Oct 24, 2010

How to Kill a Werewolf - A Memoir

Werewolves of London

I spent most of my late elementary years dreaming of the wonderful life of an orphan. The battle with my parents was over chores. I was the oldest, so there was no precedent, yet I knew their requests were unreasonable. Real parents wouldn’t force their children to labor. It was through this pathway of logic that I figured out that they weren’t my real parents. They were werewolves disguised to look like them.

I had a recurring nightmare in which I begrudgingly took out the trash. My mother stood at the top of the Astroturf-covered stairs with her arms folded, watching me as I lugged a full garbage bag out of the house, past the Bougainvillea bush and into the metal trash bin. As soon as my back was turned, she peeled off her fleshy mask to reveal fur, fangs, and blood red eyes.

Thereafter, to avoid giving my werewolf mother the chance to surprise me, every time I took out the trash I walked backward.

Living with werewolves, however, was not my biggest problem. At school, I had to deal with the dilemma of Colin, with whom I was deeply and passionately in love.

Colin was new at Montalvo Elementary School and thus very attractive to all the girls in the fifth grade. Even then, I understood the ugliness that can occur among girls in competition for love. So, to protect myself, I kept my love for Colin a secret. This caused the dual problem of how to conceal my love, and at the same time, get him to like me.

Colin was tan and athletic. He wore khaki shorts and polo shirts, and he had blond hair that was always parted on the left side and combed with enough gel to keep it in place through a sturdy wind. Although Colin was small, he was fast and good at sports. During recess, he was always on the soccer field. I, on the other hand, was scrawny as a wishbone and un-athletic. Since fourth grade, I had preferred to avoid the embarrassment of being picked last for team sports, and instead played hopscotch with a nice but boring girl named Andrea. With Colin’s arrival, however, my interest in hopscotch diminished.

One day when Andrea was absent, I walked nonchalantly to the edge of the blacktop. A short, steep hill separated the blacktop from the soccer field. I sat down at the top of this hill where I would have the best view of the game.

I pretended to be sunning myself and examining the grass. However, despite my efforts to act disinterested, I became engrossed in the game. Colin scored two goals and I had to control my desire to jump up and shout, “Yes!” My life couldn’t have been better at that moment. The sky was clear and blue and I was in love with a soccer star.

A few minutes later, however, my heart crumbled when the ball hit Colin in the mouth. He cried out and covered his braces. I wanted to run to him, but I sat still. Kids gathered around, and the teacher on duty asked if he was bleeding.

“No,” he said, scowling, his mouth hanging open.

She told him to sit out for a while anyway.

Colin fell into a heap at the bottom of the hill below me. I had a perfect view of the top of his head. I watched him pick at the grass and throw it absently in the air as I thought of things I could say to get his attention. “Are you alright?” “Is your mouth OK?” “Do you want to kiss me sometime when your mouth is better?” He must have felt me staring, because he rolled over and looked up. I held my breath. As I struggled to make my voice say something clever but distant, Colin drew his eyebrows together and down. He squinted at me from under them and curled his upper lip. I tried to smile, but his expression was so disdainful, I was immobile. Then he turned back to the game.

I took a breath. I wasn’t sure if it was my presence or the pain in his mouth that had caused Colin to contort his face at me. I decided that he loathed me. My heart sank to the bottom of my feet and I dragged it around in my shoes the rest of the day.

At home, I paced around. I looked out the windows and tried to see the ocean. I walked around my room, lay on my bed, and paced again.

“Why don’t you go out and play, and quit moping?” my mom said. She was sitting on the couch in the living room, sewing arms onto a doll.

“I don’t feel like it,” I said, kicking the shaggy green carpet.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Did one of your boyfriends look at you funny?” Her green eyes sparkled above her pointy nose.

I stiffened, and opened my eyes wide. “Um, no.” I sidestepped out of the room, glancing quickly back at my mother, who shrugged and went on sewing.

Once out of her sight, I fled to my room, threw the door closed and lay on the bed. The knots in the wood ceiling stared down at me as my heart banged like the percussion section of the high school band. My suspicions about my parents were much worse than I had thought; not only was my mother a werewolf, but she was also a mind reader.

I wondered if she could read my mind at that moment, and I tried to clear it. Naturally, the first things I thought of were the diagrams I had seen in Sex Ed., a page torn from a Playboy magazine I once found on the playground, and the image of my mom on the back porch peeling off her mask. I tried to focus on the backs of my eyelids, but my mind was still unmoored.
I reasoned that she probably couldn’t read my mind unless she was in the same room—but staying in separate rooms forever was impossible. I thought of the catastrophes that could result from her knowing I knew she was a werewolf. Soon, all I could think about was the first Ghostbusters movie when all of New York City was nearly destroyed because Dr. Raymond Stantz thought of the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man at just the wrong moment.

I needed a plan—something to think about when my mom was around. I finally decided on something that I used to keep away bad dreams. In fact, it was my mother that gave me the idea years before. She knelt at my bedside one night after I awoke from a nightmare and told me that the best way to forget bad dreams was to concentrate on something nice. The nicest thing I could think of was butterflies.

I imagined myself on a hill near the ocean. Blue and purple butterflies swirled around me in a great cloud—floating, darting, and fluttering—their wings brushing warm air in my face. They would land and alight in undulating patterns on Jasmine and California poppies.

At dinner that night, I chewed slowly, avoiding my mother’s gaze. I appeared entranced by the striped wallpaper, but really, I was surrounded by colorful, winged insects.

* * *
My mom turned out not to be a werewolf. She may have had mind-reading powers, but I soon forgot that as I transitioned to middle school, Colin moved away, and my mother became sicker and sicker with cancer. I didn’t forget about the butterflies, though, and I still summon them occasionally.

In college, I had a butterfly tattooed on my lower abdomen—a choice I couldn’t explain at the time. When I decided I wanted a tattoo, I looked through pages of pictures at the tattoo parlor, but none of them were right. I ended up bringing in my own image.

“Why a butterfly?” my roommate asked.

I shrugged. “I just like butterflies,” I told her.

“But why did you get it there, specifically?” The small blue and purple butterfly is below my swimsuit line, where I am the only one able to admire it regularly.

I explained that I liked to have hidden things—things no one knows about me. I didn’t need mind reading powers to know what she was thinking: everyone has hidden things, and not in permanent ink on their bodies.

I realize now, twenty years after my mother’s death, that my butterfly tattoo, besides rebellion, is a symbol of something else—a remnant from my childhood that I tried to hold on to, make permanent, and safeguard in some way. Something I look at only when I am alone and naked.

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