Sunday, February 3, 2008
The Monster Unseen
I was about ten years old and we were driving down Clearwater Drive in Tampa (Florida). It was spring and Mama had the radio on and they were playing some country tunes and I was singing "I'm just here to get my baby out of Jail" at the top of my lungs. The news came on and the headline was about a missing boy in Lakeland, last seen delivering papers and he had only completed half of his route. His mother told police he left the house every morning at five, was home by six for breakfast and to get ready for school. She never saw her boy again after that lovely spring morning when he left on his bike . I'm sure Spring mornings were never the same to her after that, after losing her boy. I asked my mother, what made him go missing? Did a monster get him? I can still see her eyes in the rearview mirror, they were sad and startled. "I'm afraid so." She didn't whisper it. She didn't shout it. Her voice had a quality of what I now know is resignation. Years later she told me that it was a wicked world even then, and it never surprised her when she heard of the horrors going on, though it sickened her. She told me that later when I had asked had the boy on the bike been found, she told me yes. She just didn't tell me that he had been found dead and abused. I remember the warnings from my parents about accepting candy from strangers, about talking to people we didn't know. Having always been as friendly as a puppy in a butcher's shop, I spoke to everyone. My father would say, "don't be so quick to show your teeth". Don't smile at everyone, that was the warning. Hard to heed when you are happy by nature, when you make friends easily, love deeply, and trust everyone. But it doesn't take long in a wicked world to learn that you can't trust everyone, that simply being a stranger isn't all there is to it. Sometimes the monsters aren't strangers at all. While they seem to come out of the woodwork in movies, with bloodred eyes and sharp pointed teeth, those are make believe monsters. Their claws rip and tear and the harder you run, the closer he gets. If it were only that simple, our children would be so much safer. If monsters wore a face that showed them for what they are, our children would know to cross the street, to get home or some safe place away from the evil. If only. What's important to teach our children today? Don't speak to strangers or listen to them when they ask for your help (for what adult really asks the help of a child?) are certainly important things to teach them. Another important thing to teach them is that you don't have secrets from your parents. Teach them to scream, kick and run if they feel threatened in any way. Don't put their names on their clothes in plain sight. A stranger that knows your name, after all, is not a stranger at all in a child's mind. They never think about the fact that it says Tommy or Debbie right on the front or back of their shirt. Unfortunately for us all, monsters have faces exactly like our own. And we're hearing from them far too frequently these days. Have a little talk with your children. Let them know that you are there for them. No matter what. And warn them about secrets. Secrets can kill.