now it seemed Cal--and by association Ogg--provided the focus for her retribution.
"I can't fight Ogg," I whispered to myself in the darkness. The Great Council forbade monster-on-monster fights. Besides, Ogg and I were friends since ages ago. We'd grown up in the same tiny academy, the same troupe, even the same bunk bed--me on the top (at Ogg's insistence,) him on the bottom. We studied Latin, philosophy, chemistry, and mathematics together, ate breakfasts and dinners together, and took vacations and school holidays together. Centuries later, when Patricia became my kid and Cal became his, it was the first time we'd seen each other in almost a hundred years. It was like we'd never been separated. It was refreshing to--
Patricia interrupted my recollections with, "Gell, get out here!" I'd been so wrapped up in reminiscing, I hadn't heard her come in. I stepped out and bowed low. "Me here."
She plopped down on her bed, and a whooshing wave traveled out under her pink bedspread. She lay on her back with her arms spread wide. "Mom and Dad are in Michael's room." She let out a long, loud sigh.
I didn't know how to reply without hurting her feelings, a situation I'd found myself in more and more frequently. Silence was often the best action around Patricia these days, so I nodded and sat on the floor next to her bed.
She sat up, faced away from me, and said, "Braid my hair." It wasn't a command, but a simple request from a friend. She sounded like she used to, before her brother arrived and upset her comfortable world. I pulled the brush off her chest of drawers and, pinching it between my thumb and forefinger, gently smoothed out her luxurious hair, parted it into three tresses, and started plaiting it together.
"Me like your hair," I said.
I felt warm and comfortable deep in my chest. Just like that, my Patricia was back--my Patricia from last year, my wonderful little girl who I'd spent the last five years with. I finished braiding as we sat in relaxed silence. She inspected my work in a hand mirror, gave me big hug, and said, "I love you, Gell."
A lump formed in my throat. I placed my mammoth hand on her tiny back and said, "Me love you." And I did. My Patricia, my kid, my charge, my world. My friend had returned, and joy filled my bosom.
The moment shattered when her mother called her down for dinner. Patricia's mood turned in an instant. "Okay!" she yelled, and whispered "God!" She stormed out of the room.
I lumbered back to my closet. For a wonderful, but fleeting moment, I'd had my Patricia back. I smiled in the darkness. She was returning. I'd seen a glimpse of it.
I couldn't have been happier.