When I was nine years old, a monster lived under my bed.
This is a normal phenomenon. Most kids, at some point, find themselves afraid of something in their rooms. Trees and streetlights combine to make eerie shadows on the wall. Clothes hanging over chairs take on a menacing appearance. The sounds of your house settling and creaking turn into ominous groans and wails.
You call out to your parents and when they come; they reassure you that there is nothing there. There are no monsters under the bed. No bad guys trying to break in. The closet is devoid of ghosts.
My father explained to me that monsters did not exist. There was nothing to fear. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
And I told him I was okay now, that I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I was lying, of course.
There was a monster under my bed, no matter what my father said. And I was still afraid.
I started drawing the monster in art class in school and doodling it everywhere. Every piece of art I did at school had the monster in it. When I finished my English or math worksheet before time was up, I’d draw the monster on the back of my paper. I drew him in pencil and in crayon and in water colors. Sometimes, he was small, standing on my shoulder, whispering into my ear. Other times, I drew him large, sitting on one end of the seesaw, with me on the other end, unable to get down. Once I drew him sitting on top of the school bus, too big to fit inside.
The teacher called my parents, and there was a meeting.
One night, soon after the meeting, my mother came into my room with a spray bottle labeled “Monster Repellent.” She sprayed it into the closet, under the bed and all around my room. The monster repellent smelled like lavender.
“There!” she said. “That should take care of any monsters.”
She came in every night for weeks, spraying the room for monsters, until my father got annoyed.
“How is that supposed to help?” he asked my mother. “You’re just playing into her delusion.”
“But, it helps. She is much calmer at bedtime.”
That night, I told my mother that she needn’t use the spray. I knew it was just lavender water. I told her I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I wasn’t really lying. I was less afraid, but still concerned. The monster was there. It didn’t seem to want to hurt me, but it didn’t want to go away, either.
During summer vacation, between third and fourth grade, I spent three weeks at my grandmother’s house while my parents went to Europe on vacation. I wondered if the monster would follow me or if he lived only under my bed at home.
The very first afternoon at Grandma’s, there was a thunderstorm, so we stayed inside and baked cookies.
She asked me about the monster. Not about why I imagined the monster or why I was afraid to go to sleep or all the other questions my parents and my teacher and the school counselor asked. Grandma asked about the monster himself. Is it he or she or it? Did he talk? What did his voice sound like? Why do you draw him in different colors, sometimes purple, sometimes yellow or green? It was the first time anyone had ever been interested in the monster as a separate entity. Grandma talked about the monster as if he wasn’t my imagination or my problem or my fear. The monster was as real to Grandma as he was to me, and she wanted to know all about him. I answered as many of her questions as I could. When she’d ask a question that I didn’t know the answer to, she’d say, “Maybe you should ask him.”
So I did.
During those three weeks at Grandma’s, we spent the days cooking and baking, swimming and bike riding, playing board games and drinking lemonade. At night, I’d talk to the monster, asking him questions that Grandma and I had thought up during the day. I’d report the answers to her the next day, and we’d think up more questions.
The monster wasn’t bad, just lonely, like me. He wanted to help me. He wanted me to know he’d always be there for me and he promised he wouldn’t lurk under the bed anymore, but he’d come when I called.
My parents think I outgrew the monster that summer. Perhaps the change of scenery at Grandma’s fixed the problem.
But I didn’t outgrow him. He’s still here.
I don’t call him a monster anymore. He’s my muse. There is a stool in the corner of my studio for him, and I call him when I need him. If I’m having a tough time with a painting or a sculpture, I know that if I turn around, he’ll be there.
Sometimes I wonder: If my parents had got rid of the monster, would I even be an artist at all?
© 2021 Liza Cameron Wasser