For as long as I can remember, I’ve been afraid of the darkness. As a child I had a fondness for Freddy Krueger. I was captivated by his claws, fascinated by his fire-burnt face, enthralled by the inescapable idea that he comes and kills you in your dreams. From there I found “Bloody Mary,” summoned her on several mirrors, and called out to whoever I could on the Ouija board, seeking out spirits and gathering ghosts.
I realized that this was not really the darkness I was afraid of, though – not of metaphorical monsters and closet-dwelling dangers, not of what’s lurking in the lair under my bed or the goblin that’s going get me. I was not really afraid of nightly terrors that torment; I was afraid of the darkness that I thought could devour me – not an outside obstacle, but a war within. Like the Native American parable portrays, there were two wolves waging a battle within me, within all of us, good and bad, right and wrong, dark and light, the ultimate question being ‘which wolf will win?’ Well, the one that you feed.
There was a time when I was starving my good wolf and gorging my bad. I was feeding the darkness, watched it lick its lips waiting for the next meal, my next mistake, knowing that it could taste my weakness on its tongue and sat salivating for something to quench its clutch on me. I had never met anybody who was so lost in their own darkness, a masochist to their own matrix, their own horror story, their own worst nightmare, until I realized that the monster in the mirror was me.
Years later, I started working with girls who were incarcerated. There was one who had kind eyes that betrayed her façade. She was quick with compliments, gave really good hugs, had a voice that sent chills up my spine when she sang, was just a pleasurable person to be around. I had her pegged as a shoplifter. That was the scenario that I saw her in, something simple like “The Make-Up Mobster” or “The Five Finger Discount Diva” or “The Leading Lady of Looting.”
Then the day came when I found out the truth. My favorite little felon was a murderer, some would say, a monster. I was catapulted into a moral crisis, questioning my own convictions, fighting a battle with my own beliefs, trying to figure out how I really felt about forgiveness and people’s ability to change.
During one visit, I asked her to paint my nails. I listened as she talked, thinking about how delicately she painted, about how soft her skin felt every time it brushed mine, about how the hands that were touching me had stabbed someone to death. That week I saw a quote that catered to my conscience. It said, “Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know them. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know love.” I contemplated that.
Her darkness wasn’t an abstract art piece; it had touched me with fingers begging forgiveness. I had seen it, through her bright blue eyes longing for love. I had heard it on her lips that felt like they didn’t deserve to smile, in her voice that betrayed her villainy.
I will never condone what she did, but that doesn’t diminish my capacity to care for the ones on the end of the blades and bullets and, also, for the ones using them.
I hope that she doesn’t always see a monster looking back at her when she looks in the mirror. I hope someday she can sleep and not be her own worst nightmare. I hope her horror story has a happy ending.
I know I’m not a kid anymore, but…I’m still afraid of the darkness, just not my own. My good wolf is well fed. It dances with the darkness, howls at the moon and celebrates its survival. Maybe, her wolves are still battling or, maybe, her good wolf is just a pup or, maybe, it died with the person that she killed. But, if it is still alive, I hope it can feast on scraps that she feeds it, because I know that she isn’t a soul-sucking wraith, but prison might be. And, I know after the decades that it will be caged, her good wolf will be ready to run free when she gets out.
When it comes to the darkness, I try to remind myself that, when the sun goes down, the stars come out and so does the moon, and my wolf will be waiting to hear hers.