Werewolves scare me less than other officially scary things. Vampires, not so much.
Real scary things come in human form, especially in the form of nice people. There lives inside some of us a monster, capable of atrocities that make news headlines, or don’t, depending on the setting of the crime. A dead man in a dumpster behind Walgreens on the north side won’t make the paper, but a dead young mother from the suburbs makes the front page.
I married one of those monsters in a nice-guy mask. He was a medic, had trained in martial arts, was awarded Illinois Sensei of the Year, and taught women’s self-defense classes with me as his assistant. He also lost every job he had while we were married for sexually harassing co-workers, but I didn’t know that until years after he left. He never struck me, but intimidated me into allowing him to stay in my house by threatening to hurt people I loved. He followed me everywhere, turning up at Target, or on campus, or at the craft store when I had left without telling him where I was going. He burned my grandma’s photos of me, because that version of me had existed before him, and he wanted every trace gone. He woke me up in the night to call me a whore; I wasn’t a virgin when I married him, and I needed to be reminded of my evil ways. He brought out a Bible, and tried to sit me down for lessons on how to be a good wife. A good wife, I can be. A Bible-quoting Christian, never. I was raised to choose my own way, and I chose to worship nothing and revere everything. Pagan, heathen, reverent of every possible higher power and dismissive of none, my way ended up not fitting into a single book. My lack of acceptance of Jesus as my lord and savior earned unpleasant consequences at his hand, requiring regular reminders of my sins.
His favorite sensei advice was, “The archer does not know when the arrow will fly.” In other words, if you have a weapon and know how to use it, you won’t need to ponder the right time to let things happen in your own defense.
One dark, before-dawn whore-reminder morning, he startled me out of sleep and I broke his nose before I even really woke up. The arrow had flown. I’m surprised he didn’t break my arm, but I can thank my dogs for that. They always threw their big bodies between us at times like that, when he boiled over and his eyes stopped seeing. I came out with only a bruise on my chin from his elbow, just a result of his hands flying to his bloody face. Then I ran; his nice-guy mask lay in a heap on the floor.
I worked at a flower shop in the city then, and rode a bus, with a transfer at Union Station. Every morning, I stopped in to visit The Cookie Man, from whom I bought fresh coffee and muffins, and now and then he gave me a special treat, something not yet on the menu. His kids worked with him one day a week in the summer. He rode in the Moonlight Ramble with his sons and wife, volunteered and donated at the shelter down the street, and never met a stranger. I liked him. He had two Golden Retrievers, too.
One summer, he had his wife killed for trying to divorce him. I recognized him on the news at work. He had given me a free cranberry muffin that morning, a new menu item to try out, while his wife was dying in their kitchen. By supper time, he had made the news, and I watched him being led out of his beautiful suburban home in handcuffs.
He had hired a former employee to stab her with he own kitchen knife. When he brought his sons home, they all found their mother dead, a part of the plan. That was supposed to be his alibi: at work all day, picked up the kids from soccer practice, and uh-oh, Mom is on the floor. Nice-guy masks terrify me. He knew, and he purposefully let those boys see their mother. Monster.
Now, I am wary of the man with the perpetual smile. The kid with his jeans drooping to his knees? No problem. The guy whose head never has a single hair out of place? Creepy. Show me some flaws, and open the door a crack to what lies within. Then, we can talk, a little. Until then, my disinterested public mask isn’t a mask, but a filter. I watch, and learn, and keep my demeanor mild. Fewer and fewer people get in, but when they arrive in my life, I know when to throw off the filter and open my arms and my heart.
No one could call me jaded–too much silly in me, too much love, too much dancing for any little reason, but no one can call me naive, either. The monsters lurking in nice-guy masks have a stink to them, and I know it now.