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The Nice Monsters - non-fiction by Laura Sullivan

Everyone has monsters. They’re always there, creeping out from behind walls and doors, from inside the sink and underneath the bed. Or they’ll stay within, every once in a while whispering in your ear things you couldn’t imagine coming from inside you, and that scare you into doing things you couldn’t imagine doing. I need you to know that we are real. Yes, it’s all in your head, but you’d be surprised what that brain of yours is capable of.

Her first memory of us was crab fishing. The number two was special then. Two crabs were all she had to catch. Not too much of a demand we decided. She was six at the time.

She couldn’t do it, obviously. It wouldn’t be a memory if she’d been able to, now would it? We pinned her down kicking and screaming, her whole family watching, the dirt clouding around her and that one crab sitting in the icebox. We had to do it. She needs to learn to worship us.

Next was her visit to the clinic. We had trained for this and expected her mother to look for help. It’s hard watching your child develop such behaviors at just seven. We get that.

“She calls them ‘The Nice Monsters’? Do you have any idea…”?

That's my favorite memory. ‘The Nice Monsters.’ Adorable. The others said we’re more than that. She’s seven, though. I reminded them not to expect much.

Everything had to be perfect: her steps, turns, letters and numbers, bedsheets, sidewalk cracks (step on a crack, break your mother’s back), hangnails, balance. Touching toes to corners and palms to elbows. Never be late, never fuck up, never let your brothers get away without a fight. These rules were simple. They’d get more difficult to keep track of, but she was just eight. There’d be time later to amp it up. Her brain developed with us and there wasn’t a time where she could remember our absence. We had always been there, and always would.

Twelve was when it got complicated. She had a lot more memorizing to do and many more things to be afraid of. The nightly rituals were especially intricate. She didn’t believe in God, maybe because we were there and served the purpose of a higher power. Regardless, we made her pray. There’s no God, but if there was, He’d be mad if you didn’t, we told her. So it was a blessing on herself to keep her safe from the dark.

Thank you for everything you’ve done. Please protect me and keep me safe from any being trying to harm me. God bless everyone I know and love. One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten… eleven… twelve... and a half.

Then turn off the light, close your eyes and hold your breath until the monsters are gone.

We’re smart (I have to remind myself of that often). When she started on the medicine (Twelve and a half I think it was. That’s some coincidence for you), it was like she was throwing all we’d given her back to us. Like one’s reflection in a spoon: distorted, but with an identifiable picture. We all felt stupid, not good enough. Those self-deprecating thoughts and insecurities that we’d served to her in various forms throughout the years were now presented back to us on a silver platter, reflected in the face of a spoon. I have to be honest--it felt like shit. But it’s all part of the job I guess.

Everything we do is for her. How dare she keep us locked up. How dare she. I hope she knows how ruthless we’re going to be. I have to admit it was getting tiring, but things are going to change. It’s going to be unimaginable how much momentum we’ll gather while being held back. She’ll be ready then to appreciate what we’ve worked for. Before the medication, her rituals were tangible. Easy to describe and even easier to treat. They were physical and repetitive and clearly got us nowhere. Things are going to be different now. The things that scare her are going to be so much worse. Worse to a disgusting degree. So much worse that she’ll scream and break her own feet by banging them on the floor so hard.

She spent all of her time in her room after being taken off the medication. Secluded, ignoring her mother’s desperate calls to “Please unlock the door. Please just talk to me.” It’s definitely our fault, but it’s for the best. Traveling is difficult. We’re adaptive creatures, and if she spends all of her time in her room, we’ll set up shop there. No need for scuttling through those thin walls. God, her house is disgusting.

“Mom, this house is disgusting. Do you blame me for not wanting to leave my room? It’s the one place where I don’t have to see all of you.” We wrap her up in blankets when she talks back. Just a taste of comfort to reward her. We were so proud. Thirteen. She’d grown so much.

We find the easiest ways into her head, carefully calculating what will scare her most. So when she noticed those stretchmarks, it was a quick decision to add body dysmorphia to the list. Soon enough she was counting bites, counting calories. 1000 a day for the most part, but occasionally she’d dip below 800. Still thirteen, but this was after her best friend told her how much weight she’d lost from only eating once a day.

One night, when she was surrounded by silence, we reminded her of the needlepoint set underneath her bed. She was looking swollen that day. She was soon attacking her stomach, leaving burning red lines in a crisscross pattern that would soon fade. We told her to never mention it. We’d learned from our mistakes, and now that she was off the medication, we were determined not to raise any more red flags. Hurt her enough to keep her quiet.

The dark is the most terrifying thing, she thinks. Fear of the unknown and all that. And it’s not like we made her scared of it. We just feed on the fear and make it so she can’t sleep, forcing her to listen to us instead. Because when her eyes are open in the dark, there are no distractions. And no way of knowing if there’s someone staring back at you three inches from your face. Or if the thing underneath your bed is about to grab your foot and drag you under. Or if your parents are fighting in the next room over and it’s all your fault. Or if that 30-year-old man from the grocery store is trying to push you down and do unspeakable things and there’s nothing you can do to stop him because he’s just too strong and you’re just too easy. These are the things she’s really afraid of. It’s not our fault she’s scared.

I care about her. We all do. I swear on it. I can remember watching her with her tail of string dancing through the house on Saturday mornings. It had to catch on all the corners, and if it didn’t, she had to go back and do it over again. It was all game, along with the crabs and the stepping and prayer. All counting to numbers that could never be reached. Two and then twelve-and-a-half and then who knows what will come next. She'll be counting until the end of time and then all there’ll be to look back on are the numbers that she made up and that made her up. The ones that kept her safe and the ones that she’s climbed up to now sixteen and maybe many more to come.

All we can know for sure is that we fed her those numbers. It was us that built her, and although she’s broken us down before, we can't go away. Not when we’re stuck with her forever and always, up here in this unimaginably capable brain of hers.

It’s all in her head, isn’t it?


Laura Sullivan is a high school junior from Massachusetts. She spends her time reading, watching crime documentaries, and taking naps with her cat. Although she doesn’t write often, she loves to do so and especially enjoys writing about mental illness and her experiences surrounding the subject. Laura hopes to attend medical school in the future and travel the world providing medical care to people in need.

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