When I was a teenager, I wanted to be one. Late nights I watched black and whites starring Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, movies full of mist and magic, howling in the dark. Where men were transformed by the light of the moon or bite of a bat. Who lived in old castles where all the mirrors had been removed. Who slept in coffins as confining as the big yellow bus I rode to school, where monsters sat in the far back as if to escape the sun. They sharpened their claws and aimed their teeth at anyone smaller than they were. Their skin seethed with smoke. Seeing them, I knew I needed the long claws of the werewolf, the fangs of a vampire. I needed anger to scare the other boys away, to stake fear in their wooden hearts when they came at me with their claws, bigger than mine.
Many years later I knew my dream had come true. When I saw myself in the mirror one morning, my eyes were red as blood. The night before, under the light of a full moon, I had drunk the magic elixir that sometimes brings forgetfulness and sometimes curls my hands into claws. I was hoping for forgetfulness from all the monstrous things I’ve done since I was a boy on the bus, but my voice grew into a growl. My small daughters grew even smaller as they shrank away from me. I tried to lock myself up, remembering the monsters in the movies howling over the horrors they held within them, but in the movies the monster always breaks free, and the faces of the boys on the bus haunted me. As my daughters unsized themselves so they wouldn’t be seen, it was easy to understand why the women in those old shows were always screaming. The monsters are always made by men, and, like the men before me, I’d spent years shaping my face and sharpening my claws, carving anger into my thick skin. And now I must be a monster, else why would I howl so hard at my own reflection?
Paul Crenshaw is the author of the essay collection This One Will Hurt You, published by The Ohio State University Press. His second collection of essays, This We’ll Defend, about his time in the military and beyond, is forthcoming from the University of North Carolina Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, Tin House, North American Review and Brevity, among others.