We all cage our monsters.



There was a monster in his mirror. He shaved it every morning. He fed it every night. He slept with it curled up like an infant within his mind while he dreamed its dreams. And every day as he drove to work, the monster brooded silently between his ears, unseen by others. It patiently waited within his mundane thoughts for the day its name might be called, for the day when he might let it loose.

But he couldn't let it loose. Not yet. The monster was dangerous. It was a killer.

Tommy held it in check for the time being. He fed it with hate, appeased it with his own rotten despair. He kept it locked up in a rigid discipline of psychic subordination. The beast ate all the shame and disgust Tommy could provide, then clamored savagely for more; ever demanding, ever hungry. It was a creature of terror, and it grew daily. Tommy was careful not to let it grow too much, lest it become too powerful to control. He was careful not to let it deceive him.

H avoided mirrors, because the beast was always there, staring angrily back. Its eyes seethed behind his own eyes, its tongue writhed within his, urged him to speak, dared him to justify his denial of its existence. One word would start the exchange. One syllable could end everything.

And he had worked so hard to cage the beast. His mind reeled when he thought of all the humiliation and degradation he had endured during his years in school. He remembered the hateful nicknames, the taunts, the pain inflicted upon him by his peers of earlier education. He considered how his tormentors had gradually turned to a more subtle form of belittlement as they followed him through high school and college. They excluded him, shunned him, labeled him a 'nerd', a 'geek', a 'spasmoid'. Tommy wanted to believe those things had happened to someone else. Within his mind, however, there was a small, resigned voice of objectivity, of conscience, that ensured he never forgot anything he had suffered. And he had suffered so much.

So there was a monster in his mirror. There was doom in his dreams.

He would continue to be the misfit he always had been, and his peers would continue to humiliate him. There was some comfort in being a doormat, he thought. At least he always knew where he stood, or rather, where people stood on him. Every social group he had ever occupied inevitably developed only two fundamental divisions; him, and them. Tommy had always been a pivot of communal disdain. He was a catalyst of rejection and would continue to be nothing more.

In a world of inhibitions and prohibitions, he was perhaps the only truly free soul. He could do anything he wanted, because he already occupied the lowest position of the social food chain. There was no next step down.

Tommy could never be certain if the monster was a product of this environment, or if his environment had developed to suit the monster. Either way, it didn't really matter. He was beyond hope. This hellish psychic symbiosis had been allowed to fester too long, and its evolution was nearly complete. Soon, despite all Tommy could do to prevent it, the parasitic beast would claw its way free of its host.

One man's meager, daily pain was not enough to sustain the animal's twisted existence indefinitely. Eventually, Tommy knew, his ego would be consumed, the embers of his id would be extinguished, the content of all his human memories would be poured out and forgotten. It was an event he both desired and dreaded. In a way, it would set him free of torment. Unfortunately, he would also be quite dead, and the monster would have won.

Again, win or lose, it wouldn't matter. Everybody died. People like Tommy died over and over again, in fact.

Each rejection was a death, each insult a social blow from which to recover. For every slight he had ever suffered, there was a scar on his soul to mark its place, to define just what had been done to him. There was a scar that bore an uncanny resemblance to his entire little league baseball team, the team he had constantly shamed because of his shortsightedness and his fear of fast balls. Another scar was a portrait of the first love of his life, a smart redhead from the third grade who had taken to calling him 'Tommy Turd' and 'Booger Eater' after he had made his affections known to her. There were scars in the shape of teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, professors, lovers, employers; all formed into a great knot of tumorous tissue that was lumped in his mind like a caged fist. It was the house in which his objective, unforgiving voice of conscience dwelt. It was his house of pain.

The monster resided there. It kept his darker memories like a dusty record collection, and selected torments like tunes to play through his thoughts.

Whenever Tommy felt a tremor of happiness, the monster was right there to remind him; to say, 'Hey, Tommy Turd! You remember that time in gym class in the eighth grade? That time in the shower? Remember how they made fun of you . . . and . . . it? Doncha remember how Tad Rexlar and Mike McDavit beat you up after school that day? Remember how many kids gathered around to cheer them on, to point out your soft spots, to encourage more brutal blows, more vicious kicks? Remember how Coach Bessely came and watched? Didn't he let it go on and on and on? Why do you think he did that, Booger Eater? Why?' Tommy often made efforts to defend himself against the accusations of his inner voices. He tried to envision more pleasant memories to preserve his transitory feelings of happiness, but, no matter, the animal was always there, whispering. 'Why did Coach Bessely let them break your nose, Thomas Titty Baby? Because he hated your fucking guts! If he had been twenty years younger, he would have joined them! He probably would have kicked you in the balls first thing!'

On and on it went, endlessly. Tommy was the victim of his own mental bully, and it thrashed him frequently.

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House of Pain